Just Zoo It! Sketching at the Toledo Zoo


Early this summer, I asked an illustrator friend, Deborah Marcero, to join me on a trip to the Toledo zoo. But instead of just viewing the animals as typical spectators, our mission was to view them for the purpose of sketching them. We tried to pay attention to their details and isolate their movements. It’s actually a good practice in mindfulness. And certainly easier said than done! Sure, we could draw a sleeping tiger or rhino, but what about a hungry elephant or hippo constantly on the move? Often it turned into an exercise in contour drawing.  We also jotted down field notes for each animal.

The most interesting part to me is how we became specimens in our own habitat.  We were the “roaming sketch artists” on display.  Parents would point us out to their children saying, “See Johnny, wouldn’t you like to do something like that?”  Kids were more subtle in their approach, often sidling up to us shyly with open mouths and wide eyes.  “I like your drawings,” they said.  Even staff members stopped to take a look and offer tidbits of information about each animal like how an elephant walks on its toes and has more than 100,000 muscles in its trunk!

Our adventures reminded me of another sketching duo, Thomas Kinkade (“The Painter of Light”) and James Gurney (Dinotopia author), who “sketched their way across America” and shared their experiences in an illustrated book called The Artist’s Guide to Sketching

tail flick
ear twitch
paw against wall
one eye open
so S-L-E-E-P-Y

flippers flipping
over each other like oars

mouth open to keep cool
or simply awaiting dinner

shuffle, turn, swim
shuffle, turn, swim
life moves
S-L-O-W-L-Y
down here

ears flapping
trunks dancing
walking on toes
like prima ballerinas

horns are like hair
point up, point down
resting without a care
their wrinkles build
character

Holy Moly!
That one’s huge!

hair sticks up
tails hang down
what are YOU
looking at?

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