This week I drew at the Natural History Museum. I began with the most iconic thing I could’ve picked, Dippy the diplodocus skeleton in the main entrance hall. The environment was a bit overwhelming, there were so many elements: the architecture, the milling people and the mighty fossil dominating everything. It was hard to draw people as everyone was moving so fast, I never got a chance to get down the interesting movements I saw. (However, when I showed this picture to Alexis Deacon, he said, ‘there’s not many people who could walk in and draw a foreshortened diplodocus,’ which made me feel better. It also bore out something he’d said in his seminar, that when you draw, you naturally gravitate to the element that most interests you.)
This is Mary Anning’s pleiosaur. I drew this because I wanted to sit down on a bench! And I thought I could do a light detailed drawing of the fossil and add rapid sketches of people walking past. But this is a corridor, so of course everyone was walking somewhere else, few people stopped long enough to be drawn. I’d also given myself a very shallow depth of field, limiting the number of people I might see. I ended up leaving out the people altogether, which isn’t a very true representation of this busy spot. Another thing is, I was drawing with a graphite stick, making this very dark and overbearing for a background feature. In future I might approach a scene like this with a light B pencil. A cheery man looked over my shoulder and commented, ‘They’re a bit more complicated than chicken bones, aren’t they?’
I had a few attempts at drawing around the entrance hall, staircase and balcony. I tried drawing people on the staircase taking photos of the Darwin statue, but the dramatic angles of the steps were hard to capture. Then I stood on the balcony and drew people from above, but I haven’t had much practice drawing from a bird’s eye view. I decided to go and look at something that was a less daunting technical challenge.
Here is a room of geology specimens. I saw an Italian family taking a photo of themselves with a camera on a timer, so I sat down to draw them and the room. It was much easier to draw in here because the visitors were more focused, moving slowly, and tended to repeat movements. I also enjoyed doing the receding perspective, although the right side of the aisle foxed me and I had two goes at it. I now know that I’ll make life easier for myself by drawing in exhibit rooms rather than corridors. This was only a short trip but I learned such a lot from it.