Friday 20 July 2012

The Otter Sketchbook

Sketch of an otter by Sophie Neville

Bee the otter testing the water ~ a sketch investigated by Jims

Drawing otters is tricky, firstly because they don't stay still for a moment and secondly because our tame otters are so affectionate and inquisitive that they continually want to see what you are doing. The paw prints on the sketch above are not made with paint but with mud from a wet creature who would have made the paper all soggy, given half a chance.

Sketch of an otter by Sophie Neville

Our otter Jims was these easiest to draw since he was less energetic than the others. After numerous attempts with a pencil I found it best to sketch in a broad pen when I was with the otters. I'd then go inside and draw with thick ink using a glass tube onto cartridge paper to capture a likeness of character.

Sketch of an otter by Sophie Neville

This sketch shows thier small partially webbed hands and their tiny ears and thick, rudder-like tail. I forgot the whiskers, which are very important to otters. Like other mammals they need them to estimate their body width so that they do not get stuck going down holes in the river bank.

Mum kept telling me to make the eyes larger and more appealing but it didn't work. They have small eyes. I always know when someone has drawn or sculpted an otter they have not observed well as they get the confirmation wrong. They are often given the legs of a dog - but the are mustelids and have an altogether more primitive structure.

One trick of composition is to make sure that one eye is in the centre of the page. This applies to any portrait. But rules are to be broken. I just keep drawing, keep sketching and painting,

keep observing the animals

despite being interrupted or sidetracked until I have one picture that works - then I print it and sign it, mount it and hang it on the wall.

An otter on a rock by Sophie Neville

You can read more about living with otters on ~

 All sketches on the blog are featured in 'Ride the Wings of Morning' and are (c) Sophie Neville. Please contact me if you need to use them on

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