If drawing animals, plants and nature in general is a passion of yours, then consider being a nature artist. It takes time to develop and grow your craft, but it’s a lot more fun than doing the usual, everyday art assignments on subjects that may or may not interest you. Having been in the business of nature art for over twenty five years, here are tips I can offer that may help you in your quest in becoming a professional in this interesting field.
Know your subject well
It is mandatory to know what you’re drawing, in as much detail as possible, in order to realistically draw animals or plants correctly. In scientific art, accuracy is a must, but for everyday work that is for posters or other items, it is less critical to be spot-on with detail. Whichever venue you choose, become an expert in your subject by reading, observing, seeing it in real life, and truly knowing it inside and out. Know the muscles and how they lay, how feathers sit on the skin of a bird. Learn to see in depth, and develop a critical mind to analyze what you’re drawing. Be thorough in your learning. Poorly done drawings are usually due to the artist not knowing the true structure of the subject or how it moves. For example, many people aren’t accurate on conveying how horses gallop. Whatever subject you are focusing on, give it 200% of your attention. The quality of your work will show if you have learned your subject well enough or not.
Never stop learning
Graduating from college was only the beginning of my education in nature illustration. It pays to know and update computer skills, if you use the computer for any reason, for example. I learned the "old school" way of art (drafting table and pens) and had to go back to school to take extensive coursework to enhance my computer knowledge, more for photography than the art itself. Or, learning how others do different art techniques, how they market their work, and what books they choose, to stock their libraries of reference material. My own personal library of books is very large, so I can look up a particular breed of animal or plant whenever necessary. Having a good reference file of information, images and past projects is mandatory for anyone who focuses their career on nature. It’s not easy to make a living at nature art, no matter how good you are, so you must arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible on what you do, to have that extra edge others may not. The more you stand out, the better. You must be a true professional and good at what you do in every way.
Immerse yourself in subjects that are most interesting to you. I spent two years living in Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula, working as an illustrator for a large nature company there. While there, I spent most of my time out in the wild, checking out and documenting the creatures I saw with photographs, drawings and notes. My rented home was next to the jungle, and different animals would emerge from it daily, to my fascination. Before going to Mexico, I’d only seen the tropical flora and fauna of the area in books. But, being there in person is totally different and a much deeper experience. There is no better way to get to know a subject than immersing yourself in it. Photos you take casually make great reference materials for projects later on, so make sure to save them.
Always enjoy what you’re doing to the best of your ability. Sometimes it can be hard if you’re out in the bush, getting chomped on by mosquitoes, but for the true nature lover, it’s all worth it in the end. Be tenacious, don’t get discouraged. It takes time, patience and additive skills to be successful at this business. It is highly worthwhile for those of us who do it for a living, and never, ever a dull moment. The more we document and educate others about nature, the more future generations will cherish and want to preserve it. Make an impact by giving it your best.