The Quick Indication of a Gesture

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In his forty-plus-year painting career, Kuhn painted African cats, Alaskan moose, and North American foxes. He painted majestic, stoic males, families interacting, and predators after prey. In the vast majority of his work, he put the animal front and center. These are not landscapes with animals thrown in, but studies of the creatures that inhabit the planet we share.” — Adam Duncan Harris

It’s exciting to think of all the young artists and naturalists who will be inspired by this beautiful new book. Bob Kuhn: Drawing on Instinct, edited by Adam Duncan Harris, was produced in association with a traveling exhibit organized by the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Here’s some brief background from the Museum’s website on Robert Kuhn (1920-2007):

Robert Kuhn was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. As a boy, he began to observe and draw animals at the nearby Buffalo Zoo. In 1937, Kuhn attended the Pratt Institute in New York City where he studied design, anatomy, and life-drawing. For the next 30 years, he was one of the most popular wildlife illustrators in America. In 1970, Kuhn turned exclusively to easel painting.

One of the strengths of this massive new book is the juxtaposition of Kuhn’s rarely seen sketches alongside his vibrant finished paintings. It’s also clear how much Kuhn loved the landscape of both Africa and his native North America!


The stacks of studies he left behind represent a largely unseen aspect of his stories career. A sample of sketches is reproduced here (the tip of the iceberg) to be appreciated as the building blocks upon which paintings are constructed and as works of art in their own right.” — Adam Duncan Harris

From hundreds of sketches, came many finished works:

rear guard

Rear Guard, 1977

He was considered by many to be the greatest painter of mammalian subject matter in modern times and, in the eyes of critics, the finest wildlife artist of his generation. Masterfully he handled African megafauna as confidently as he did creatures in his native North America…” — Todd Wilkinson

Flat Out, 1985

Living part of the year in Tucson, I am painfully aware of the brilliance of sunlight, pervading the landscape and everything in it. At one point in the creation of Flat Out, I decided to take the painting, a relatively small one, out to the rocky slope behind our house and paint what I found there. You might question whether either coyote or rabbit would venture out at the brightest, hottest time of day. I can only say that if it happened, as it surely could, then the chase might look about as I’ve painted it.” — Bob Kuhn

Here’s a short film clip of the artist at work, courtesy of the National Museum of Wildlife Art:

Putting pencil or chalk to paper can, as no photograph can, plant knowledge of animal form and character in your memory bank.” — Bob Kuhn

mt lion

Silent as the Snow, 1979

To draw animals from life is to court frustration. Unless they are asleep they seldom cooperate. Most pages in my sketchbooks are filled with bits and pieces, starts that were interrupted by the subjects refusal to hold still. Frequently, the quick indication of a gesture is all you can manage, and all you should attempt. You might decide to make a careful study of an animal’s head, and arrangement of limbs, a paw or some other segment of the whole animal. It matters not. Nor does it matter too much if you mislay a sketch book or two. The real gain is in your growing knowledge of your subject.” — Bob Kuhn

We can’t wait for people to get excited about this book! It also reminds us of one of our all-time favorite works on wildlife art:

By the Light of a Coleman Lantern: The Alaskan Field Sketches of William D. Berry


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