Painting an old goat

Increasingly I’m including more animals and figures into my landscape paintings, as they do create added interest and life, usually becoming the centre of attention within the composition. This interest in adding more life coincided with my visits to the Arctic with its fascinating wildlife, and it certainly pays to take every opportunity to capture animals and birds whenever you can……on paper that is! many of my more entertaining, and sometimes hair-raising moments have occurred because of wildlife, which can be quite unpredictable.

In this detail from a watercolour of Bedouin goats I’ve created a main group in the foreground, with two other more distant pairs that are less detailed than those at the front. By over-lapping most of them it suggests a more natural situation, and of course makes it easier to paint – you can even get away with painting a one-legged goat! The danger with over-lapping is that the detail of the two animals can confuse the eye, but if you look at the leftmost pair you will see how I’ve faded out the detail of the goat that stands behind the other.

When there is a herd, flock or whatever, how many animals do you put into the composition? In the 18th century the Reverend William Gilpin propounded that the optimum number of cows to put into a painting was 22, but of course you might not have room for so many, and anyway might get bored after the first eleven or so. I rarely put in more than seven unless they are far away within the picture. Try not to cover the foreground area evenly with one animal per three inches, or whatever: every painting needs its quiet moments.