Drawn from the Sea

Isn’t it amazing that a simple chemical compound, calcium carbonate, can create so much? It forms the hard outer shells of mollusks, who spin it into a myriad of forms and colors. As mollusks develop, they absorb salt and chemicals from sea water and secrete proteins and calcium carbonate, which hardens on the outside of their bodies, creating a hard shell. Mollusks continue to grow their shells as they age, adding layers year by year. When they die, they leave behind their beautiful creations, small gifts from a vast and mysterious ocean.

Tips and Techniques– There is a precision to seashells that can make them challenging to draw. If you don’t have a lot of time or if you are sketching at the beach, accept some wonkiness. I drew these directly in pen while standing up looking at a museum case and my goal was to get as many on the page as I could in the time I had. I love painting all the patterns on shells, but again, I decided against perfection in favor of getting the gist of each one. There is something nice about painting shells and thinking about warm beaches in winter. If you’ve got a few tucked away, pull them out and give it a go.

17 Comments on “Drawn from the Sea

  1. Just wow! What a beautiful write up and drawing/painting, Jean. I can’t find even a teeny bit of wonkiness, and your watercolor work really illustrates their shine and luminescence ….. as if they are still wet with sea water. Shells seem so impossible to capture even when taking your time. Your tips and techniques really give me helpful ideas to keep trying. The fact that you drew this wonderful variety of shells, in ink, while standing, is incredible but still mysterious.
    I’d love to see your ink work before the colors. How much time did you give yourself while standing in front of the museum cabinet?
    And I agree with Dory Rice ….. wrist recovery remarkable!

    • Thanks Barb. I had about one hour for the shells before moving on to a nest cabinet. I could always use more time at this museum, but they let me borrow a “nest kit” for a few weeks, so I’ve got some great stuff to work with at home and then I’ll return and spend some more time with the collection. Wrist is coming along, thank goodness!

  2. Being that I’m sitting on a beach right now, this post is quite helpful! Thank you for the beautiful pictures, tips, and science lesson!!

  3. As always, so informative AND so beautiful. And you said “wonkiness” — such a great word. When we are less careful and precise I think more of the character of the object (and the person drawing it) comes out. Your compositions are always so engaging. Wonderful variety of scale, repetition, contrast, etc., etc. You are right, drawing sea shells does evoke warmer days.



  4. Not just a beautiful page. Your comments are inspiring as well. This might be my favorite!! But the favorites keep coming. I’m glad you have healed well enough to paint again.

    • Thanks so much Jan. It’s so nice to hear that this one connected with you. I very relieved that my right hand and wrist are back in action. I’ve got a more to work on, but painting is going just fine– I’ll take it!

  5. So beautiful! I can just feel the sand and sun as I wait for the snowstorm to roll in. It must have been challenging to do all this standing up! Yesterday I went to the NYS Museum with a couple of nature journaling friends and we had such a great time. I focused on a fossil a gazillion years old (very scientific that “gazillion!”). Museums are such a great resource in the winter. Thanks for all the inspiration Jean!

    • Thanks for your nice feedback. Gazillion is legit! I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to the NYS Museum. Snow is coming down today for both of us, so enjoy it from the warmth of your home.

  6. Jean your shells are beautiful and it looks like you are back in your artistic groove. The color are so pretty and that green turban is just gorgeous! Guess I will go haul out my box of shells and dream of warmer dry days. Cheers.

    • Hope you did some shell sketching. That green turban was so tough to do, the colors seemed to shift every time I looked at it. It’s a tad overworked, but I couldn’t start over. Hope to see you on screen soon.

  7. I love the way you explained this process, from the (kind of) chemical point of view. Yes, endless variety for sure!

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