When it comes to your original wildlife art, do you have a favourite?
It is quite hard to say which pencil drawing is my favourite, but when it comes to my original art, I have done a few I think are pretty special. My Wild Dog drawings are some of my best, especially the one with the mother and baby. I love the interaction there and was really happy with the way it turned out. The leopard in the fork of the tree is definitely one of my better ones, too.
Before drawing this one, I had been searching for a really good leopard photograph to draw from. I eventually came across a photo on a photographer which I follow’s Instagram account. I immediately emailed her to ask if I could use it as a reference and after getting the go-ahead, I got started on the drawing! This particular pencil drawing took quite a while, around 24 hours in total, especially the tree bark. But from a skill point of view, I would say it is definitely one of my best original art pieces.
I love drawing birds, too. Especially the brightly coloured ones such as Lilac Breasted Rollers, Sunbirds and Kingfishers. I am a very keen birdwatcher as well, so I’ve always had a special fascination with birds. I find bringing them to life in my drawings is always very pleasing!
Do you follow any specific creative process when it comes to your original art? How would you describe your style?
I wouldn’t say there is any specific process I follow. Although, over the years I have probably developed certain skills and ways of doing things with my pencil art which makes it unique. These work best for my particular style. My style is realism but not photo-realistic. In other words, I draw my subjects with great detail and in a very realistic manner, but ensure that one can still always see it is a pencil drawing and not a photograph.
Apart from the actual subject, one of the most important aspects of my art is negative space. I never add a background, my subjects are always surrounded by the white of the paper. This centres all the focus onto the subject. Also, it’s very seldom that I will place the subject in the middle of the paper. I will always leave more space towards the direction in which the animal or bird is looking. This is vital for the effectiveness of the artwork. The two most important aspects of my drawings, I would say, are eyes and my method of ‘drawing in layers.’
What are they?
Firstly, eyes are the most important part of any animal or bird drawing. If you get the eyes right, the rest will follow. They are what brings the pencil drawing to life, giving you a connection with the animal. This is why I always start with the eyes and once I am happy, and the eyes are right, I know the drawing will be a good one. That tiny white dot of light in the eye is the most vital part of any pencil drawing or photograph!
Secondly, the number one tip I would give any young pencil artist would be to focus on drawing in layers. Don’t immediately put pencil to paper in the colour you wish to apply, but instead start much lighter, slowly, building layers of pencil, and working in the darker bits until you have the desired colour (end layer). This creates both depth and realism and a much improved looking work of art.
Does your original art require any specific pencils?
I have a whole jumble of different pencils that I use. Some are ‘good quality’ ones and some are just cheap ones you buy for your kids in primary school. Sometimes I actually prefer these ones as they are harder, therefor sharper and one can draw in greater detail with them. My Raffine and my Faber Castell Aquarelle pencils are the ones I probably use most often and most prefer.
How long does an original art piece take to draw?
This depends largely on what I am drawing and its size. Generally, my originals are about A4 size. To draw an animal this size takes roughly between 16 and 22 hours. I struggle to sit and concentrate for very long periods at a time, so this is usually over about a month. Birds take slightly quicker to draw than animals. Animals with fur, leopards, wild dogs etc, are the most time consuming, as one literally has to draw the layers of every single strand of fur.
I come from a family of artists, so luckily for me art was definitely in the genes. I have always been drawing. Funnily enough when I was younger, I would most often draw cartoon characters and pictures, with hundreds of tiny people in them, in a way similar to Where’s Wally. It was only a bit later on that I started drawing birds and animals every now and then.
However, I soon realised this was what I really loved drawing. So I focused on this genre, getting better and better with each pencil drawing. It is simply a practice thing. If I compare the drawings I am creating now to only two or three years ago, there is a huge difference! This is because each time I draw, I am getting practice and learning new skills and methods to make my drawings better and better.
Do you photograph your subjects before you draw them?
I do draw from photographs but most of my reference photos I get from photographers or field guides who work in the bush. The ones who have the massive camera lenses and can get the best photos! I am extremely picky about which photos I use to draw from, and probably look at over a thousand photos for each one that I finally choose.
I think it’s as vital to choose the right photo as it is to actually draw the drawing well. Some of my drawings have more than one animal in them and quite often these are not one photograph, but rather a few I put together to then use as a reference. One has to be careful here, especially when ensuring that the light is the same in the different photos. This is so that once combined the drawing looks natural and as if it is one scene in nature.
Have you ever been interested in drawing anything other than wildlife?
As I mentioned above, when I was younger I would draw a variety of different things, not only wildlife. But now wildlife is all I am really interested in drawing. It’s what I enjoy most and what I am best at. I am increasingly honing my wildlife drawing skills with each new original wildlife art piece.
What is the demand like for original wildlife art vs. wildlife prints?
This totally depends on the customer. Obviously, because my wildlife prints are much more affordable, I sell a lot more of them. However, there are a lot of people who are only interested in original art. Because of the time it takes to finish a highly detailed pencil drawing, I can only produce new original wildlife art every one or two months. So this means that there aren’t a lot of originals going round.
Currently, my original wildlife art sells for between R8 000 and R15 000 depending on the size and time taken to complete. Whereas when I first started selling them three years ago, the price was around R1 500. The demand my original wildlife art is ever increasing and currently they are sold on a first come, first serve basis.
If you’d like to see what’s currently available, please feel free to have a look here: https://matthewbellart.co.za/shop/
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