Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sketcing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

 Click on the image to enlarge

I've sketched at our local natural history museum at Yale University many, many times but never at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. It's someting I've always wanted to do. After seeing Tommy Kane's brilliant sketch from the AMNH a few weeks ago, and buying a print from his Etsy Shop, (see the print I purchased HERE)  I knew that I'd have to make a trip there, and soon!!!

Just like the zoo I knew I would need to pack light.  Zoo trips and museum sketching days can be exhausting especially if you're not prepared mentally and packing a very light kit.  For me the museum was a 2+ hour drive into New York City. I went early on a Sunday morning to minimize the traffic situation. The museum has it's own parking deck so that's great, no need to walk half a mile just to get to the entrance.  The down side is that the museum is typically crowded on a Sunday, and it was. Really crowded by the afternoon.

With that in mind I knew that a sketching stool was out of the question. I would have to sit on seating that was already there or stand.  Most of the time I ended up standing. Comfortable clothes, and shoes are really helpful !  I  also packed a very light kit.  A mechanical pencil, a Pentel Stylo pen which has a cool kind of tip/nib kind of like a felt tip in a fountain pen nib with a little flex.  It makes a nice bold line but also is water soluble so you can soften and create tonal washes and combine it with watercolor, which is what I did. I like that because you can get a lot of volume and form to your sketches with just the tonal wash and then add just a smidge of watercolor to indicate the local color of things, and in a very short time your sketches come to life through value and color.  It's a good quick way to work and you get a lot of bang for the time spent.

The museum is how did I decide what to sketch???   This trip could have gone lots of different ways in terms of what I sketched. Here's how the day unfolded. We entered through the Hall of African Animals and I immediately knew that I wanted to sketch some of the more exotic ones, when else would I ever have the chance??  Then we proceeded to the Hall of African Peoples. As we wandered about I spotted the Masai man wearing the lion's mane headdress.  I was immediately drawn to it. What must it take to acquire an item like that, and what powerful symbolism is enacted by the one wearing it. Also, what a direct way to enter into the larger unity of living things. Many ancient and "primitive" peoples have rituals that entail wearing animal skins, helping them to tap into the spirit and essence of the creature.

Once that sketch was done, I began looking more closely at other African headdresses and ritual costumes. Fascinating. This was not something that I previously had,  any special interest in. But that first sketch opened me up to a whole new area of interest. Once the costume page was finished we took time to look at lots of other parts of the museum, have lunch and then I returned to the Hall of African Animals to complete the two page spread.

Click on the image to enlarge

We ended the day by viewing, what is probably the, most iconic installation in the museum, the blue whale.  Magnificent.  Then a nice long time in the gift shop before heading for dinner and the drive home.  I spent a lot of time figuring out the most direct and shortest way to get to the museum and wrote out the directions below the blue whale because I know I'll be going back! 


  1. Just a comment to let you know how much I enjoy your blog. You draw and sketch the way I would love to be able to do. Would like to be able to attend your workshops but a bit too far for me.

  2. What an amazing couple of pages!!! Sounds like you had the BEST day ever!!!


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