After having so much fun drawing a ferret for National Ferret Day, I couldn’t pass up the chance to sketch a rat for the US National Day of the Rat on Monday 5th and join the Doodlewash April challenge for a second time. Coincidentally unless I’ve got this wrong, in America today is also National Walk Around It Day – (yes, really) something that could be construed in a number of ways, but I imagine it’s something many people would be inclined to do if they came upon a dead rat, and encountering a live one many people would scream and wave their arms in the air, or throw things, and call the pest control people.
I don’t feel this way about rats, though I’d be wary as I know they do sometimes live in sewers and can deliver a nasty bite (if provoked) but actually they’re very clean animals, and I’ve even wondered occasionally about the idea of having one as a pet.
The rat I drew today is a Brown Rat, and like the ferret it’s a stuffed specimen in Cliffe Castle museum. (I think it may have faded; it’s honey-coloured and I’ve seen rats outside in the park that are a lot browner than that.) There’s a Black Rat in the same display case for comparison – and I didn’t realise how small these are, and also how much less lovable they look – so much so that I think this would even be a contender for my series on drawing things that are frightening. (Though of course the taxidermist could have deliberately made it look this way; I have to keep reminding myself that taxidermy is an art, open to expression and not always very successful. There’s a duck-billed platypus in the mixed foreign species cabinet that looks sadly like a cow-pat with a beak and flippers.) Black Rats are the ones that were responsible for spreading bubonic plague and came to this country on ships, which must have made an ideal habitat as they’re climbers (easy to scamper up all that rigging and across gang-planks) rather than burrowers, which is what their brown cousins prefer to do. Though apparently Brown Rats are also not native to Britain and first came here in the 18th century.
Sketching this made me wonder if what people mostly dislike is the tail. Hairless and snake-like. If it had a tail like a squirrel, or even like a ferret, might it have greater appeal? Or is it just memories of bubonic plague that makes people shudder? Either way I’m still not worried by any part of the Brown Rat, and I’d still be tempted to have one as a pet. For now I make do with an even softer, more cuddly version, the one that lives on my window sill and which I pick up and stroke from time to time…