RESEARCH-Wildlife Artist Eric Wilson
|© Copyright 2009 Eric Wilson
All rights reserved
Apart from a trip to the zoo, good research could be done in a bookstore or even on your computer. Today we are
surrounded by so many visual images of the wild that it seems unforgivable that artists should still make
fundamental mistakes such as placing their subject in the wrong habitat. Where is the artists interest in his
subject if he can't even get that right?
I have traveled far and wide, not because I feel it is necessary as some kind of qualification but simply because I
have the interest and passion to do so. I love nothing more than to escape the urban mess of humanity and blend
places is for me, enormously beneficial. If you want to be successful you should paint what you love, what
interests you and what inspires you. This is the single most important thing that will give your work honesty and
For budding wildlife artists.
Does a Wildlife Artist need to roam the world in search of his subjects? should he
have a first hand knowledge of his subjects by studying them in the wild before
painting them? These are questions I'm often asked by up and coming Artists.
I was brought up on the idea that an artist should have an intimate knowledge of
his chosen subject to give his work credibility and I've certainly taken that route.
I think it is beneficial to be expert in your chosen field, particularly as a
professional. I am saddened these days to see so many people calling themselves
wildlife artists when all they do is slavishly copy the work of professional
photographers. I've even seen well known artists working for the major
publishing houses who openly admit copying photographs by wildlife
photographers. This might be a fast track to commercial success, but I don't
believe it is the way great art is created. I believe therefore, that the professional
wildlife artist should travel to where his subjects are and do thorough research.
Having said this, I am very sympathetic to up and
coming wildlife artists who cannot afford
expensive safari experiences. For these artists I see
nothing wrong with a trip to the local zoo. Zoo
research, be made into very convincing wildlife
paintings. At the end of the day it should be
remembered that the primary chosen field is
painting and it is the mastery of painting that
comes before anything else.
Research alone does not a good artist make. There
are many great wildlife paintings from artists who
have never seen their subjects in the wild, and also
some very weak paintings from people who have.
It does not necessarily follow that researching
your subjects personally will make you a better
wildlife painter. Leonardo Da Vinci could not claim
to have been at the last supper for example, and
yet his famous depiction remains a wonderful
work of art (despite being no doubt, completely
inaccurate ). Artistic ability is always the number
one factor to be considered and any direct
experience of subject is merely a bonus.
Wildlife Artists therefore, should not fret endlessly if they are
unable to travel to Africa, but should concentrate first and
foremost upon honing their artistic skills. Secondly they
should decide carefully what subjects they are going to paint,
and should always paint what they love.
If you don't have an all consuming passion for your subject,
if your subject does not move you then it's probably unlikely
that you could produce great works of art that would move
others. I paint wildlife because I love it. I What does matter
where it comes to knowledge of your have always had a very
powerful connection with nature and felt unbridled joy in the
presence of wild animals. This is the qualifying characteristic
that really matters and if you have that passion, you will find
that you do your research quite naturally and to the best of
When I think back over my life, I feel blessed to have had so many amazing experiences. Here are a couple of
them and if you want to see more, please follow the links below to more detailed pages.
The temperature was -30 degrees. It was 3am and I was stood
of Canada. The stars shone like diamonds in the sky, the wind
howled and the northern lights danced before my eyes,
glorious veils of colour one after another and each more
splendid than the last. If this were not magical enough, and
believe me it is, I could lower my eyes and at the same time
observe massive polar bears prowling the snow below me
hoping perhaps, that I would become dazzled by the lights and
fall into their ice world. Awesome is an overused word these
days, but on this occasion, seeing both the northern lights and
wild polar bears simultaneously it is certainly appropriate to
the situation. At that moment, soaking up one of the most
spectacular sights this jewel of a world can give us, I quietly
reminded myself of how lucky I am and how good it felt, even
at 30 degrees below zero, to be alive.
I am indeed lucky to have seen such things, and I
live for such moments. On another occasion this
time in Africa, I came face to face with a huge
silverback gorilla and was immediately humbled
by the intelligence in his eyes. For the first time I
felt as though he was observing me rather than I
observing him. He even came over to me and
touched me, his strong testosterone smell thick
in the air as he sniffed the lens of my camera.
Such priceless moments remain forever in my
The photograph above,was taken as I scrambled up a hillside in a desperate attempt to escape the rhino. All of
these experiences and more, have been part of my life as a professional wildlife artist. Adventure is a big part of
what I do, it balances the long solitary hours spent in the studio and I would not change any of it.
I am writing the new research pages at the moment and will publish links to them as soon as possible.
I was literally hunted down by a fiercely territorial black
rhino when I was caught out on foot in the wilderness of
Zimbabwe, or when I attempted to photograph a pride of
lions at night with a moon rising behind them only to find
that as I looked through the viewfinder to where they had
been, I saw with horror that they were silently moving
towards me and the guy who was supposed to be covering me
with a rifle about 100 meters away was underneath our
landrover busily changing a wheel! Or the time in Zaire when
my vehicle was suddenly forced to stop on a dirt road in the
middle of nowhere by an army truck full of very angry
screaming soldiers who leapt onto the vehicle and shoved
their AK47 machine guns in my face accusing me of spying
on their army base. My friend, whose camera was on show
had all the film ripped out ( Of gorillas ) and I was so
desperate to keep mine, that I hid it in my trousers. They
obviously thought I was pleased to see them, and after
stealing $100 and a baseball cap, they forgot about the spying
charge and let us go.