An Extensive Guide to Creating Impeccable Wildlife Illustrations

It is only natural to form a fondness towards animals. However, there are a few who wish to express their fondness and inspire others through their expression in form of an illustration. It has been said that the secret to creating wildlife illustrations is to get their essence etched onto the paper without removing the life away from them. Especially since wildlife is one of those elements in our life that emit nothing but pure abundance and ‘life’ in short.

There have been times when I have created wildlife illustrations and have ended up creating them a bit too realistic or too accurate. Not did that only take way the essence of these illustrations feeling alive but they appeared to be all grey, soulless almost. As we explore the notion of wildlife illustrations here, I think it would benefit you to know how wildlife illustrations have been an integral part of our development and evolution.

Here are some oldest wildlife illustration examples:

  • Wildlife painting that is 64,000 years old is located in Maltravieso Cave, Spain.
  • Earliest European painting from 30,000 BCE found in Chauvet Cave, France.
  • A 32,000-year-old cave painting in Coliboaia Cave, Romania.

Let’s take a look at how it all started.

Knowing the Origins of Wildlife Illustrations

Animals have been one of the main subjects of illustrations within artworks of earlier artists. Even commonly seen amongst cave paintings and many other artifacts from older civilizations. Some of these paintings used to be etched onto walls and upon shedding light on them, they would flicker and appear lifelike. However, it has not yet completely been understood whether those paintings had a religious reason behind them or was it simply to admire the existence of another form.

It has also been noticed amongst early wildlife illustrations on how their creators know how to look after proportions. Not only do they appear to have an understanding of the animal but based on that understanding went for simplified methods of illustrations.

The Shift of Wildlife Illustrations

Animals have been a part of art since during the middle ages as well. They were commonly used for symbols, directing towards an element or perhaps a factor of life that was not conveyed explicitly. Wildlife illustrations have also been noticed in certain religious excerpts as well, that once belonged to civilizations or rather societies in the middle ages.

Mosaics that were found in Pompeii as well as other roman settlements all had a common feature, which was the depiction of wildlife. Explorers who ventured towards the islands away from Europe found plenty of different paintings as well as drawings that too depicted wildlife within it. That is where the major shift appeared. Scientists began studying the natural order of existence through these elements that were found. Not only did it prove a deeper connection but how animals too had undergone evolution just as humans did.

There were plenty of different artists that are famously known in today’s time who were inclined towards illustrations that symbolized animals. To consider a few, Leonardo Da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna and Albrecht Durer was a few of them who rose to fame in today’s world and back then as well due to their profound works. They often portrayed exotic animals under exotic scenarios, whether it may be a domesticated bird or a wild animal who is untamed. By 16th and 17th century, these depictions took a turn which was directed towards studies and scientific research rather than just to admire an animal’s appearance and its features. Many writers wanted to use animals and their illustrations to convey their notions regarding evolution and life therefore used wildlife illustrations as a grounding tool.

Artists That Stood out Through Their Works of Wildlife Illustration

Illustrations have come a long way. Once being engraved onto the paper to being portrayed through different colors and mediums, the history has presented itself through these illustrations; making it easier for scientists and researchers to trace back evolution. John James was one of famous artists who would often create live sized bird illustrations which were later on used for different purposes, mainly for books. That movement influenced other artists to join John and explore wildlife just as he was.

John Gould used his wildlife illustrations for biblical purposes. They offered him more flexibility and easier portrayal, especially with his medium of art work. As we started crossed 19th century, new developments arose and they were now at the forefront of every other element. That is where printing presses were released and prints became widely available as well. With time, the shift was caught on by photographers as well. Who got inspired by wildlife beauty and ventured into taking images of these unique creatures that lived by our side.

Charles Tunnicliffe was yet another gifted artist who was a son to a common farmer; chose art as his grounding, later on etching wildlife throughout his life as an artist. Most of his works characterized his knowledge on animals. Especially since his main subject of work was birds, he not only set up a bar on how unique these illustrations can be but opened a who new era of illustrations mixed with different realistic and unrealistic elements.

Key Elements To an Illustration

Now that we have discussed the development of illustrations and how they have shifted throughout history, turning into a common element of our lives. Let’s take a look on what elements does illustration constitute in order to make it an illustration. The basics of wildlife illustrations have not changed, but in fact, have remained the same. However, how we depict them and perceive them might have taken a different direction. But nonetheless, that is how art evolves as well.

- Use of Real Reference

You might also notice how wildlife illustrators do not create their illustrations from their heads but rather through examples or references. It is quite easy to go astray and mix up imagination with the real form of an animal. In order to maintain that, use of real reference is quite important. Most wildlife illustrators are photographers too. They are the ones who venture ahead to take these photographs that can later on be used for their illustrations. Giving them an adept idea on how to approach a certain form or texture. This does not end there, there is another kind of exclusivity added to it as well when you are the one who took the picture and are now using it for your own reference.

- Composing Illustrations Like Bach

Although Bach was a music composer, but his compositions had a rhythm to them. Not only did they fly freely they were otherworldly without appearing unfamiliar to those witnessing them. Similarly, with illustrations you do require to compose your piece. Some might even thing that by composition they mean that they are supposed to make illustrations look realistic. However, that is not the case. Illustrations that often appear unrealistic in a way that their color palettes or textures have been slightly changed appear to be more full of life than those that are monotone and follow the same scheme. It is also suggested by most wildlife illustrators to focus on setting your illustration on the frame. Which is to ensure that whatever the size of the page might be or however the canvas might be, the illustration should sit with it. With the right balance of features and backgrounds, the illustration would appear more lively. Once you start looking in to this factor you automatically become more aware of its positioning and how you should approach the illustration. This adds more relevance to the surrounds of your wildlife illustration. Your goal should be to deliver a sense of ‘being there’ with the animal, when the viewer witnesses your illustrations.

