Drawing the Snow Leopard

My first drawing of the Zooly Art Challenge is done. Getting started on a new monthly challenge is always a bit fraught for me: so many decisions! I feel that some self-imposed restrictions help the creativity along; it can be paralyzing to have a wide-open field, with all those ideas buzzing around my head competing for attention.

The first thing I do for any challenge is to set an overarching goal for the month: a technique or subject I’d like to improve upon or a body of work I’d like to create. Then I decide on the format and materials. My first thought for this challenge was to do a series of small drawings and run a daily sale on my Facebook page, but with my eyesight still being wonky until later this month, I decided that was too much pressure. So I decided to go with a tried and true format, and begin the third of a series of Moleskine Japanese albums. I’ve used these for two challenges in the past, and have so far published the first one as a mini-comic.

snow leopard instagram.jpg

All that said, I don’t always stick with my challenge parameters. Life can get in the way. My last album has about six drawings lacking to finish it, as I got busy with an illustration gig and that, plus my webcomics, was enough drawing to fit into each day! I used to feel guilty about this, but I’ve come around the realization that an all-or-nothing attitude is not particularly productive for me — it makes it much less likely that I’ll get back on if I fall off. Planning for this challenge is particularly tricky for me, as I’ll be having my second cataract surgery next week, and the new eyes may take some getting used to — I’m prepared to take a few days off and finish up later.

Having a specific project mapped out: fill a book with a month’s worth of animal comics —  also means I’m more likely to finish it eventually, even if life throws me a curve. The important thing is to get started and keep coming back to it.


OK, that’s the what I’m doing and a bit of the why; here’s the how.

First: Find the Story. Every picture tells a story, and I like to know what story I’m telling, though it may develop as I go along. My process for this series, which has evolved from the last one, starts with reading up on each animal to get a feel for behaviour and general appearance. The internet makes this so much easier than the days when a trip to the library was in order for any research project (not that I don’t still love and use the library!) Wikipedia was a big help here, but I found the real story gold when I did an image search.

I’m writing short “interesting facts” blurbs to post on the Zooly Art Challenge Facebook page with each prompt, and I decided to use those as a jumping-off point for the subject of each drawing. The pages I’m working with are quite small (3.5 x 5.5 inches) so I have to edit down my written blurbs if I’m going to have any room to draw.

Second: Choose References. Assuming I don’t have a ready-to-hand live subject or a 3-dimensional model, I start looking at images. I usually do a Google image search and just scroll through the photos, absorbing the general feel and look of my subject. Then I home in on half a dozen or so, and bookmark them for quick looks. This time, I found all I needed for reference in a Bored Panda article about the tail-nomming phenomenon! Wikipedia was also useful, with some nice images to go along with all that information I was gleaning. I didn’t use any one of those photos to copy directly, just kept them handy for the general lines of the animal and later details.

Third: Pencil. I start drawing from all the images I’ve filled my head with, referencing photos as needed for details like ear shape and spots distribution. My drawing process is rather like the “how-to-draw-_________” articles that you see for beginners: I take note of the general shape of what I want to draw and loosely sketch that in (and erase and sketch some more). At first I draw lightly with blue Col-Erase pencil (doesn’t smudge), then start refining the shapes with darker pencil strokes.

Fourth: Ink. when I’m satisfied with the general shape, with enough defined in pencil that I feel I can ink with confidence (the amount of detail can vary), I draw over it with ink, in this case, Pigma Micron pens. This is not the same as just tracing my lines; I continually make refinements and even larger changes. If there is writing or dialogue, I ink those sections first. This makes sure I leave room for the words and balloons!

When the ink is done, I erase any pencil lines I don’t want. In this case I only worried about the text, as I was going to colour the rest of it anyway. Then I generally scan it, in case I ever want to use the ink version for anything, or in case I totally mess up the colour and want another go at it. (This has never happened. Yet. But it makes me feel better.)

Fifth: Colour. Just as the inking isn’t tracing the pencil, this is not colour-by-number; the colour adds modelling and depth to the drawing. For this project I’m using Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils, as the paper is very smooth and doesn’t grip softer pencils very well. Also, the Col-Erase won’t smudge, and this is important when there are facing pages. And bonus — it’s erasable! I just wish they came in more colours.

Finally, I scan it again, crop it nicely, adjust the levels if needed, and it’s ready to post!

6 responses to “Drawing the Snow Leopard

  1. Pingback: Zooly Comics and Drawings | Karen Gillmore Art·

  2. Pingback: Where Have the Merfolk Gone? | Mermaid Music·

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