Skull on tinted paper

I haven’t drawn many skulls since my fascination with Paleoanthropology in college (at one point I really wanted to study ancient hominids). I should have taken the hint in college and studied art alongside my double-major of Anthropology and Philosophy. I would have loved to have been able to draw those things that fascinated me more effectively and perhaps become an artist like John Gurche. Click here to check out an example of his amazing sculpture of a Neanderthal. Humbling and mind-blowing at the same time.

In an effort to re-familiarize myself with human anatomy, I’ve been drawing and sketching various features. The drawing of a human skull is based on a plate in Stephen Roger Peck’s excellent book, Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist, which I picked up at a used bookstore in 1991 or so. My copy is literally falling to pieces from being thumbed through, spread flat on a table while sketching, and generally serving to educate me about the human body.

I used charcoal pencil for the darks and a white charcoal pencil for the highlights. The medium tones are comprised of a touch of charcoal in places but mostly is simply the toned paper showing through. This is a new technique for me and I really enjoy being able to work from both ends of the tonal scale rather than simply building up darks with graphite. The charcoal limits the fine details I can produce compared to graphite, but it does push the darks much deeper than is typical for my drawings. This scan is nearly identical in tone to the original.

Here are some of the preliminary drawings I made before the skull drawing.

I’ve also been reading a new book, The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins, by Richard G. Klein. It’s a textbook, so it’s a massive tome (just shy of 1,000 pages) but is definitely a lucid exposition on the field of human origins. I haven’t read much in the way of human development since the early 1990’s, which was prior to the knowledge boom following the complete sequencing of the human genome. Some of the more recent discoveries have shed significant light on our understanding of our early history and I feel like a student again relearning a subject that has changed significantly since my first exposure.

I’d really like to delve more deeply into scientific illustration as it pertains to human origins and archaeology, so I’m hopeful that there may be opportunities to do this in the future.


The Eyes Have It (or at least they should)

Drawing eyes realistically can be a finicky business. A drawing can succeed or fail based on how well the artist captures the reality of the eyes. I spend a lot of time sketching eyes and dedicated a page of my sketchbook to working on some of the exercises in Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing which I discussed in my previous post.

Eyes aren’t really that difficult, there’s simply a lot going on with their construction. First, you have the round iris and pupil at center stage, but the shading on each is handled differently: the pupil is treated as flat whereas the iris can be treated as an inverted bowl. The fleshly parts around the eye have lots of nooks and crannies and here is where an excellent anatomy book can help tease out the various parts.

The mini-tutorial above shows the steps I’ve followed in creating the eyes in my sketchbook. None of the sketches are perfect (the irises aren’t round, the symmetry is off, there are details overemphasized or underemphasized), but the main point is that practice makes perfect. The more you sketch something, the better able you are to recall those details when you draw it later.
I find eyes very satisfying to sketch. They’re a good challenge and help keep your technical skills honed. I would highly recommend Giovanni Civardi’s book Drawing Portraits to get you on your way to understanding the anatomy more clearly.

Sketching my way through a new book…

I’ve recently purchased a new drawing book entitled, Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing. My friend, Diane Wright had a copy and was impressed by the quality of the drawings. It was initially available on Amazon but they discontinued it after I attempted to purchase a copy. Nevertheless, I tracked down an excellent used copy from a bookstore in Washington and have been working my way through it over the last few days.

The sketches below were done based on the excellent drawings in the book and really helped me understand the structure and masses around the eyes, especially with regards to the fatty pads above the outside of the eye.

Civardi’s approach is a bit different for me in that he starts with a loose sketch and then creates a faceted version (like you see in the lower-middle sketch below). I have always enjoyed this type of structural study but have approached it as a first step rather than a second, which after trying it does, in fact, work better. I’m looking forward to applying this technique to future drawings.

I’ll be posting some of my other sketches from my sketchbook as I work my way through this book. I am impressed with the content so far. The book is made up of Civanni’s six standalone books including:
  • Drawing Techniques
  • Drawing Portraits (the section I’m working through now)
  • Drawing the Clothed Figure
  • Drawing Hands and Feet
  • Drawing Scenery, and
  • Drawing Light and Shade
I can’t make an official recommendation on whether to buy the book right now but I’ll offer my critique of the book along with my evaluation once I’m able to complete it.

A consolidated camera kit

I have finally completed a consolidation of my camera equipment that’s been in progress for the past 18 months. At one point I owned 3 separate camera systems including a Canon 50D with assorted lenses, a Nikon D90 with three lenses, and a Pentax K-7 with a handful of prime lenses. I really enjoyed each of the systems for different reasons but obviously I had to make some smart decisions about what to keep and what to sell. In the end, I decided to return to Canon for one very specific reason: affordable long lenses.

