In return for the students’ assistance, Dr. Stewart has been keeping the students up to date on the project, sending sketches by e-mail to show them how he creates his art, step by step. This process will continue until the work is completed. Enjoy the sketches and notes at each stage below!

Gator 1 This is a preliminary attempt at drawing an alligator for the NOLA Wetland Watchers project. Barry Guillot's middle school students asked me to draw the animal with a New Orleans and wetlands theme. Having never drawn a gator before, I had to do a little research, and make a few mistakes. This initial design was weak, skinny, and the head didn't fit - but I was learning a lot about gator anatomy.

Gator 1 This is a preliminary attempt at drawing an alligator for the NOLA Wetland Watchers project. Barry Guillot’s middle school students asked me to draw the animal with a New Orleans and wetlands theme. Having never drawn a gator before, I had to do a little research, and make a few mistakes. This initial design was weak, skinny, and the head didn’t fit – but I was learning a lot about gator anatomy.


Gator 2 This is the next step in the Wetland Watchers project. Going back to my reference files, I focused on older, beefier gators, and cobbled several of them together to make Gator 2. This one was more interesting to look at, and gave me more to work with as well.


Gator 3 Gator 2 was modified to make a more interesting design, with more personality and more energy than the other two. He’s still horizontal, but now he looks like he is getting up to go somewhere, and the raised posture gives me more shapes to manipulate as the picture develops. This one was enlarged to 17” in length, and transferred onto a large piece of mat board.


Gator 4 Once the sketch was applied to the board, it became apparent that the design could use some additional tweaking. First, the head was enlarged 15% more than the body, and the neck gained a collar. Next, the right foreleg got scooted back a bit, and I added the toes from the right back leg to balance the empty space under the neck. The eyes were opened wider, and moved up on the head to make the gator appear more attentive and expressive. Finally, I put a little more curve in the tail. The arrow in the upper left is there to remind me where the light will be coming from, so I will know where to put the highlights and shadows.


Gator 5 Once we settle on the outline drawing, it’s time to start substituting shapes. Slowly this alligator will be replaced by a composite of shapes suggested by the students. We have at least twenty items sketched in so far. Most are fairly obvious, some are a little harder to find. I’m pretty sure that most of these will stay where they are, but you can never tell how the image will develop, and some of these items may be replaced by others that fit the space a little better.


Gator 6 Not as much progress as I would have liked to see on the Gator this time around, though my wife tells me that for every image that has found its proper place, I have discovered a dozen ways that things won’t fit. A few good ideas have stuck to the paper, along with a bunch of half-baked approaches that may or may not make the final cut. The jaw is starting to take shape with a violin, ibis, egret and the NOLA Water Meter cover. Both jaws are now better defined as a cypress swamp, and the tongue is now a bag of rice, with red beans for tooth scars. The streetcar (named Desire) has moved up to make room for a Bourbon Street balcony. There is now a guitar (I’m still looking for room to place a trombone and clarinet), a Hurricane, jambalaya pot, oyster, a couple of dragonflies (one of which may get clipped in favor of an airboat), and a collar for the Blue dog. There is a Bourbon Street lamp, which should be bigger, and it looks like the throat will simply be a casting net.


Gator 7 The sketch is starting to come together nicely. The fact that I have been busy with other projects for a week or longer may have worked in the picture’s favor. A lot of new ideas have surfaced in the interim, and some earlier attempts to place important items (like the magnolia flower and the beignets) have finally worked themselves out. I am especially pleased with the idea of the “French quarter” – a 25-centime coin.


Gator 8 Our Wetland Gator is just about ready for ink. I’ve added a few more items: a state flag, fishing pole, cayenne peppers and mollusc shells for teeth, a football, drum, some swamp mammals, a Wetland Watchers T-shirt, and a LA license plate labeled “S-2-ARY”.


t’s been two months since I last worked on the Gator. This was partly by design, partly due to other projects and distractions around the studio, and partly because it was summertime.


Gator 10: A little more ink this time, mostly caught up in picky details. Usually by this time I would have most of the items outlined, with very little focus on the minutia. Some of the objects in this picture are a little more involved, and I had to get the details in order before I could get to the outlines.


Gator 10-2 Even though the pencil sketch gives you a pretty good idea of where the different parts of the picture are supposed to go, when you get down to actually drawing the pieces of one of these puzzles, they don’t always fit together the way you planned. In this case, the area around the alligator’s jaw (Gator 10-1) was filled with lots of little details, and had to be inked very carefully. Fortunately, once these pieces were defined, they fit together nicely.


Gator 10-2: Tiny details are also developing around the accordion, which makes up the alligator’s belly (Gator 10-2). Original sketch lines didn’t fit well enough with the actual proportions of the instrument, so things had to be tidied up a bit. While I was in the neighborhood, I became fascinated by the design on the 25-centime coin (a “French Quarter”).