- Refining Every Stroke

As tempting as it might be to leave illustrations halfway through and get on with the next step. But it is highly important to get these main and basic stages right. With a sketch that is unclear and uncertain you are most likely to land yourself in a situation where your illustration would appear to be out of proportion and lifeless. Every illustration begins with a basic shape. You might notice how every living form can be simplified into shapes. Our head is an oval with features that can be deduced into squares. Our rest of the body is either rectangular to cylindrical. Now, when you start simplifying forms during your sketches it becomes easier to add a flow of life to it. But even for that, you do require a focal point that you can measure your illustration with. This whole step is going to make illustrations so much easier for you.

With a refined sketch you are going to have a smooth sail with adding colors to it. Even if you are using digital means to form your wildlife illustration, it would be easier to express through colors and textures. With the right framework in place, adding layers to the illustration is going to become easier and more possible. Last but not least, being confident in your work will refine your every stroke as well. That plays a massive role in how your illustration is going to come out.

- Don’t’ Jump Without Knowing How Deep The Water Is

There cannot be enough emphasis on how crucial it can be to illustrate once you have planned it. There are going to be plenty of elements that will be added to the illustration to make it feel and appear more alive. But in order to do so, one does require an adept planning beforehand that they can approach to get a result which they were aiming for. In an illustration where you are portraying more than one kind of animal, it would be best that you form sketches of them in rough before you start working on the final piece.

This will establish a deeper perspective of your wildlife illustration and help you arrange your illustration in an order. Meaning, that even the viewer is going to be hooked onto your illustration and visit its different elements one by one if you have planned the illustration well. There is no reason to not compose your piece till you are not satisfied with how it appears or will appear in the final stages. As this is your time where you form solid structures to build your illustration on. Apart from that, this will also grant you sufficient time to think and feel your illustration as you delve into it.

- Stock Your Equipment’s

Although this is not a dire situation where you need to stock up things to survive but we will still take it as one and make use of your artistic inspirations and utilize them in one go rather than having to break free from your inspirations to find a piece of equipment that you need for your illustrations. As per Mandy Shepherds suggestion, it is best that you stock up your equipment before your begin your illustration. Which is going to include all the elements that you will be using within your illustration, such as paints, brushes, knives, inks and many others. You might not always have the luxury to move around or ask someone else to get these things for you. Therefore, be prepared for the final piece to come out and catalyze its appearance when you can.

- Being True To Your Piece

If you do not feel a connection with your illustration then that is a sign that you need to redo it or add edits to it. Several different artists have mentioned on how they only persuade their wildlife illustrations once they feel a connection to it. During my time when I used to create wildlife illustrations I would contemplated for hours on how I can approach my piece till I had my epiphany moments, knowing that is certain piece will not only define me but the animal subject as well. An essence of an animal can only be caught when you are inclining towards it and feel a strong connection to it. Otherwise it is very easy to go off track and lose their form, considering how every bend on their body represents a different meaning and how every form is created through different means.

The best way to approach this would be to interact with the wildlife creature by yourself in person. This would help you get an idea on how they are rather than using pictures from your room to refer to for your illustration. A lot of different factors come into consideration when forming a wildlife illustration. One of them is their habitat, as their surroundings mimic their existence and how they are in nature as well.

- Following the Herd

Painting or drawing from real life experience is a beauty on its own. An experience that cannot be replaced from or by anything else. Considering how it is going to be a wildlife illustration, interacting with these animals can help you bring more life to your illustrations. Not only will you be able to observe them from a neutral perspective but witness their minor details that are often ignored by many. By sketching them in their real habitat you will be able to catch them in plenty of different poses and actions.

You can even rearrange these poses till you get your desired one that you will or can use for your illustration. But you must make sure to keep a scale of proportions which you will automatically have an assistance with since you will come face to face with them.

- Using Different Light Settings

There is more than one kind or form of light. And every one of these lights adds a different texture and color to the subject matter. You might notice how a certain angle changes the color of the feather or perhaps even makes it look different. Similarly, using different atmospheres and light sources, you can not only add different perspectives to your illustration but add a striking look to it. This will enhance how alive your illustration appears, irrespective of it being realistic or not.

- Display a Deeper Connection And Meaning

Light is often the essence of most of these illustrations. As we traced back the origins of wildlife illustrations, we also noticed how these illustrations changed at a superficial level but the fundamentals remained the same. Knowing that there is more to your illustration than a stagnant unmoving image, a creature that too has life in it; will not only help you represent that animal in its most natural forms but help you feel connected to it and assist others in feeling that connection as well.

The true essence of a wildlife illustration roots from its creator. And how one they feel with the illustration. Understanding the underlying elements of the creature as well as the illustration not only symbolizes their integral elements but our integral elements as well, making us one but in different forms and body suits.

As you explore illustrations furthermore, ensure to step out of your comfort zones and to experience without filters. A direct interaction will help you formulate your wildlife illustration more adeptly, by adding life to it.

Can Wildlife illustrations be made in black and white?

Yes, you can most certainly create your wildlife illustrations in black and white. There is no fixed color palette for it.

Is wildlife illustrations a part of modern art?

Wildlife illustrations has been a part of human evolution and development since the very beginning. It is not new, however, some styles of it would come under modern art.

How much does it cost to get a wildlife illustration?

It can cost around $50 depending on the kind of illustration you are opting for.

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