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May 2012

Skulls, Feathers, and Bugs: Specimen Drawing at the Burke Museum

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Beginning with a challenging subject, a mammal skull, each student in this North Cascades Institute-sponsored class began the day with warm-up contour drawings. Shading with graphite and charcoal was practiced, and then a more developed drawing was made during the morning hours of this one-day class held in the classroom at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus. Above, a visual step-by-step tutorial I created for this class features how to sketch and shade a beaver skull.      

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Above: a few examples of class work. Accuracy of form was emphasized, but so was the addition of some color, even where color was not blatantly evident. Once the skull renderings were developed, I distributed wild turkey tail feathers for a contrasting subject. In these, the zig-zag pattern of color gave the drawers a chance to blend colored pencil pigments to achieve the colors and feather textures.

DSCN0212 DSCN0218 DSCN0210Above: students successfully rendered the soft, downy part of the feather, the graceful curve of the rib, and the woven look of the banding.


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My original plan was for the turkey feather sketches to be warm-ups to drawing a portion of a spread bird wing as shown in the photo above on the right. Naturalist Katie Roloson, from the NCI, gave a brief talk on feathers and wings. She is seen holding the wing of a red-tailed hawk, and I am holding an owl wing. Katie had brought "bug boxes" as alternative subjects for drawing. Most students opted to draw moths, butterflies, dragonflies or beetles as their final specimens, most without the aid of a magnifying glass, but one student came prepared and drew a beetle using a glass as seen in the photo above on the left.

Thank you to the Burke staff members Carl Sander and Diane Quinn for assisting and supporting NCI's educational programming outside the organization's Learning Center at Diablo Lake.