At the natural history museum: the fine line between nature and art

I was this morning at the Naturkundemuseum in Berlin, and I admired once again the skull of the T-rex Tristan Otto. It was displayed under a set of lights that made a fascinating play of light and shadows on the dark fossilised bones.

trex-tristan-museum-naturkunde_20160604_105214

While I was drawing, many people of all ages ran to the display and stood in awe, observed it from different angles, took pictures, then moved forward for the visit. It is definitely a magnificient finding from a scientific viewpoint, as well as a visually appealing object. My mind first identified as a dinosaur skull, therefore as the remain of an animal who lived millions of years ago, when the Earth looked much different, there was no man, but the oceans and trees and reptiles and insects and all life, and the moon and sun above; but with time, while drawing, I started to see it as a sculpture, as a piece of art, as a monument to the exquisite art of chiseling, glorified by light – up to the extreme of flattening it onto paper, as an interesting set of shapes, lines, angles, proportions – abstract, essential, distilled.

These two viewpoints are valid for any other specimen in the exhibition, and for me, for everything I can see.  I sometimes stop and marvel over an accidental composition on my way home, or a ray of light. I went to the museum to see Tristan Otto, and I enjoyed the whole visit, but did I enjoy it only because it was carefully organised, cleverly connected, and artfully displayed, or because it had value in itself? Did I admire the most colourful animals because they are artistically pleasant? They did not come to life with the purpose to be ambassadors of the beauty of wildlife, but they can still be considered as such: through their beauty, they can awaken our admiration and make us want to protect them from threats and extinction. I feel a bit uneasy with this thought, however, because I’m afraid that what is not beautiful, or not attractively presented, does not get that much attention. I understand that attractive presentation is an essential feature of many human creations and activities, but I feel uneasy applying it to everything, especially to what has no power in improving its appearance.

Advertisements

I’m back to drawing!

Hello all, it’s being a time of change for me, and I’m not posting as much as I used to! But today is worth celebrating, because after a long time I managed to draw again. I picked this picture of a horse, made by Mia Elliott’s and called “Itchy”, and here is the result:

Drawing again - itchy horse

Thanks for the patience… and stay tuned for next post! Take care 🙂

Drawing update: horses’ ears

A few days ago I challenged myself to draw horses’ ears. I have been drawing horses for as long as I can remember, but with a moderate and varied amount of attention to detail. Therefore I am able to draw horses’ ears somewhat by memory, so that they don’t look that convincing. Thanks to a library book with a lot of pictures (I prefer to copy from printed images instead of from a screen) I found plenty of portraits from which I could draw. Here is the result:

Drawing practice: horses' ears

As usual, the first two sketches are a warm-up. From the third onwards I tried to notice something characteristic from each sketch, and for the forward-facing ears of sketch #3, it’s the angle in the inner ear side (I used to draw round ears by default – some horses have a less pronounced angle, but it’s always there). The same angle is visible when the ear is turned backwards: in sketch #6 I drew the ear as a trapezoid|trapezium, instead of a triangle. It felt strange to draw the ears like that, but in the end they look more realistic. The following sketches are more about ear positions and differences among breeds and individuals.

My next focus will be on hooves/feet, stay tuned for next post!

Book recommendation: “Pen and Ink” by James Hobbs

Some time ago, while looking for inspiration on drawing techniques, I found this compact booklet with a lot of drawing ideas, with a one-page explanation next each drawing:

IMG_20180409_145625

From the 100 suggestions I took pictures of a few, and keep them handy for when I find my own drawings too repetitive:

It’s more a “where do you want to go” than a “here’s how you get there” book, and I find I need both kinds.

That’s it for today – happy doodling everyone!!

Drawing update: bird sketching

Today I had to give back this book about budgerigars, from which I wanted to copy a few pictures. I went to the library with the book and my sketchbook, and drew seven birds in funny poses, as suggested by John Muir Laws in his video about drawing birds: front, back and 3/4 views. Here is the result:

Budgerigars are really cute and funny, and loud too! They are very athletic and like to climb branches and trunks using both feet and beak. They like to hang upside down and roll around branches. I had a couple of these birds when I was a kid and I remember how lively they were. Their cage was near the telephone, so people often asked if we lived in the jungle! We let them free almost every day and they quickly learned every corner of the house. Drawing today made me remember them with a smile 🙂

Fox sketches and book recommendation: “Fuchs ganz nah” by Klaus Echle and Anna Rummel

I was looking for great nature photography books in my local libraries and stumbled upon this one, that narrates the friendship between a vixen and two humans: the three met almost every day for a few months in a specific point in the woods, and from there they walked together, with the humans observing the behaviour of the animal and taking pictures. It is a fascinating narration, full of awe and respect for wildlife, and of incredible close-ups of the vixen.

Link to publisher’s page

As I have to give back the book in two days, I decided to draw a few portraits of the fox just now:

As usual, the first two sketches are a bit off. From the fifth onwards I got a better grasp of the typical marks that make the drawing look fox-like: the large ears (still, I made many of them too small), the white patch on the sides of the nose and cheeks with its sharp boundaries, the colour pattern, the black back of the ears, the pointy muzzle. I think the last portrait sums up that quite well. Her ears are really huge 🙂

I’m getting hooked to this 10-sketch sessions, I’ll post more of them with new species – if you have preferences just leave them a comment below!

Drawing update: dog sketches

Yesterday I visited a new library in the city, and was very happy to find a lot of books about drawing and painting, as well as great collections of animal pictures. I went there with the goal of drawing ten heads of a given animal species, and I picked two books about dogs with high-quality pictures. Here are the outcomes:

Dog sketches

You can see each sketch as a single picture on my Flickr share. Overall I find that the drawing session was worth it: I started with somewhat flat and simple portraits, then understood more and more about the subjects and also worked faster. I think I’ll keep the suggestion to draw ten items per session, because I noticed how the first ones don’t look so good, and if I manage to draw more than five or six, I get at least three decent sketches. It was also useful to draw different dog breeds, with different proportions and fur length, and also test a few angles other than the front or 3/4 view. I have other pictures to copy from, so stay tuned for next update!