What is it about vertebrae? There is something about them I find absolutely fascinating. Their complex shape, the way it changes along the spine, the way they articulate with each other – I am not quite sure what it is, but vertebrae have been on my ‘must draw’ list for quite some time.
To learn about the mammalian spine, a whale is probably not the optimum choice, since the bones are modified to reflect the animal’s aquatic lifestyle. But I wanted to do a companion piece to my orca skull, and while these vertebrae may lack some features you would find in a terrestrial mammal, they are fascinating in their own right.
My mother and I just spent a week on Tenerife. I knew little about the place when we set out, other than that it gets lots of tourists. As it turns out, the island has a fascinating human history, a surprising variety of micro-climates, and once you get away from the tourist centres, stunning volcanic landscapes and associated ecosystems. Perched in the centre is Mount Teide, which, at 3718 metres, is the highest mountain in Spain. Looking up from the coast, its peak is often obscured by clouds. These arrive with the northeastern trade winds and are intercepted by the island’s high topography, bringing moisture to the land in the process.
Owing in part to those clouds, the way ecosystems change with elevation is quite striking. My mom and I had a chance to observe this first hand on a one-day hike in the Teno mountains.
I just spent some time travelling and took along the ink pens. Here is a snail I found in a cabinet at one of the places I was staying. A very quick piece, by my standards. The main challenge was to capture both three-dimensional structure and the complex markings on the shell.
I am never quite sure what label to use in describing myself these days, but something I would never claim to be is a zoologist. Still, I did take some of those courses, and one of my aims when I first went to draw in the museum was to re-acquaint myself with skulls. Drawing is a great way of observing, and looking around the collection, I quickly fell in love with the bear specimens. Even among one species, however, (in this case Ursus americanus, the black bear) the variety is astounding, so the question became, which one?
In the end, I decided to make that variety part of the project, so I drew three: a cub and two larger animals, all of them males.
The show features 84 pieces in a variety of styles and media, all 165 square inches or less in size. It can be viewed at the Federation Gallery at 1241 Cartwright Street on Granville Island from August 22 to September 3. If you find yourself in Vancouver, go check it out.
If you can’t make it, you can also view the show here.