Bear illustration – original by Shane Swann
The Last Bear of Britain blog post
In tribute to the British bear.
Britain was once a land covered by forest, where brown bears thrived. However due to years of habitat destruction and persecution by humans, they were eventually made extinct in Britain in the 10th century. Today less than 15% of the original UK woodland remains, resulting in many of our native species dying out. Furthermore, bears are now rare everywhere in western Europe, however they still continue to be hunted.
I began drawing this bear as a follow on from ‘The Last Wolf of Scotland‘. I am aiming to produce a series of tribute drawings in the same style, of animals that have been made extinct in the UK by human activity.
I wanted to set myself a challenge with this drawing. The wolf for example until the bear, was the most intricately complicated drawing I had ever done. Every hair and whisker had been drawn individually with an extremely fine pen and due to this, had taken a lot of commitment and time to complete. So the challenge was to draw the bear even bigger! Inially I didn’t realise how much of a pain staking task I had given myself. Firstly I had put pressure on myself to complete the drawing by a deadline so I could submit it into an exhibition alongside the wolf. Secondly was the actual endurance and stamina I needed, to draw such a large, detailed drawing with such a tiny pen. It also was taking much longer than I thought, so when the deadline was approaching I had to draw for hours every day into the night after work and weekends. A small section like the area around the eye for example could take up to 5 hours. Towards the end I felt like I was going crazy, due to the constant focus and the thousands of individual lines I was having to draw. Also my eyes would blur. Plus my hand and rist were starting to give up by the end, and would ache and stiffen! (Incase you wondered, I did make the deadline)
Another reason I wanted this picture to be so large was because of an issue I had realised when exhibiting my work alongside other artists. The issue was that even though my drawings had a lot of intricate detail to look at, and if displayed alongside similar art, were visually strong. If shown in an exhibition with a variety of styles including large oil paintings or bright abstracts, many people would be drawn to these big, vibrant pictures from a distance, and therefore walk straight passed mine. I found this quite frustrating, as to get the full impact of my work, you need to stop and stand right up close and view the detail. Therefore I needed to find a way so that my style could compete with these large eye catching paintings, and draw people in from a far to view the detail. So I thought I’d play the large painting at their own game, and create a massive, but extremely intricate drawing. It would grab people from a distance, but would also look visually more interesting close up!
I always document what I am up to art wise on social media, for example if I finish a picture, I will post the image for people to see. However I knew the bear was going to take months to complete, and that would mean I would not have anything visual to post for that duration. So instead of only publishing the finished piece, I decided to document in pictures my progress. Each time I’d finish a section, I’d post it and describe what I had been doing and the challenges I had faced etc. What I didn’t initially realise was the interest posting my progress would attract. Many people would comment and seemed to look forward to my posts of the bear. It was also very helpful for me to hear other people’s opinion, especially on the areas I was finding a struggle. This I found was also a great way to publicise myself as a whole, because people seemed to wait for the next instalment of my progress, and quite often would share my posts with their friends, furthermore exposing my page to other people that I would have not otherwise reached.
My next project will be a Lynx, made extinct in Britain, due to hunting, loss of habitat and the intensification of farming practices.