Gator 11: More ink all around. At last count, there were at least 90 items hiding in this drawing. That number will surely change as some things get erased, others are replaced, and still more are added to fill empty spaces.


Gator 11-1: . I’m especially pleased with the new “teeth” that magically appeared between the cypress tree trunks. (From now

on I’ll claim that they were planned all along.)


Gator 12: This is the stage of endless picky details. Each of the little parts in this puzzle demands its share of attention, some much more than others. Once most of the pieces are outlined, my strategy is to tackle the really complicated ones first. That forces me to focus on the details early in the drawing, and it also keeps me from getting bored. (Yes, this part of the creative process can become tedious, which is why there are a couple dozen drawings lying around the studio only half-finished.) It also gets the lion’s share of the work done up front, so things get easier as the drawing proceeds. Here I’ve finished the Second Line umbrella, Jackson Square ($20 Bill), the Po-Boy and much of the Armadillo, and have worked out most of the details on and around the Streetcar. Just as important, I was able to pencil in a few items that weren’t very clear in earlier stages, like the basketball and bass in the fishing net, and a few extra vegetables to accent New Orleans cuisine. (Up to this point I had entirely forgotten to add any okra. How can you make gumbo without okra?) Some tree frogs were also added here and there for comic effect. I try to keep a running count of how many items have been completed every day. That gives me a sense of accomplishment, and keeps me motivated to continue. So far I have finished a little over 30 of the pieces, which means that now there are around 65 little pictures left to draw in this composite design. One third complete. If I can finish five pieces a day, the drawing should be finished in two more weeks.


Gator 13: Halfway there, more or less. Probably more, since most of the big decisions have been made, and the more complicated problems have been tackled already. There’s obviously still a lot of filling in to do, but it’s becoming much more apparent where everything should go. Someone asked me why it’s taking so long to finish this drawing. Well, part of it is because I’m basically lazy. Another part is that I am easily distracted. Then, there is a truth about professional artists that few people realize: I once read an article in an art magazine that said as a full-time artist, I would spend only ten percent of my time making art, and ninety percent of my day doing the business of art: phone calls, errands, mailings, printing, art shows, errands, phone calls, etc. It all adds up, and takes away from creative time. That article was not entirely accurate. Today, I easily spend ninety-five percent of my time at the studio doing things other than making art. Finally, our studio is a pleasantly busy place. Since I started inking the Gator last April, I have also completed two other composite drawings, begun five more, finished a couple of t-shirt designs, hand-colored half a dozen prints, and spent countless hours wasting time on Facebook. And I had to vacuum the rug once. It’s a wonder I found any time to work on the Gator at all.Gator 14: Everything is coming together nicely. After weeks of sketching and erasing, this one is finally starting to look like ‘one of my pictures’. Actually, I haven’t added much more ink since the last version, however there has been a lot of last-minute problem solving and sketching. For example, the front foot used to be a blue crab, sitting on…something, holding…something else. Now he’s an advocate for responsible hunting with a duck call, spent shotgun shell, and a pair of duck stamps. A shrimp boot found its way to the gator’s tail, the snapping turtle is finally getting a shell, and somebody stuck a “Geaux Tigers” bumper sticker on the accordion. Not much left to do now but roll on the rest of the ink.


This is it, folks: Gator Aid is finally finished, scanned and ready for press. Not a moment too soon, either. The Wetland Watchers annual fundraising gala takes place in Destrehan on December 6th. (Prints go on sale that day.)

This has been a terrific project for me, and hopefully for the students at Harry Hurst Middle School as well. Their collected ideas and suggestions all settled into the picture, with over 120 individual pieces of Louisiana lore, New Orleans culture, and wetland wonder making up one of the most complex and challenging projects ever to crawl across my drawing board.

Thanks for your help, and for the great work you are doing at the wetland!           Don


1 Comment

  1. I am blown away with your imagination, patience, and supreme talent. I stumbled onto a site,”sketches of the french quarter” and came across this alligator. I’ve spent hours in discovery, every time returning to discover more. I do carved glass and recently did a Rhino for the Tulsa Zoo and will be doing a piece for each exhibit upon completion of expansion in 2017. I now live in Tulsa but will be moving back home to Louisiana soon. If possible would like very much to do this piece in glass for a friend, Gene Seneca. Gene has done much to the preservation of the Atchafalaya Basin as well a major contributor in the Butte LaRose visitors center. If the project turns out as I’d want, I would like to have you see it. If you approve, then more could be done and a good amount of proceeds from sales could go to the Wetlands Project. I don’t have a website but you can go on line and type in D Grisssoms Etch & Carve, a couple of my pieces are there. If you’re interested please let me know, I will be in Baton Rouge in a couple of weeks 918-640-2003. Looking forward to meeting you.