I have a stack of old sketchbooks and loose sheets of paper containing sketches that I have amassed over the years. As archives go, this one is a right mess, as the papers are not in any order and the dates of the sketches and studies are not indicated. Some sketches contain the earliest appearances of animals that were later painted, others are just doodles, some contains ideas later incorporated into something else, and some show designs that never made it. I thought it might be interesting to show a few of those sketches, and will start with an example of the latter kind, one that nearly made it into a painting, but became destined for non-existence. So here is the world's first peek at the 'schaatsbeest'.
This is probably its very first appearance. I must have felt the composition was good from the start, as it hardly changed afterwards. In fact, I still like it. I wrote 'schaatsbeest' next to it, which is Dutch for 'skating beast'. For this post I decided to leave its name in Dutch rather than translate it into English. There are animals names in Swahili and French besides English on Furaha, so why not one or two in other languages? On the remote chance that you might wish to pronounce its name correctly, the 'ch' in the beginning is like the 'ch' in 'Bach' as Germans pronounce it, which is NOT 'bahk'. The 'aa' is like the 'a' in 'father' but longer, and the 'ee' in 'beest' is like the 'ay' in layer (if you think this is silly, remember that you English speakers are the ones who messed things up with your great vowel shift). Anyway, the schaatsbeest is ice sailing, also known as 'ice yachting'. If you do not know what ice yachting is, have a quick look at the Wikipedia entry, or here for photographs of present-day ice sailing.
Click to enlarge; source here
Just to be on the safe side, here is an example of a historical type of ship used in ice yachting. As you can see, the process is like sailing, but instead of a hull making its way through water there are skates allowing it to glide over frozen rivers, ponds or lakes.
And this may well have been the second sketch. Together with the first one it allows the beast's anatomy to be discerned: it has six legs, of which four are used to skate on, and the other two look like the front limbs of a mantis (this may very well be the first time that this particular configuration came up). There are four sails, derived from wings. The animal is sailing into the wind, which means that the wind is coming from in front and a bit to the side. This type of sailing requires the sails to be very taut, and results in large sideways forces on the ship, so ships sailing into the wind typically tilt over to the leeward side. The schaatsbeest undergoes the same forces, and in this case the two skating legs on the windward side are tilted right off the ice, where they help act as a counterweight.
The point of this second sketch was to work out the perspective. If you look carefully, you will see that the animal throws a shadow on the ice, indicated by vertical stripes, and below that you see its body mirrored in the ice (the perspective of a mirror image is easy, once you understand that you should act as if there is a second object behind the mirror). In this case, the mirror image allows the viewer to see the underside of the animal. I thought that this would make for an interesting composition.
This sheet of paper shows more takes on the same idea. I used to sketch multiple images right through one another at the time. I was playing with the sails and had a first look at colour. The colour sketch at the top shows a completely different kind of sail, reminiscent of a schooner rig. The bottom sketch shows two pairs of sails while the two other sketches show fused sails, with a mainsail at the back and a jib or genoa in front.
Here is a pencil sketch showing the schaatsbeest from in front. The odd object at the left is a squarish 3D arrow indicating the wind direction. The animal allows its body to be tilted, but uses its front limbs and the windward skates to balance it. Its head is held perfectly horizontally. The sails are also moved towards the vertical. I think that the thick lines where its back meets the mainsail masts were alterations to allow it do that with sufficient force. The small sketch towards the right show it sailing squarely before the wind, where it does not tilt and spreads out its four sails to make the most of the wind.
Finally, a very large pencil sketch. It looks like it is drawn on parchment, but that is only because I needed to manipulate the image for the pencil lines to show up at all. I had made a cardboard model, put it on a mirror, and based the sketch on that. That explains the thinness of the limbs and the lack of any perspective drawing guides.
I stopped development there. In hindsight, I may have been right to do so. While I still like the composition, almost enough to pick up the design again, an ecological point of view suggests this animal to be in trouble. It is obviously quite well adapted to move around on expanses of flat ice. Are these then around from most of the year? What does it find there to eat? The animal would probably be very clumsy on dry land, and its modified wings will not allow it to fly. Oh well; back into the archives, I guess.