Inktober 9th

Today’s prompt is “swing.” GNSI’s is “amphibian.” I knew I wanted to draw the swing… and I briefly considered a frog flying off the edge of the page, before rejecting it for triteness.

SOMEONE needed to be flying off though… isn’t this the fantasy of anyone who ever pushed the swing to its limit on the playground?


Plus, I figure this might also count as “amphibian.” The girl can live in two worlds, the earth and the sky…


I’ve tried to take up daily-art challenges before, and always fizzled after about a week. But something about the “Inktober” challenge that I read about in the most recent Guild of Natural Science Illustrators newsletter made me think, that’s achievable.

The basic assignment is to create one ink drawing per day for the month of October. Prompts are provided. The GNSI-related ones all focus, of course, on science subjects. But I did a little research and found that the broader challenge, posted at, has another prompt list that’s very open-ended.

So I copied both prompt lists, and got to work. Here are the results so far; I’ll post the rest as I do them.

October 1: GNSI #1 was “botanical.” I was sketching with my friend Carole that day. She decided to try the prompt too. We went outside at her house; she picked a fireweed stalk and I picked a grass stem and a rush stem. Back inside, I opened up my big sketchbook, borrowed a hand lens from Carole, and did a quick ink comparison study.


October 2: I decided I want to be able to tape the Inktober drawings up as I complete them, building a kind of progressive mosaic. So I broke out a package of blank 3X5 cards to use for the rest of the month.

Carole and I had had a conversation about drawing horses the previous day, so I thought I would give it a try (haven’t drawn a horse for years). It fit just fine with the GNSI prompt for that day, “mammal.”


October 3: New realization: if this is going to be a challenge, I need to take a different approach. The first drawings were pretty much exactly what I’m comfortable with: tidy and realistic. But comfort is not where I want to be. Hence new parameters:

  • Push the dark values (I have a tendency to stay very light)
  • PLAY! Get creative, quirky, surreal. Have fun.

So here’s my response to the GNSI day-three prompt “tidal.” I’m fascinated by the way the tide will sometimes rise so gently that it lifts an empty clam shell like a boat. In time, waves tilt it just enough so the edge dips under, and it fills with water and flutters to the sand below.


October 4: The prompt is “freeze.” Here is the pattern formed by early morning frost on the very dusty back window of our truck.


I felt it was fantastical enough to count as creative and surreal.

October 5: GNSI prompt is “airborne.” I stared at the 3X5 card for a while, tumbling the word in my mind but trying not to clutch at obvious straws–birds, dandelion seeds, insects. A winged shrimp fluttered into my musings. I drew it. It needed something large above it–a curved line became a rattlesnake with wings. The snake needed something to chase. And so on.


October 6: I put off the drawing until late in the evening; needed something quick. prompt for the day is “husky.” I challenged myself here to draw a husky quickly, with simple shapes, and without looking at any pictures.


October 7: prompt is “enchanted,” and GNSI prompt is “fish.” OK, I can pack both into one drawing.





Skull scholars


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.


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.

Harbor morning


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.