Creating Sentient by Tanya Tyrer

Creating “Sentient”, my new elephant portrait, was challenging to say the least. I almost threw in the towel so many times! Looking back, however, I am so proud of myself for seeing it through to the end. The positive feedback this piece has received so far has assured me that although it didn’t turn out exactly as I envisioned, it is still the best piece I have created so far. Here are a few things I learned along the way…

Choose wisely!

When creating “Sentient” my first mistake was choosing such a closely cropped portrait with tight intricate details. This wouldn’t have been an issue had I previously drawn an elephant. However my choice of reference photo, coupled with an unfamiliar paper almost reduced me to tears during the creation process. I found myself working then reworking areas so often that it felt like the progress was going in reverse! As I pushed through it did get a bit easier but the piece didn’t come together quite how I planned. I am happy with the final result even if it’s not the one I originally had in my head.

Homemade view finder -Creating Sentient
As you can see a homemade viewfinder can help to “de-clutter” the section you’re working on.

Break it Up!

So what is the best way to recreate elephant wrinkles? Very, very slowly! I realised that in order to make the creation process less overwhelming I had to “break down” the reference image. By tackling one small section at a time, by means of a “view finder”, I am able to focus on the different shapes, textures and gradients more easily without being overwhelmed by the rest of the image. 

Enjoy the Process!

I have learned that I need to let go of my incessant need to control every aspect of a piece. It ruins the creative process and steals the enjoyment of creating something beautiful. Because I tend to obsess over replicating every little detail all I tend to see is my mistakes, which incidentally nobody else notices. I am terribly critical of my work and have been from the start so my challenge from now on is to learn to find all the positive aspects of each artwork instead of focusing on the negatives.

My thoughts on Pastelmat

Using coloured pencil on Pastelmat definitely does have some advantages. However I have to say that, for me anyway, it made the creative experience frustrating and tedious. Now to be fair this paper is, as the name suggests, designed to be used with Pastels so I can’t in good conscience say that the problems I experienced are through any fault of the paper itself. It just doesn’t suit the way I like to work.

Because of the level of detail I try to render, a sharp point on my pencils is imperative. The Pastelmat however just seemed to chew through the tips faster than I could sharpen them. I even tried using a separate piece of sandpaper to keep the tips sharp but I seemed to spend more time doing that than actually drawing.

It’s not ALL bad!

As much as I struggled I can say this for Pastelmat, no other paper I have worked with can hold as many layers! So long as you use a gentle hand I found that I could just lay down more and more colour and the surface took it. What was even more amazing was how I could effortlessly lay light colours over dark something that is sometimes impossible with my usual surfaces. Putting the highlight in the eye for example was a breeze and another big plus was how easily I was able to lift colour off the surface with my kneaded eraser thus restoring the tooth of the paper once more.

I have seen amazing works on Pastelmat by other coloured pencil artists so possibly my bad experience is partly due to my inexperience working with it. Perhaps a few more projects with subjects that don’t require quite so much detail would yield more enjoyable results. For now though I think some time apart may be better for my sanity!

About the Title

According to the definition of “sentient” is as follows:
1 : “responsive to or conscious of sense impressions – sentient beings”
2 : “aware”
3 : “finely sensitive in perception or feeling”

It is a word that basically sums up the nature of these magnificent animals. Capable of the same emotions usually restricted to humans, elephants are able to feel joy, love, compassion and even grief.

The death of an elephant is a very traumatic event which is felt throughout the herd. Just as we humans do, elephants physically mourn the loss of a beloved family member. Mothers have been observed “burying” the bodies of their still-born calves by covering them with sticks and branches. In some cases, they even carry the body in their trunks for days, unable to come to terms with the loss. When a herd comes across the bones of a dead elephant they will linger, sometimes for days, fondling the bones with their trunks, seemingly paying their respects to their fallen kin.

And yet they are hunted without a care, to be trophies on a wall. Slaughtered for their tusks, something that has the same value as human hair or fingernails, for unfounded traditional medicinal purposes and status. How any “human” could possibly be able to kill such a peaceful and sentient creature is beyond my understanding.

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