I made the transition official by selling my Nikon and Pentax equipment and using the money to purchase a used Canon 5D Mark II. Of course I don’t need 21.1 megapixels, but the other alternatives were the older Canon 5D (which I previously owned and was frustrated with because of dust issues) or the big-boy 1D-series cameras which I simply can’t afford. After deciding on the camera, I ended up basically breaking even on my camera purchases which made me feel pretty good.

A lot of people are lured by the claims of full frame cameras being better than cropped sensors and this is partially true but mostly an over-hyped marketing ploy. The real advantages of full frame are for photographers who got used to specific focal ranges and hate having to covert (I’m definitely in this camp) and those who have lenses designed specifically for full frame for their coverage (which I was also a camp member of). In the end, it’s not the camera but the photographer taking the photos. You really have to figure out what system makes you want to shoot photos.

We have a wildlife photography trip / horseback riding trip to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch in May and I will be putting this kit into serious shooting for the first time. Shooting photos around town is much easier than dealing with everything while in the field. I know I’ll have a much better understanding of my equipment once this trip is behind me.

Australopithecus sediba find in South Africa

Photo © Lee R. Berger, Science 9 April 2010

The incredible hominid discovery just north of Johannesburg, South by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger has yielded an entirely new hominid species, Australopithecus sediba. The finds give researchers yet another clue into yet another branch in the rich and complex history of hominid prehistory.

In hominid study, the age of a specimen is one of the most critical pieces of data in placing it in the proper context. Using uranium-lead dating in the deposits just below the finds, independent labs in Switzerland, and Australia were able to date the deposits in which the fossils were deposited at between 2.024 million and 2.026 million years respectively, with standard deviation of ±62,000 years million years ago. Paleontologists are also able to arrive at similar date ranges based on the animal bones found with the hominid remains

The researchers have uncovered some of the most complete skeletons ever found for a hominid of this age. Two skeletons in particular were noted, one of a young (11-12 years old) boy and an older female. The skull is one of the most complete early hominid skeletons uncovered.

Tim White, the lead scientist in the Ardipithecus ramidus find in 1992-1994, believes that the hominid is more closely aligned with australopithecines than the offshoot that led to modern Homo sapiens. The find could be a smaller verion of more gracile australopithecines like Australopithecus africanus.

Like most tiny pieces of an immense and complex puzzle of hominid development, this will produce as much controversy as clues. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting and revealing discovery of the complexity that was sure to have been prevalent in early hominid development. These finds remind me of the quote by Darwin:

“Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system- with all these exalted powers- Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origins.”
– Charles Darwin Descent of Man 1871

Cutthroat Trout Study

Continuing on the theme of fish, this one is another combination of graphite and watercolor pencil with the Kuretake waterbrush to help blend out the colors into smooth layers.

I had a tough time deciding between the classic cutthroat trout and the westslope cutthroat, which is the species found here in western Montana. I opted for the Westslope Cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) since it’s in my own backyard.

I tried to keep the drawing about the same size as the rainbow trout so they can be combined together at some point. The details in this version are probably a bit tighter and I actually used a little white gouache to add some highlights

Rainbow Trout Study

It must be the emerging signs of Spring but I found myself trying out some new watercolor techniques. I started out with a simple sketch of a rainbow trout that ended up working fairly well so I grabbed some watercolor pencils and a Kuretake waterbrush and tried some new ideas that I’ve been reading about on James Gurney’s fantastic blog. For those who have never tried out a waterbrush, you can probably find them at your local art store or can order then online through

Anyway, this sketch was initially drawn with graphite pencil until I was happy with the general structure and tones of the piece. I then sprayed it with a couple of coats of a workable fixative which sets the graphite on the paper. This method has a fancy French name of grisaille but the term underpainting works just fine as well. Once this was completed and the fixative dry, I used a watercolor pencil to begin adding color to the piece which I then blended and smoothed with a waterbrush. This was the risky portion of the drawing and the one I tacked only after scanning and saving the graphite-only version (you never know when a drawing is bin-bound).

I then subtly toned the water around the fish to bring out the warmer tones in the head and did a little touch up with graphite pencil and some additional watercolor pencil. Overall, I like the effect and will probably explore a brown and cutthroat trout in the next few weeks.

Please feel free to leave comments or simply let me know what you think. The print is available for sale through my website.