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Sketchbook journey - Hangar to Hintze Hall

Sketching the Skeleton Crew RCI working on the blue whale skeleton

Sketching Mike and Bill creating the armature for the mandibles (jaw bones) of the blue whale skeleton. In the foreground sits the skull covered in plastic and to the right is the ribcage.

Welcome to the second instalment of my blog. Here I'll share some of my sketches with you created in situ during my residency with Research Casting International (RCI), documenting the fabrication process of the blue whale skeleton which now hangs in Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum in London.

For me, a sketchbook is essential to begin to understand and get to know the environment I am working in. It's also a place where I can build up a visual diary of the changing light, shapes, figures and day to day details to refer back to at a later date. I am now using my sketches to reflect on my experience. Most of the following sketches were made using my favourite soft Pitt Oil Faber- Castell pencil.

On the right: A page from my sketchbook (as seen in the photo above) Bill and Mike working on the mandibles of the blue whale skeleton.

Top left Mike is grinding metal in the background and Bill is securing the metal armature to the mandible. Top right Bill welds metal to fit the bone.

Bottom left of the page Mike hammers and shapes the metal with Bill checking measurements on the right.

The Skeleton Crew of RCI were great fun to draw, it's not every day you get to sketch such a highly skilled crew in such a unique environment.

I used my sketches to become familiar with their work process, poses and tools. The working atmosphere in the hangar was intense and noisy with many different activities going on at once.

A sketchbook allowed me to move freely around the workshop avoiding the sparks and keeping out of the way when necessary!

I highly recommend choosing a subject that intrigues you and start sketching every day to build up your visual memory as well as your creative confidence. Sketchbooks are a very personal thing as well as a wonderful way to create a lasting memoir. Below are a selection of drawings from my sketchbooks along with descriptions underneath. I hope you enjoy browsing through them.

Working behind the blue whale vertebra

Patrick working behind the vertebra with the shadowy figure on the right of Matt with his visor up

Mike and Matt at their work stations

Mike and Matt grinding metal at their work stations

Quick tea break!

Brett, Matt and Patrick chatting around the wooden palettes

A rapid watercolour sketch Matt (Production Manager RCI) and

Richard Sabin (Principal Curator of Marine Mammals NHM) looking at the laptop

Patrick holding the ribs steady whilst Brett secures them to the main vertebral column

Lightening sketch in coloured pencil

Patrick being elevated in the scissor lift by the light of the hangar window

Mike working on the chevrons (the small bones that hang under the vertebra at the tail end of the whale)

He created all the armature for the chevrons. so I gave him the nick name of Monsieur Chevron!

A rather complicated subject! and one that had to be executed quickly. I sketched this looking down from the tip of the skull. Just behind the skull Matt (Production Manager RCI) and Brett (Head of Mounting RCI) are working on the armature at the base of the ribcage, beyond them inside the rib-cage I could see a glimpse of Patrick (Exhibit Technician RCI) and another crew member. On the left behind the skull attached to the ribs is the scapula, (a beautiful fan shaped bone) along with the humerus, radius and ulna. The lines coming down the page are the chains used to raise up the skull and skeleton.

I made a rapid sketch of Jennifer (Project Manager for the Natural History Museum] standing left in the sketch watching the crew checking the angles of the flippers with Richard Sabin (Principal Curator of Marine Mammals NMH) who stands far right under the left mandible (lower jaw bone) which at this stage is now attached to the raised skull not visible in this sketch.

I used Derwent colour soft pencils for these two sketches.

The sketch above was made towards the end of my artist residency with RCI. At this stage, my sketches became more fluid as I was accustomed to looking and sketching figures quickly. I started to enjoy using simple coloured outlines to describe different crew members in their surroundings.

The skull is suspended as the packing crew begin to build the base of the crate which will take it back to the Natural History Museum. Cheryl (a conservator from the NHM) is working on the flipper bones to the right of the picture and Matt (now instantly recognisable by his welding mask visor) stands behind the skull. I remember feeling a little sad at this point as I knew this amazing journey was soon to come to an end.

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