Giraffe on a chopper

I find the process of creativity fascinating. I love how this painting of a giraffe riding a chopper through the savanna grasslands turned out, but its inspiration was completely random. Some of my students wanted to sketch, but weren’t sure what they wanted to draw and were asking for suggestions. To help them, I led them through an exercise I’ve used sometimes where I create some lists of random things, and then try to find an interesting combination. We made a list of animals, a list of activities, and a list of objects, and settled on a giraffe riding a motorcycle. They began drawing and I decided to join in, and was almost immediately struck by how funny a giraffe would look with its over-sized neck sticking way beyond the handlebars! I knew that it would need to be riding a chopper with an extended front end for balance. Here was my initial sketch, done in about ten minutes:

My next step was to revise my rough sketch. I am not really a motorcycle guy so I looked up a lot of reference to make sure my design got the look and feel of a chopper right, even going so far as to send my sketch to a friend of mine who knows motorcycles inside and out. I added gloves and a jacket to my giraffe, and modified his pose so that he looks more streamlined and settled in on the seat:

Next up, inks! I used a brush pen and my light table to ink directly onto hot press watercolor paper. I was very careful not to be too heavy with the brush pen, and tried to keep the lines from getting too thick:

I started my painting with the savanna grasses and the dirt road on which the giraffe is riding. Next I painted the sky, using pinks and purples to indicate either morning or evening, depending the viewer’s preference (I thought of it as sunset), and added several layers of clouds. I then went back in and added the silhouettes of some very distinctly African trees to make it clear this giraffe isn’t riding through Nebraska or Iowa. I also added some shading to the grasses to separate them from the sky and create the illusion of depth.

On to the central character! I chose maroon for the bike color because it stood out as a distinctive color, but still fit in generally with the color palette of the rest of the piece. The coloring and shading for the giraffe and chopper was pretty straightforward, and once I was finished, I used the brush pen to add a few inks to the path, the grasses, the horizon, and the trees. The last step was to use some white inks to add highlights, and the subtle indication of speed lines around the giraffe and the chopper:

I’m delighted with how well this painting turned out! I feel like I’m getting much more comfortable with the watercolor medium, how colors work together, and the process of painting in layers. I really enjoyed just painting the background without first sketching or inking in guidelines, and then selectively inking parts of it after I had painted it, and I’m looking forward to using this process in more paintings. Thanks for reading!

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