Animal Drawings by Tanis MacDonald

Photos of pencil animal drawings and an accompanying mini-essay.

cat with mealtime look

horse head

White fang

How to Draw Animals: a mini-essay on creativity in isolation

Most days in these self-isolating times, I am at the drawing table in my rec room by 4:00 p.m. The bulk of my writing, research, and supervisory work is done for the day, and while I may return to the screen for a few more emails or brief edits, by 4:00 I’ve landed squarely in the experimental part of my day, when I get to be a learner rather than an expert. I’m not gonna lie: it’s a huge relief.

The drawing table has been set up in my house for about fifteen years, though I’ve never sat at it before this April. I’ve always thought of it as my partner’s space, where he draws and writes and mixes music before heading to his upstairs office to digitize the art, finalize the websites he designs, and process photos. He has always made it clear that he thinks of the drawing table as a shared creative space, where each of us could work, but while I never actually said no, there was always something else for me to do and somewhere else to go. But on April 2nd, after three weeks of teaching remotely, my heartbeat was finally starting to slow down from my deep dive into the gaping maw of distance pedagogy. I sat down at the drawing table with a copy of Jack Hamm’s How to Draw Animals with its bright yellow cover showing an ink sketch of a roaring lion. And I drew.

I didn’t know how and I still don’t. But my goal is to try things and see what happens on the page. That’s my own advice, given to hundreds of beginner writers for many years, and so I read Hamm’s lessons, lower my standards, and draw: dogs, cats, deer, a tiny bison that looked like it was tap-dancing, an elephant head, a galloping horse. A bonus is my exposure to the bristling vocabulary of anatomical terms offered up by Hamm’s lessons. Grayson Perry noted during his UK-based art show that he knows the painting is going well if he starts to laugh. Me too: if I laugh as I am drawing, it’s a good day. And a good use of space.

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