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A Blissful Day With The Birds – Sketching at Museums – Guest Blogger Lisa Harkins

May 26, 2011

I visit museums frequently, and I am always surprised that I don’t see more people using their sketchbooks in these places.  Whether it’s an exhibition at the local art museum or a quiet day with the river otters at the zoo, museums provide a wide range of opportunities for me to practice my observation and sketching skills.  Places like zoos and aquariums will be different every time you visit.  Come in the early part of the day, and the animals are active and moving around, giving me a chance to try sketching them in varying poses quickly.  In the heat of the day, I have more time to spend with them as they nap.

Museums are repositories for a wealth of information stored behind the scenes, and they may allow visits from students, researchers, or artists.  When I was studying for my City and Guilds Diploma in Design and Embroidery, the Burke Museum in Seattle kindly allowed me into the bird collections to sketch.  After a brief orientation, I was left alone with my requested drawers of birds.   In a blissful day of sketching, I learned things about my birds that I never would have been able to see in a moving specimen at the zoo.   In a museum, you have time to focus on individual aspects of your chosen subjects, sometimes looking at parts instead of the whole.  On the left page below the colored toucan bill, you can see a small thumbnail sketch where I was playing with bill shapes.  It lead directly to the piece below, executed in hand-made, hand-dyed felt and stitch.

Sometimes, I might visit a museum exhibition, make some sketches, and return home to supplement my studies with a visit to the library.  At these times, my sketchbook becomes more like a journal, as I record notes from reading, or paste in magazine clippings.  While I always enjoy sketching from primary sources, library books can give access to collections I may never see, and today’s publishing technology gives us books with amazing color and resolution.  I might be looking at a particular theme, such as the various thunderbirds on the pages below, or I might be noticing things I can apply to my own work later, like how feathers were attached to fringes on Native American artifacts.

The next time you go to the museum, zoo, or aquarium, take your sketchbook along.  It can be very small if you don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself.  Even major art museums will allow the lowly pencil, and you can always take color notes as you go.  The things I learn inform my work, and of course, practice makes perfect!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2011 5:23 am

    thank you for sharing this. It is invaluable to get a peak at other students’ sketchbooks. Please keep posting things like this and even close ups of imperfect sketch books.

  2. kristy bellavita permalink
    May 27, 2011 5:52 am

    Lisa I love this piece – i agree that people should take their sketch books with them where ever they go.

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