Ancient Seas

Sketching at a museum is a pretty fun thing to do—especially when the collection is as rich as the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The place is a treasure trove: birds, gems, butterflies, objects from native cultures, and fossils of all kinds—from giant dinosaurs to tiny ancient plants. I decided to try two very different approaches to painting on a recent visit. See what you think…FossilFish_Peabody_750bInspired by museum sketches of Canadian artists Marc Taro Holmes and Shari Blaukopf, I jumped in with watercolor to sketch the ancient fish Xiphactinus audax. I used burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to float color from head to tail. It was important to keep the paint wet to facilitate the flow and enable the colors to bleed into each other. I added the text back at home to complete the page.sealily_Peabody_750

For the Sea Lily, I made a very detailed sketch directly in ink before painting. The arms and cirri are made of many small plates of calcium carbonate so I had to decide whether the draw them all or just suggest them. The museum specimen was bleached white, but living crinoids are quite varied, so I took some liberty with color. In the end, I wish I had kept it simpler, using only earth tones, to give it a more ancient look, though the blue is fitting for a creature of the sea.

16 Comments on “Ancient Seas

    • I hope it was a good experience. Some museums are more inviting than others, some have better spaces to work in, or better collections…but the right combination is always a treat.

    • You are quite right– the sea lily especially is really simple yet complex. I love that’s these creatures have inhabited the oceans for 400 million years!

  1. I got a copy of your Hand lettering tutorial, and I really must say your script on a painted page is stunning. Thank you for that inspiration.

    • It takes some practice Sue, and I don’t always like to be so careful in my journal, but sometimes its fun to use colored letters. Glad you found the info helpful!

  2. As always, really really nice. I imagine someday long after we’re gone your kids and grandkids marvelling at your sketch books.

  3. Your work is not only stunning, and like eye candy, but it also is so very inspiring!!! Thank you!!

  4. I liked both techniques. Each fit the subject matter I felt. I don’t know that I would trust myself to go without drawing a light sketch in pencil, but I might get brave and try it! Beautifully done, great color choices.

    • You might try the straight watercolor sometime as an experiment. I found that it put me in a good zone of concentration and forced me to keep the paint flowing. I suspect some subjects would be better for it than others. The simplicity of the fossil helped.

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