Freshwater Shells

May 20, 2009

shell2Univalves reveal a spiral design that has fascinated artists, biologists and mathematicians throughout the ages.  The mathematical equation on which the proportions of this design are based is known as the Golden Mean, Golden Section and the Golden Ratio. 

Although the most excellent example of this ratio is the shell of the Chambered Nautilus, the spirals found in these simple freshwater shells also aspire to similar proportions.

These drawings were made with colored pencils. 

freshwater shell

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small-conch-shellIf you truly would wish to learn about any thing in nature, one excellent way to go about it would be to attempt a drawing of it in pencil.  Paints and watercolors can be forgiving of detail in a way that pencils cannot.  A pencil drawing demands an exact understanding of the subject.

These three images are all part of one large drawing I made when I was an art student.  Looking at them now, many years later, I see where I substituted exactness with fogginess in some areas, in order to save time and effort.   

My instructor at the time told the class that in order to become master draughtsmen, we’d have to create a minimum of 10,000 drawings first.  This idea is very similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule in ‘Outliers,’ his recent book about the factors that contribute to high levels of success. 

shell-studyGladwell’s discovery is a disappointment to anyone who thinks that there is a shortcut to success.  Persistence and hard work are more important than talent.  I think people who are gifted acquire satisfaction with less effort in the beginning, and so are encouraged to do more.  But it is their ongoing practice that helps them achieve success.

As a child I spent countless hours drawing.  Compared to my peers, I did a lot less of other things.  But it was time well spent because I learned so much about nature in the process. 

shells-studyDrawing is a quiet activity that gives both children and adults an opportunity to observe and study nature up close.  Nothing more is needed other than a piece of blank paper, a pencil and… patience, something that is only learned through practice.

These drawings were made with a terra cotta charcoal pencil on manila paper.

Moon Shell

March 28, 2009


There’s something about moon shells that sparks my imagination.  In the drawing above, I used the design of a Northern Moon Snail as a starting point for some rainbow-like colour combinations and patterns. 

Colored pencils were employed on heavy textured paper.

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Sea Biscuits

March 12, 2009


Why do we usually reach for white paper when making drawings?  A colored background is a refreshing change.  If the paper is dark enough for us to use a white pencil instead of a black or grey one, we must adjust our focus to draw the highlights in a subject.  To do so is surprisingly uncomfortable if one is accustomed to always working in the shadows. 

Above is a Sea Biscuit, a small and simple type of Sand Dollar found on local beaches.

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The Chambered Nautilus

March 4, 2009


My friend Linda, who shares my fascination for spiral shells, loaned me her beloved Chambered Nautilus so that I could make a still life drawing of it.  Although most nautiluses are painted or photographed in their bisected form, I like the pattern and colours of the outer shell.  The scan I was able to make of the drawing doesn’t show all of the text of the poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Not long after I returned the shell to Linda, it was shattered by accident.   One of the qualities I find most appealing about seashells is their fragility.  It’s a mystery how so many of them are able to survive a lifetime of pounding waves and sea stones and still leave behind a shell that’s intact.

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,–
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,–
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn;
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:–

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94).

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Still Life ~ Malta

February 15, 2009

stilllifemaltaThis coloured pencil drawing was created in Malta after a trip to a temple site on the island of Gozo.  The remains of the temple are considered thousands of years older than the pyramids.  Now that’s ancient.

A tiny shell and stone were starting points for the drawing.  Many of the colours and designs on the stone are more imagined than real.  Ancient sacred places can be very inspiring.




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