Assignment 2 Part 1: Preliminary studies

The idea

The exercise I enjoyed the most in this part of the course was the animal study using a found image so I decided I wanted to base my assignment around such a project. In the original project I took an image (a horse) and adding a twist to it by dissecting flesh away to reveal muscle and springs, representing function under the form. I wanted to do something similar, mixing drawing, and my scientific interest in form and function. The idea of combining these concepts for this assignment grew from a chance finding of a pair of pigeon wings.

Pigeon wings, pectoral girdle and sternum
Pigeon wings, pectoral girdle and sternum

The pigeon had been attacked and presumable eaten by a sparrowhawk who left the wings fairly intact and attached to the whole pectoral girdle and sternum (albeit devoid of any muscle). I collected the wings and dried them originally thinking they would make an interesting still life. However, whilst explaining to my kids the general workings of bird wings the idea came to me to add these wings to something in a drawing with the idea of producing an image that was in the process of being raised up by them. The whole wing structure reminded me of school nativity play angel wings, but angels are not really my thing! However, biological specimens are and it was a short leap to the idea of drawing a fossil of a feathered animal being lifted up out of the stone on wings. I immediately chose to draw a specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica, the iconic fossilised feathered reptile and a possible pre-cursor to birds. This would require a found image of Archaeopteryx as I don’t live any where near one of the few near complete speicmens.

Archaeopteryx lithographica (Berlin specimen)
Archaeopteryx lithographica (Berlin specimen)

I chose an image of the Berlin specimen as it has its feathered arms splayed out in a similar way to my pigeon wings. This image is licensed under Creative Commons ( (accessed 1st September 2015)

My next task was to workout the best materials and support for the project as well as trying to work out how the feathers are going to be depicted on the drawing of the fossil.

Drawing fossils and feathers

The main issues that I had to deal with were as follows:

  1. What paper was best for me to be able to represent both stone and feathers on – two very different textures
  2. What medium should I draw the fine bones, enabling tonal gradations whilst remaining hard and stone like
  3. What medium should I draw the feathers in, allowing them to be depicted as soft structures and enabling the play of light observed in life to be depicted
  4. How should I add a shadow to the wings of my ‘flying fossil’ so that it looks as if the wings were lifting the fossil off the page

Using an A3 recycled sketchbook (tinted, very smooth paper) I made some preliminary sketches of the fossil and tried out various different materials to add feathers and shadows. These sketches are presented here in the order they occur in my sketchbook, but they were not completed in this order. Many of these sketches evolved over about a week, adding different ideas to base drawings, thus they can not be viewed as a sequential process.

In trying out different media in this way, I found that the fossil was best represented by conte crayon and coloured pencil. Both were hard enough to be able to draw the fine lines. Tonal variations were possible through using different shades. The feathers were hard. I like the reflective light shown in sketch 2. However, these feathers were drawn with conte crayon which was too hard to depict the soft downy effect I was after. The pigeon feathers are quite sleek as shown in sketch 2, however is it not thought that Archaeopteryx was able to do much in the way of powered flight as a modern day pigeon does. The feather structure of the fossil reptile is very rudimentary and it is unlikely that its ‘wings’ were stiff enough to form areofoils. Thus I wanted something softer than the conte crayon to depicted them with. Sketches 6 and 7 show experiments with drawing softer feathers with various tinted graphites and charcoal. On the smooth paper, I could blend these materials to create a softness to the feathers. I did struggle to adds highlights in, something to be aware of in the final drawing!

By hanging my real-life pigeon wings up under a lamp I did some experimental positioning of shadows on the above sketches. These ranged from the wings just starting to lift of the page (sketches 2 and 3) to the whole bird appearing to be in flight (sketch 5). I realised that I must keep the whole composition of the final image in mind, and a long shadow (such as sketch 4) was going to be dominateing. I decided that I just wanted the wings to be beginning to peel the fossil of the rock.

The actual support used for my final drawing was going to play a very important part in the representation of rock as well as the feathers, so I did some swatches of using different media on various papers. I also played around with using frottage as a technique for making paper look like rock (by rubbing over a piece of limestone)

The handmade paper produced lovely raised patterns with frottage using pastel. However when I tried to draw on this paper with conte crayon and coloured pencil, the surface of the paper became damaged very quickly, making it impossible to use for this task. The pastel paper (Ingres) was also quite good to use for frottage with pastel, although the machined-lines of the paper tended to show, which wasn’t ideal. However, it was acceptable provided it wasn’t overdone. Frottage on heavy cartidge paper was not successful, the paper was too thick. However I quite liked the effect of pastel used on its side to produce rock-like textures without frottage. I had an experiment with using tracing paper too, flirting briefly with the idea of having the wings on an overlay. I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring the feathers and fossil together with this idea so dismissed it, but not before I had had a go at drawing feathers with graphite. I liked the smoothness of the tracing paper, but it was too hard to get tonal values on it, and white charcoal or pastel pencil didn’t draw over the top of the graphite for highlights. Loose graphite pencils were much more successful on the cartridge paper, which also had the smoothness of the paper in my sketch book. I wanted this smoothness and use pastel or charcoal block on its side to create rock marks. However I really didn’t want white / off white cartridge paper. Even with the grey pastel rock effect as a background the paper was too bright taking emphasis away from the fine fossil bones. Unable to get my tinted sketchbook paper in any size greater than A3 and unable to source any kind of large sheets of  tinted cartridge paper I realised that I was going to have to compromise and choose something a little less smooth – see part 2.

Assignment 2 Part 1: Preliminary studies

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