Recently, as I and a number of artists friends were discussing the use of photographs in painting, one of them mentioned that in painting animals the photo was almost a necessity in that she had never mastered the art of sketching live animals quickly enough to capture their momentary poses. She joked that without photos she could only draw sleeping animals. I too draw animals from time to time and always from photos with the emphasis on the plural quality of that word. However it wasn't always thus. I will never forget the first year I taught, there was an animal drawing unit in my eighth grade course of study so I had a student bring in a pet cat one day. We arranged the tables in a circular configuration with a centre table at which sat the cat's owner with the feline on a short leash. The students very quietly sat around the edge with instructions that each time the cat moved they were to start over right next to their initial effort and then if the cat returned to a pose similar to one they had begun, then they could return to the earlier drawing.
It worked beautiful, and as cats are prone to do when bored, the animal eventually took a "catnap." Bolstered by this initial success, I allowed another student to bring in his dog the next day. We placed it on the table as well and while it didn't exactly roll over and play dead, the end results were that the students turned out some pretty nice canine art too. Well, as you can imagine, the kids loved this so, not having enough sense to quit while I was ahead, I asked if any other students would like to bring in a different pet. Well, without telling me (which was just as well) the next day a young farm lad brought in his pet pig. Actually it was only a few days old, more of a piglet, probably less than a foot long. Well, figuring by this time I had nothing to lose, we played out the same routine as before with the pig on the table on a short leash, and aside from getting bit, the day went pretty well, though before long word got around school I had a pig in the art room and kids were coming down between classes to see the cute little porker.
Well, it went down hill from there. The next day a student brought in a pet rabbit, which, believe it or not, was bigger than the pig...I'm talking about major Bugs Bunny big! I didn't get bit, but I did get severely scratched. The next day a boy was scheduled to bring in a lamb. I thought, gee, after the pig and the rabbit, the lamb should be a piece of cake. Wrong! First of all, the thing had to be fed every four hours, and as you might guess, with that much liquid going in a similar quantity had to be coming out. The Mary Had a Little Lamb day was an unmitigated disaster. Fortunately, the final day, a boy rode his pony to school, which, having learned from experience, we decided not to put up on the table in the art room. We tied it to a tree outside and the kids stood at the window and drew it. The animal was a perfect gentleman too, hardly moving at all and the kids did some really nice work. And me, I learned a lot too. I learned never again to use live animals in class. I started a collection of mounted animals, a squirrel, an owl, a coyote, a mallard, and a groundhog. The squirrel and owl I still have to this day while the coyote I willed to the school when I left.