A group of students visited Edinburgh Zoo on 3rd January 2017 as part of the new “Making Animal Studies” elective course which launched this year. They were joined by artist Darren Woodhead, whose watercolour work of landscapes and wildlife is produced exclusively outside and on location. He offered guidance to help improve drawing and painting techniques, particularly with animals who would more often than not be moving while being drawn.

The “Making Animal Studies” inter-disciplinary course is Co-organised by Andrea Roe (artist and lecturer, Edinburgh College of Art) and Andrew Gardiner (senior lecturer, Royal [Dick] School of Veterinary Studies), and introduces students to the rapidly expanding field of Animal Studies, where insights from the arts, sciences and social sciences inform contemporary thinking about animals. It has attracted students from across the University of Edinburgh.

“I like how much freedom you get with this elective, and how you can go and look at and draw what you want. It’s a nice change from my other studies,” said Eleanor McEvedy, who is on the Russian Studies and Classics – MA programme, “I want to try and create a more cohesive whole in my drawing – and animals are so different, they’ve got scales, feathers, claws, teeth, and I’ve never really tried to draw that before.”

Hannah Lingard is in the second year of the History of Art – MA (Hons) programme, “I’ve kept up drawing as a hobby, but I haven’t always found time because of my university schedule,” said Hannah, “Normally I draw still objects, but today it’s been about mark-making, and trying out techniques like blind drawing. It was hard at first, but it was also good to let your mind go, and just concentrate on what you’re looking at.”

“At first I thought it was going to be a case of drawing faster when it comes to moving animals, but actually it’s a case of observing more,” said Aidan Stephen, a second year Painting – BA (Hons) student, “You’re not trying to get the animal as you see it straight away, but you’re trying to get an impression of that kind of animal.”

Jemima Viner is in the second year of studying Philosophy – MA, “I did Art to A-Level, and I was considering doing it at university as well,” she said, “This elective is rekindling my own interests outside of my main subject.”

“One of the most interesting things is that we had students from different disciplines today,” said Darren Woodhead, “Something that I think we’re all guilty of doing is forgetting to see – when you come out to draw something that’s moving, you have to see and observe, and you have to take everything in. And so the whole thing becomes a process of learning. And if we can start absorbing that process, it’ll enrich and enliven other parts of our lives. We have to become children again.”

Previous activities on the course have included an introduction to animal communication through pheromones, and a visit to the National Museum to draw from cabinet skins and the skeletal collection. Future sessions will include visiting Edinburgh University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies to learn suturing techniques and an introduction to thinking spatially, with welding and casting demonstrations at Edinburgh College of Art.