On the back of having completed my largest work yet, here are some notes from my end…

Composition: I fell in love with the @bytazi photo. Both hypnotising and terrifying at once, with a hint of cool about the white fur, perfectly balancing the warm elsewhere. BUT, I still gambled on doing things my own way.

First, I wanted the eyes to really pop out. I’ve played around in the past, by leaving the eye sections incomplete for a sec (just white paper), and it looks kind of…electrifying. Even disturbing, on an off day. I always wish I could enjoy the split realities of continuing a piece with, and without, eye detail.

Omitting gorgeous spearmint green eye tones like these would never have been part of any serious brief; they’re captivating. However, I’ve settled for a happy compromise and included, along with the naturally present colours, some off-white, turquoise and purple, just to lift them out even more.

Sri Lankan Leopard WIP

I also wanted the position of the eyes to follow the “rule of thirds”, the foliage removed to reveal a left paw, and to really lean into the cool parts of the fur.

This meant I had to make a lot of blank space towards the top, using my imagination, and two other reference images (one again by Natasja).

If you know nothing else about me, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’m proud to say I can’t do enough for my commission customers – unless they ask for advice, their wishes and preferences are always the final (and only) word…but I PRAY for the sanity of anyone who has to work WITH me on anything. It’s something I’m keeping a steady eye on. Let that run away from you and you’re unemployable!

This control freak hated having to go off-piste. The experimentation, the absence of boundaries, the “I wonder ifs”. I’ve never had the talent to navigate those waters especially well, but perhaps it’s another entry on the “keep it up until it’s a habit” side of the ledger.

Execution: 6/10. I’ll not go into what and why, but I did in 18 days what could have been done in 15, with better planning.

However, the takeaway will inform my approach to larger work for a long time, which is great news. I’ll poke holes in everything about the piece for a few months, so your average online troll won’t have to. I’m pretty much a self-contained unit at this point. 🙂

That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with this in any way. Balanced objectivity is the goal. There’s plenty ego in the plan, much less in the task itself, but as for the result, I’d like ego to float the heck away like a helium balloon.

To the observer whose concern is nature and its environment, I submit that nature can be the ONLY focus in wildlife art, if that’s the collective wish. In spite of my edits, I didn’t do anything to make this Sri Lankan Leopard more “leopardy”, nor would anyone else realistically profess that ability with a straight face. It’s not possible. I’m just certain that photorealism is a completely valid art form, and can partner wildlife images like PB&J.

The natural world is already grand enough without too much intervention, and I’ll continue for a lifetime trying, in my own way, to half-way do it justice as it stands. Whatever I hear to the contrary, I don’t feel the need to throw too much extra sauce on top in order to beautify it. Styles seem to slide in and out of popular rotation over the years, and my established approach is as legitimate (to me, at least) as any other. Juuuuuust my wee take 🙂

Conclusion: I’ve collected my beginner’s “Winging It” chip from the front desk, ready to head to the “exhibition” section of the house. Dealer’s choice 🙂

I’m entering it into DSWF Wildlife Artist of the Year 2021, along with a few other pieces. Wish me luck!

Prints (a limited edition of 50, in varying sizes) are available to pre-order now. with 10% of all profits heading to WWF International at the end of the year.


  • David Greensmith says:

    Wonderful creation as always Alex, and generously shared knowledge. I have a question about the set up and ergonomics. I’m finding i get terrible neck pain and shoulder pain, no doubt partly due to daily pc use in the home office, but certainly as a result of sketching after work. Admittedly I have a decade or two on you, but do you not find drawing on the flat causes shoulder neck or back ache? As you may guess ergonomics or my set up is now on my agenda. Also Dist from pastels when working close? Dave.

    • Alex Fleming says:

      Sure thing, and thanks for asking Dave! I may have made it look flat in the pics by accident, but the desk was tilted the whole time. I made sure I was drawing only on the half of the sheet closest to me, before rotating it 180° and continuing the same behaviour.

      The neck pain suggests you’re poring over your work, certainly a flat surface might not help, so a tiltable desk or board would do you the world of good. But also consider what’s under your desk, preventing your chair going all the way under, or your feet remaining flat on the floor, or taking space away from the way your legs naturally rest.

      If the chair seat doesn’t rise to a height the same as your knee from the floor, you’ll double over a little, and naturally lean forward (if you’re like me). So you might need to adjust your chair to rectify that. If your setup allows you to rest your forearm on the desk without slouching, or bringing your shoulders up, it should all be the correct height.

      Whatever’s causing you to hold your body in an unnatural position is causing tension, and pain…it might be a case of seeing a physio to undo a muscle that’s set in the “wrong” position, causing postural imbalance that’s accented by the desk setup.

      I’m guessing at the physio bit, but hope it helps!

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