Big cats and birds! Art in Gouache by Robbie Graham

I have always enjoyed art but not really painted seriously until the last few years. I have always been attracted to wild animals. Sharing time with them has always been a privilege and as a resident of Kent, ‘The Garden of England’, I am lucky to get the opportunity to meet the wildlife quite often.

Seeing the wildlife really inspires me to try and capture their beauty through my art. I always set out to show the viewer the spirit and soul of the subject and always use the eyes as the focal point of my paintings.

I am self-taught and through much trial and error, have found my current and much preferred medium, namely gouache on board. I use Daler-Rowney paint materials as they suit my style the best.

I have always been inspired by contemporary artists who use water-based mediums, such as Daniel Smith who uses acrylics and Carl Brenders who uses gouache.


'Always Alert'
I wanted to capture the regal nature of the eagle owl, the wise eyes which are constantly scanning for prey.  That bird, those eyes! Magnificent!
(Gouache on board)

Gouache as a Medium

I really like using gouache as a painting medium due to the opaqueness of the paint. No layering is required and it provides the artist with the opportunity to mix and shade areas of the painting whilst applying paint directly to the board. Its unique nature means you can amend areas of the painting even some time after it has been applied and has dried. The ‘blendabillity’ of gouache is quite unique. Gouache on board works well but obtaining the depth that can be achieved by acrylics and oils can present challenges, but the intensity of the colours is outstanding.


'Frozen Gaze'
I have always been a fan of the big cats. The impact that we have on these wonderful creatures remains significant! With this painting I wanted to capture the eyes, always a favourite of mine, that are staring straight into the eyes of the viewer.  The ‘connection’ between the subject and viewer was my intention.
(Gouache on Board)

Subject Preferences

Although I get commissions to paint a variety of subjects, I prefer to paint big cats and owls. I am not sure why, but I am intrigued by their solitude and reclusiveness. My mission in all my paintings is to capture the realism perfectly and I am always impressed by the standard and quality, and indeed the diversity, of wildlife artists out there. You just have to pick up a copy of Wildscape Magazine to recognise this.

My reference work comes from zoo animals. I have not yet experienced the feeling of seeing many of my favourite animals in the wild through the experience of going on a safari. However, I prefer to get that close-up view where the viewer can get in close proximity to the subject. Getting really up close to the animal being referenced  and being allowed the spend some time in their presence, just observing them and recognising the uniqueness of the species is one of the greatest privileges I have ever experienced. I never grow tired of photographing wildlife!


'Waiting for Dad'
In this painting I wanted to portray the almost helplessness of the Amur leopard as it follows what is almost an inevitable journey towards extinction. They are such beautiful creatures and yet they are so few in numbers with only about thirty breeding pairs believed to be left in the wild. *
(Gouache on Board)

* Due to the real threat to this species much conservation work is undertaken and some of the most incredibly dedicated people I have had the privilege of meeting work at The Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF) near Ashford, Kent. Given that the Amur leopard is the rarest cat in the wild it is currently a flagship species for WHF's breeding programme. The Foundation is well worth a visit for all big cat fans and superb for obtaining reference material.

Designing the Painting

Before I set out to paint, I attempt to visualise the painting in advance. I consider the composition and how best to demonstrate the subject in its truest form. I generally use a number of photographs. I will sketch out the subject in detail, and then generally use masking fluid to cover it and then use the airbrush on the background. Then onto the main subject whom I will always shade in a dark colour first. Gouache is excellent for airbrushing as well as using as a wash for the undercoat and shading.


'Little Big Cat'
Over the years, I have developed a great fascination and admiration for tigers. In this less serious composition I wanted to remind the viewer of the humorous and temperamental nature of adolescents, whatever the species! I was particularly attracted to the ratio differences between the big paws and the narrow hips. It is amazing how such a disproportionate looking youngster could morph into one of the world’s most exceptional hunters!
(Gouache on board)  

In Conclusion

In my opinion, wildlife artists are ambassadors of nature. They create images that remind the viewer of the awesome beauty surrounding us and sometimes the fragility of their future.

I have always sought to achieve perfection in both application  and composition and despite the challenges presented by this almost impossible task,  I am  continuously inspired by seeing the work of fellow artists, who may be further down that path and also feedback from people who like my work. I may never achieve my aspiration but will always continue to capture the essence of the creature being portrayed.

Nature and wildlife has always had a big place in my heart and I guess it will never go. Wildlife art can have a positive effect on the future of animals and although the contribution may be small it may just be enough to tip the balance in favour of nature for a change in it.


Have a look at my Feature Artist profile to learn more about me and see some of my work!

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