Tackling a challenging subject – a lizard in a tree

I love it when folks send a challenging subject to sketch. This one comes from my friend Lori. It is a small lizard in a tree, a lot of gray makes it hard to get the lizard to stand out. Here is the photo I worked from.

From the lizard’s perspective she must be glad that we have trouble making her stand out, her camouflage is her protection. To sketch we have to observe closely and use what we can. Two key tools will be the textures and the dark areas, specifically where the body of the lizard is next to the tree.

First I did a light pencil sketch to get the shape of the lizard right, not too detailed and not too fussy, just basic shapes.

Next I used my fountain pen to turn it into an ink sketch. It is important to emphasize the texture of the bark, and not add too much texture to the lizard, the contrast will make her stand out. For my style I kept it loose.

You can see that the lizard is already starting to stand out. For the rest we will use watercolors. Traditional watercolor is to go from light to dark, but in this situation the darks are so important that I painted them in first, not as dark as they would be in the final sketch but I wanted to know where they were.

Next I added the lighter gray for the bark, which from the photo looks quite bleached, so a mixture of Ultramarine Blue, and Sepia worked well. I was careful to leave small white areas as highlights.

The lizard has a bit of green in its coloring, Perylene Green is a favorite gray-green, perfect for this. If you are using sap green gray it down with some Ultramarine Blue

The last thing was to intensify the darks, and shade the tail of the lizard. For this I used the darkest gray I have, being sure it is black along the edge of the lizard and then blended up to the ridge down the back of the lizard. A bit of shading on the tail kept it from being flat.

Thanks Lori for the challenge, I love doing these. If you run into a challenge send it along and I will see what I can do with ide

8 Comments Add yours

  1. David Buehler says:

    OK, here is one I typically have a problem with: Antarctic landscape in a white-out.

    Of course I jest. But here is one that someone named Sketchtraveller did:


    1. Whit is always a challenge be cause our brain is thinking whit, but ice has blue and gray, and casts shadows, and has texture


  2. Julie Hale says:

    Thanks for sharing, Terry! I loooooove seeing what you do! Hug!


  3. Shirley Riley says:

    Impressive (as always) and instructive, but I have to say I would personally have to focus on still life. I’d be way too nervous that the lizard would stop posing and jump on me. My failing; not the lizards…(probably something to do a run in I had with a green geiko that appeared on my shower curtain in Japan…) But even with my bad experience, your live lizard sketch shows again that you are a naturally inspiring teacher—something that is appreciated!


  4. loved reading this 🙂


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