Animal Skulls Part I (Drawing)and II (Grisaille): raccoon, beaver, javelina

Bones have traditionally offered the artist the opportunity to study skeletal structure, as well as visual plane and tonal systems. When we look at the following skulls, discover the beauty of nature as it offers a unique description of anatomical support.

We will look at several animal skulls and beginning tonal drawings by my students, in preparation for a new painting. We will choose an eye-level point of view.

Each skull is place in a mid sized blackened box, to better see contrast. The light source is a clamp light that is attached to the top of an easel and shines at an angle on to the skull. We try to illuminate only the skull, leaving the space around the skull dark, to create an atmosphere.

We look at the skull in a 3/4 view, oriented left or right. This minimizes complicated foreshortening issues.

Raccoon skull
Raccoon skull.
Beginning drawing by Bea.
Beginning tonal drawing by Bea.

And the resulting grisaille underpainting in oil:

Grisaille underpainting of Raccoon by Bea.
Grisaille underpainting of Raccoon by Bea.

Bea has used a geometric grid as a guideline to compose her drawing as have the other students. Notice how in this drawing she has emphasized the outer shape of the skull and then structures the inner components accurately.

Beaver skull.
Beaver skull. Look at that dentition!

Because of the dramatic shape of the beaver skull – it rests at a diagonal, we will choose more of a profile to work from, instead of a 3/4 view.

Evelyn's drawing.
Evelyn’s drawing.

Evelyn has an atmospheric approach to drawing. You can see part of her compositional grid still in the background, and I like the contrast under the eye socket towards the top of the skull.

Karen's drawing.
Karen’s drawing.

Karen’s point of view has a slightly more 3/4 view than Evelyn’s. You can see all four of this critter’s teeth!

Javelina skull.
Javelina skull.
Tonal drawing of Javelina skull by Nancy.
Tonal drawing of Javelina skull by Nancy.

Grisaille underpainting of Javelina skull:

Javelina grisaille.
Javelina grisaille by Nancy.

Here in the southwest we have wild pigs, called Javelina. Nancy offered to bring her beautiful Javelina skull to draw to class. The narrow shape of the head, the large fangs coming from the lower jaw, and the sweeping cheekbone are fabulous. In this photo you can see the bottom edges and sides of the black box, but in the ensuing drawing and painting we do not depict the box structure. We ignore it and concentrate only on the light or dark value of the space around the skull.

Tanya drawing Javalina skull.
Tanya drawing Javelina skull.

My wonderful assistant Tanya demonstrates her technique as she works on her drawing.

A challenging yet rewarding subject matter is the animal skull. Hard work! See you next time when we’ll look at taking this one step further: creating a grisaille underpainting for a tonal oil painting of the animal skull.


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