This week my wildlife painting is of a fallow deer in woodland and it’s causing me a problem: namely the age old difficulty of getting the perspective right.
Part of the problem is that I didn’t have any chance to sketch when I saw the deer, so I have no reference for the size of deer compared to the size of trees. In addition, I saw a doe but I’m painting the bigger buck because it works better with this particular image.
I always like to indicate the habitat when I sketch wildlife because then there is a direct comparison between animal and other elements of the scene. Wildlife in the resulting painting must be in scale if it is based on observed relationships.
The other difficulty is that certain species just seem to be larger than they really are. Think of a kingfisher: stretched out it is only 18cm, and 4 cm of that is beak! Yet they are such a familiar species and so boldly marked it’s easy to assume they are much larger.
I’m having that problem with the fallow deer. I think of them as large animals but the buck is less than a metre at the shoulder, not very large at all. Looking at my reference photos, I get the impression that they are much bigger.
So for this painting I need to use reference photos, sketches from the deer park and I need to check recorded sizes of deer so that I produce an authentic image.
Then again, how much does scale matter? One of my favourite images is a wood engraving of a kingfisher by Agnes Miller Parker. The bird is totally out of scale with the habitat, but I still love it.
Fundamentally, wildlife artists need to create images that are works of art, not works of science.