Monday, August 09, 2010

Illustration Friday - Caged

Depicting a caged animal in a zoo is a fairly obvious way to interpret this week's 'Illustration Friday,' word, which is "caged," but it is the first thing that came into my mind. I love animals and even though my feelings about zoos are a bit ambivalent, I love going to them for the opportunity it gives me to see animals from around the world. It breaks my heart to see a caged animal, but on the other hand I know that zoos now play an important part in conservation and preserving species that might otherwise go extinct in the wild. For the most part, zoos have come a long way in creating more stimulating and naturalistic enclosures for their animals. I doubt that zoos even use the word cage today to describe where their animals live. Still, even at the best zoos you will see enclosures that seem to small for the animals that they house.  This seems especially true for the big cats like leopards, tigers, cheetahs, ocelots, panthers and lions. Who hasn't gone to a zoo and seen one of these majestic animals pacing back and forth in front of their bars, or just sitting staring into space?

I have been to a great number of zoos here in the USA - the Los Angeles Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo and Chicago's Lincoln Park zoo. It was last year while visiting the Lincoln Park zoo where I was saddened to see some of the big cats on display in very old, very cramped enclosures. All of the cats who were awake at the time, sure enough, were pacing back and forth. So, when I thought about the word "Caged," a big cat in a small, concrete cage is what came to my mind.

I created a number of sketches before I finally came up with something I was happy with.  My earliest sketch is this one from my sketchbook where I was trying to develop a sad lion character.

From there I began to develop my scene, putting the lion in a setting, and adding some human characters.

I had a certain vision in my head of what I wanted the people to look like, but I had a difficult time achieving what was in my mind's eye. The character that gave me the most trouble was that of the overweight woman. As you can see in the first sketch, I had her as a mother, being dragged by her little boy to see the lion.

Then I decided to give her a different look - I switched her to this character, a large woman in cat-eye glasses, wearing plaid pants and holding a bag of popcorn. Instead of holding his mother's hand, I gave the little boy a balloon. By this time, I had also added in the two other children.

Although I think that drawing would have worked, I preferred the idea of the little boy dragging his mother over to see the lion, so ultimately I reverted back to my earlier version. I made a few changes though. I slimmed her down a tiny bit, changed the pose of her feet to make her look more like she was in motion and I gave her a purse to hold. I also took the balloon away from the little boy and gave it to the little girl on the left side. I tried to make the ballon a sort of counterbalance to the sun on the right.
Here, with my final sketch on a separate layer, I have begun to block in the colors. The entire image was created in Corel Painter 11. I used Painter's digital watercolor brushes for the walls of the cage and the brick wall foundation. For the lion and the human characters I primarily used Painter's gouache brushes.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a certain vision in my mind's eye of how I wanted this image to look.  My original vision was much more stylized, but I just couldn't get the stylization to look the way that I imagined it. The finished result is closer to the look of a Little Golden Book illustration, which seems to be a style that I'm working in more and more.

Anyway, thanks for reading all of this.  Comments are always welcome!


  1. Really like this illustration Vincent, although it leaves me feeling a little sad, i also feel ambivalent about animals in the zoo.

  2. Wow such a beautiful image, its really great to see how you created it too, thank you

  3. Great interpretation of the theme.... and I love seeing the process!
    BTW...I have the same mixed feelings about zoos!

  4. thank you so mutch for sharing the process.
    great result, ...but you know, i like the lady in pants in that sketch ;)

    the sad lion is really the king here, and make us think about this subjet!

  5. Oh, the lion's expression just breaks my heart! This is a wonderful piece, Vincent. :)

  6. I agree that the process of making this drawing is interesting. I would urge you consider one fact when you say you are saddened to see a "caged" zoo animal -- remember that animals and people are very different creatures. Animals do not have human thoughts or emotions, thus they really don't understand concepts like freedom and liberty. They are more interested in where their next meal will come from, do they have a comfortable spot to rest and sleep, and can they mate when the urge hits them. For these things, most modern zoos provide an excellent environment for the animals.

    Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America's Best Zoos