Artists find inspiration in observing animal life, nature


Peggy Watkins has been drawing animals since she was a child.

“I used to draw as a kid to bring the animals into the room with me,” she said. “I guess I am still doing so.”

Watkins’ lifelike animal paintings will be on display at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition coming Feb. 12-14 to venues across Charleston.

Artists like Watkins, a sporting and wildlife artist in Charleston, will display their work while also sharing their artistic process with collectors and enthusiasts. Watkins said her works are inspired by something she’s seen or experienced.

“If it is a hunting related piece, I am often awed by the intensity and stillness of the pointing dog,” she said.

Watkins takes photographs while wing shooting or visiting wildlife areas. Then she creates sketches from the photos to develop the overall composition. Next, she moves to the canvas, drawing the basic lines and adding color. “I use my photographs as reference to paint from, but always embellish color and shapes within the painting,” she explained.

Watkins usually starts with the eye of the featured animal and works her way out, finishing an area as she goes. She incorporates bold brushwork and soft and hard edges so the piece has movement.

“My utmost goal is to give the viewer the experience, but also use their own imagination,” Watkins said.

Julie Chapman grew up on a small farm in Ohio where she developed an early love of both animals and drawing.

“I adore animals. They are striking worlds and landscapes unto themselves, and they are fascinating fellow travelers on this ark we share,” she said. “I want more than anything to get inside their skin and know what they think and feel. My artwork is an attempt to understand them, to honor their beauty and their place in the world, and to share my fascination with others.”

Over the years, she’s worked in all manner of media, evolving into the more contemporary scratchboards. Scratchboards are panels with black ink over a white clay layer. The artist then uses a sharp tool to scratch away the black ink, creating a fine white line.

Living in Montana, Chapman is surrounded by natural inspiration – the first step in her artistic process. She spends a great deal of time finding and photographing her subjects – everywhere from Alaska and Yellowstone National Park to England and Africa.

Chapman carefully reviews her research, sketching ideas and looking for evocative and powerful composition. Once she settles on a design, she selects the appropriate size and then begins drawing. The last step is the scratching.

“This involves a sharp No. 11 X-ACTO knife blade – replaced early and often – to incise through the black ink layer of the scratchboard and reveal the white underneath in very fine lines,” Chapman explained.

Her large cougar-and-moon scratchboard, “Seduction,” will be on display at SEWE. “Designing it took many hours of arranging and re-arranging various incarnations of both elements until I had a composition that worked,” she said.