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Cabinets of Curiosity (week 2, Art of Natural History course)

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Overview: start gathering interesting specimens for your own cabinet. This could include dead insects, butterfly wings, interesting seed pods, bones, feathers, rocks, shells, minerals and more.

Objectives: Set up a well lit surface at eye-level for your specimen drawings.

We will discuss the importance of setting up your specimen at eye level in the best lighting. We're looking for high contrast in values so that the form is easily understood and rendered. Your still life (or specimen) arrangement should be at eye level so that you are not adding the complication of foreshortening to your project. Your easel, drafting table, or desk should be far enough away so that you can measure proportions and angles at arms length. Your priority this week is to set up an eye level support for your specimen with appropriate lighting.


We'll discuss the pros and cons of natural and electric lighting and how to find the right space in your studio to set up your specimen. Here are two very short videos demonstrating how to locate the lighting with the highest contrast in value. To use natural light, you will want to use coming from windows on only one side of the room, so close doors and curtains on other light sources and turn off the overhead light. If your studio is too dark for this, natural lighting may not be your best option. Hold one object at eye level and carry it around the room to find the location with the best natural light (creating the highest contrast in value) LIKE THIS. 

Remember that unless you are using light coming through a north-facing window, your light and shadows will change with the movement of the sun. You could work on your drawing at the same time each day or you may decide artificial lighting is better for you.

To arrange your object under the spotlight, you'll want to move either the light or the object to maximize the contrast in values, as seen here.

SET UP YOUR OBJECT AT EYE LEVEL. Use something as simple as a cardboard box if necessary. Rolling carts and clip on lamps are very useful for still life arrangements. Remember to simplify the background behind your object or still life arrangement. You may need to tape a sheet of paper behind it to control the value contrast if necessary.

Drawing notes: You'll find a slide show on drawing from observation here. These notes can be applied to drawing anything from nature, but are especially useful in making note of the spiral patterns seen in plants. I have also recorded a demonstration on drawing from observation, found here.

Remember that value (amount of dark and light) describes the volume of your object. It is useful to make or purchase a gray scale, like this. This gray scale and view finder can be purchased here.

Collect specimens you're interested in drawing. If gathering bones, be sure to PROPERLY DISINFECT and WASH YOUR HANDS with anti-bacterial soap.

Instructions: Gather a few items that you are interested in drawing from observation. Draw 1-3 of these items carefully from observation. Make notes on the size and color and where the object was found. If possible, label with common and Latin names

What's due: 1-3 pencil drawings from observation of natural specimens

For pleasure reading:

 For those not familiar with drawing from observation, remember that the key to portraying convincing 3 dimensional forms in a 2D space is to measure angles and proportions and to use light and dark to add volume. I will email a slide presentation on measuring angles and proportions after going over it in class.


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