All posts by spotthewhale

Skull scholars

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I just finished up two weeks at Floyd Dryden Middle School in Juneau, working almost exclusively with 7th grade science classes. The students were studying human body systems, and had just finished with the skeletal system, so the subject of the residency was comparative anatomy, focusing on the skull. For me, this was a dream residency: working directly in science classes, to showcase how art and science can compliment and enhance each other.

Science teacher Jess Cobley had prepped the students beforehand with a skull observation lesson from Cornell University, so they started with a great a foundation in animal skull characteristics. Then for the first week of the residency I taught sketching techniques and students practiced sketching to closely examine and compare the skulls of various Alaskan mammals. Then in the second week I taught pen illustration skills and light-on-dark techniques, and each student created two finished products: one “technical” pen illustration with caption, and one more interpretive white pencil illustration that revealed something about the animal’s life through the “window” of the eye socket or nasal opening.

I’m so proud of the students, and I think many of them were surprised and thrilled at how well their illustrations turned out. Here are some of the results, displayed at the Juneau Airport. As you can see, many of the students created work that isn’t just high-quality for 7th graders, it’s actually professional-quality illustration.

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The Artists In Schools Program is made possible through partnership between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, the Rasmuson Foundation, Floyd Dryden School, and the Floyd Dryden Parent Group.

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Harbor morning

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Weeks of clear skies and no rain have left us all a bit disoriented. It just doesn’t feel right to have so much sunshine here. And the river is so low that the returning coho are crowded into just a few pools by the dozen, jostling each other and (I assume) eagerly awaiting the taste of fresh rainwater so they can push further upriver.

But it does make for good drawing weather. My friend Carole and I went sketching at the harbor yesterday morning, and it was idyllic.

On the fringe of the world

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The last night of our Sea Wolf adventure was spent on the fringe of the world, a tiny island outboard of Elfin Cove that stands sentinel at the edge of the open Pacific. Its forest is all charm: small spruce and hemlock, an understory of windswept, deer-nipped grass, patches of deer-shredded blueberry bushes, and deer-bitten skunk cabbages. A gravel trail meanders from a beach of granite pebbles to a headland capped by a WWII cannon, still pointing oceanward but drooping down as if tired of watching. I could have spent days there, and am already trying to figure out ways to get back. This painting was started at sunset, the light fading fast, and finished the next morning.

The bear on the beach

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Just returned from a phenomenal expedition with Sea Wolf adventures, a small-ship cruise company with extensive experience and expertise on Glacier Bay and the Northwest Coast. We spent so much time hiking and kayaking (interspersed with eating outstanding food) that I didn’t get to do too much sketching, but this page records one of my favorite wildlife viewing moments of the trip.

Student Sketches

sketch show sitkaI just got back from a two-week art residency in Sitka, working with Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary students. It was lovely! For the first week, I worked exclusively with the 4th graders, teaching basic observation and drawing skills; my goal was to get the students excited about keeping a “science sketchbook” and confident in drawing from observation. They drew feathers, skulls, shells, seed pods, and more, and took notes about their observations, their ideas, and their questions.

During the second week the school hosted its annual Project Fair, a chance for students to share their studies in a science fair-like setting. As part of the fair, we set up a table showcasing the drawings from the 4th grade classes. It was really satisfying to see all of that careful observation and learning arrayed together. This photo shows a section of the sketch show; my big example sketches are up on the wall, and the student books are below on the table. Each student chose his or her favorite sketch to show.

Thanks to Keet Gooshi Heen teachers and staff–especially science teacher Rebecca Himschoot, and thanks to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp–especially Program Director Kenley Jackson.

Working on skull skills

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Another memento mori, in progress. I started out with the same approach I used on the owl skull conversation last month, but the colors in the foreground were too nice to darken, and then it started to become moss, so I’m going with it. Planning to add some more detail (but not too much more) to the moss.

I like the story it evokes: pushing through prickling spruce branches from the bright beach, the cool and so-dark of mossy uplifted-berm forest; a pale glow resolves into a bone-seeker’s treasure. Who brought it here?

The Headache Tree

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I went to a friend’s house yesterday to do some sketching; had a lingering headache from earlier in the morning so I was a little restless. An old cottonwood–a massive black dendrite in the yard–caught my eye, so I pulled out a brush pen and tried to work out the hierarchy of branching directions.

What is it that makes a cottonwood? A certain powerful upward angle of primary branches (trending to bowed lower on the trunk); graceful swoops of secondary branches. And the short, stout bud-branchlets, bristling out almost perpendicular to the more sinuous smallest branches.

By the time I reached the bottom of the tree my brush pen was almost dry, but it felt OK for the drawing to stutter out.

Looking at the drawing today I’m struck by how it feels like a visualization of my headache–the tendrils of pain branching around my neck and head. I like the thought–it’s comforting somehow.