The moment I come across Richard Bowler’s photo of a drinking squirrel with its reflection (*), I know I have to draw it. Mesmerizing soft colours, like a sunset. The blurry background is calling for panpastel, but the detail in the fur, eye, ears and whiskers could probably use a sharp colour pencil. What to do?

I have already come to the conclusion that pastelmat is great for pastel, to get smooth backgrounds and rich colours. But details are more difficult. The only quality paper I have for colour pencil is bristol smooth, which doesn’t allow me to deepen the colours. But I would be able to draw tiny details. So which combination should I go for? My hesitation lingers for a few weeks, but then I cut the cord: pastel it shall be.

The choice of colour pastelmat requires another decision. Since I want a warm tone, and the fur has a lot of light hairs, I go for ‘maize’ yellow. I draw some outlines with graphite and start with the background in panpastel, in the top left corner to avoid smudging. It’s not easy to fill in the background without crossing the outlines too much or too little, in order to avoid trouble when drawing the squirrel itself…

Well, here’s something new. Whenever I use grey or white in my panpastel mix, it turns out bluish on the yellow paper. I’m beginning to think it would be a better idea to buy some small sheets of different shades, to try out the effect of certain colours. It takes a lot of mixing to resemble the colours of the reference, because of the paper colour. But, the most important thing is to have contrasts, to create depth and shine in the water; the exact colours are not crucial here.

I can’t resist drawing the eye first, to give the squirrel some soul, before I continue underpainting the fur with panpastel. What looks like a black eyeball, takes a lot of different colours like blues, purples, yellows, browns, greens and greys to create ‘shiny reflections on a round shape’. I love to do this miniature-detailing!

drawing squirrel

On with the pastel pencils. The same happens here: the paper colour makes the grey pencil look blue. Hm. This is going to be tough. I keep layering all kinds of colours, grey, brown, yellow, pink, red, looking for the effect to match the fur. Hopefully, it will turn out right in the end, on its own, without resembling the reference…

drawing squirrel

I didn’t notice it before, but there’s a blurry thing in the picture where the little front paw is. For a moment, I hesitate… Should I copy that or try to draw a paw from my imagination? Will it make sense to have that blurry thing in?

I decide to stick with the reference. The paw has a different texture, so I use white here for the top layer, making strands of hair.

drawing squirrel

Layers, layers, layers. Well, it’s not as much layering as with colour pencils, since I am not going over exactly the same spots, but laying down each individual hair, next to each other, each in its own colour. More yellow hairs here, more brown hairs there, and so on.

I like drawing the part underneath the throat, where tiny shiny hairs are showing against the shadow.

drawing squirrel

Then the reflection. When I look closely, it strikes me as a bit odd that the reflection is rather undistorted, despite the rippled surface, but it differs from the actual squirrel. The colours are darker, and the details are not exactly the same, because of the different angle. I am so intrigued and concentrated that I forget to take pictures…😳

I end with the whiskers. Most of them start dark, then there’s a shiny part, and then they fade. It takes four or five different pencils to draw one whisker! But it’s fun to do. Also, a nice detail is that several whiskers have a barely distinguishable reflection in the water! Finally, a few touchups in the eye to make it sparkle, and I’m done.

My squirrel is not the same squirrel as the one on the reference photo. But this is something I’m trying to learn: to look at my work as a piece of art, with it’s own character, inspired by a reference photo to help with both the visualisation of technical details, and – as in this case – a beautiful composition!

I hope you like it!

drawing squirrel

(*) Reference photo by Richard Bowler on twitter: Website: