Responses: Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook (1980).

The sculptor Henry Moore saw a stark link between the rock that was both his material and inspiration, and the grazing calmness of sheep.  The animals stand out in the landscape in the same, oblique way, providing an aesthetic of both fitting in and being anomalous; they litter the vista in a way that is puzzling and warmly mysterious.  Roger Deakin saw this relationship himself when walking the Rhinogs where he writes of seeing that same relationship that sparked Moore’s fascination with sheep:  “I watched a ewe standing between two big rocks the shape of goat’s cheeses.  They were just far enough apart to allow the animal in, and I began to understand the relationship Henry Moore perceived between sheep and stones.  He saw sheep as animate stones, the makers of their own landscape.” (2000, p.91).  This permeable position between the maker and the made is perhaps what attracted the sculptor to the animal, leading him to produce a range of sketches in pen and ink (largely a ball-point pen in fact) that would make up his eventual 1980 publication, Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook.

Moore’s work as a 3D rather than a 2D artist must be briefly assessed before looking into more woollen territory but, suffice to say, there’s a physicality that he brings to the flat surface when drawing that reflects his chief role as a sculptor.  This is reflected most succinctly in the very fact of using a regular ball-point pen, allowing the ease to glide over the paper when necessary but also to swirl violently and cut into it.  For such a placid subject, the movement and energy generated by Moore in drawing them shows a deep fascination but one that is essentially of the moment, of a desire to capture that singular point that the animal brings when in a certain position within the landscape.  It’s almost as if Moore is after that same moment that he takes more time over for his larger sculptural work, though this time defined by a wild and fluctuating raw material; that of a sentient animal that can move away from the perfect stance with far greater ease than a huge slab of rock.

This sense of timeliness perceivable in the almost frenzied swirls of the sheep illustrations seems to at first go somewhat against Moore’s own assessment of his methodology whereby “Because a work does not aim at reproducing natural appearances it is not, therefore, an escape from life — but may be a penetration into reality…as expression of the significance of life, a stimulation to greater effort in living.”.  In some ways Moore was attempting to recreate some sort of natural appearance but it was not the teleology of the work; the natural appearance is the portal to something else, the placement of shapes in a landscape that can interact and create a dialect.  Perhaps Moore could see the process going on when a sheep was augmenting its surroundings naturally and more quickly than he could with a sculptural work which, though often inspired by and drawing on the place they would undoubtedly be exhibited in at some point, was of course more patient in its relationship with the landscape.  Speed becomes a new tool in Moore’s repertoire when drawing sheep, forcing him to innovate and tap into the fluid motions constantly associated with him but in a more instantaneous way.

This ties in further to how Moore actually went about the very structure of these many sheep drawings.  As Becca Lewis writes in her essay on Moore, the artist took the risky strategy of beginning the shading of the animals straight away rather than attempting an initial outline:

His sheep sketches are very accurate and first look solid in form when standing from a distance, yet when you get closer to the imagery you start to notice his style. Zig-zags and rushed ball point pen lines dominate the drawings, thicker and more panicked scratches where there is less light and softer yet still sudden and vigorous on the brighter parts of the scene. Moore also rarely started his sketches by outlining his sheep, but started shading straight away, a risky strategy especially with the use of ball point pen but nonetheless effective. (Link)

This arguably belies Moore’s primary role as a sculptor, engaging in texture right from the off.  When sculpting, the relationship between outer form and general texture would be of constant simultaneity; on paper, the attempt to recreate that same relationship provides a surprising element of transience to the sheep as they go about their everyday business of milling about on the grassy pastures and meadows.  They may have moved out of the position that provided Moore with the inspirational contrast but the artist essentially links their textures to the landscape that they inhabit; the woolly cacophony of the animals being part of the momentary process of place.


Zigzag wanderers outline the meadow,

Gateposts mark boundary and domain,

Out of the dazed eye-line,

Awash with ink eddies, itching ked.


Revolving knolls melt into woollen wisps,

Ghost mammals eating their way through,

To the other side of a rocky outcrop.


Moss in the Dewclaw – kick, flit, sketch, limn.


Ad hoc, dock and hock.  Come-By,

In Here, ink to shape, silhouette,

That’ll do.


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