What Noise Annoys an Oyster? (Learning to Draw)

Io, Io, it’s off to work we go!

Actually, it’s not “work” I was off to.

Fall, winter, and spring, my wife and I attend a natural history illustration class taught by a woman who lives a few miles down the road. She’s a wonderful person and a gifted teacher. As long as she teaches, we intend to attend her classes. They’re an opportunity not to be wasted.

Right now, the subject of interest is an Io moth. Years ago, I drew the big, yellow male Io. Now it’s time to draw the female. The female whose photo leads off this post.

Serendipity brought her to me. She flew into the greenhouse last summer, laid her eggs on a tiger lily, and then sat, waiting for the end of her life. I caught her and brought her to our friend, our teacher Julie, who pinned her out.

Now I’m drawing Madame Io.


Tracing paper sketch of the Io moth.

Six years ago, my wife went to a party next door. During the evening, she met someone who had recently moved to town, and in the course of their conversation they talked about drawing. The “new” person mentioned that she was taking a drawing class. My wife expressed interest, and soon afterwards, started attending.

When she brought her first drawing home, I was utterly taken by her drawing of a Florida fighting conch, and it made me want to draw, too.

Years ago, I did some film photography. I took some “Art” courses. I loved sitting in Art History, watching slide after slide. I love to visit art museums, and enjoy noticing the world. But I’d never drawn much, except for work. For the last five or six years I have been working on learning how to draw. Most of my working life has been spent in occupations that require hand-eye co-ordination, from painting to carpentry and other trades, to painting and carving signs.  Sign making was my most recent “career”. You have to  draw letters, and make sketches of signs, for customers and for sign permit committees, but that didn’t seem like drawing, somehow. It was just part of the job.

Inspired by the horse conch drawing, but not wanting to step on my wife’s toes, I asked her if she’d mind  if I were to come to the classes, too. She was agreeable to the notion. Fortunately, the teacher was agreeable, too. Classes were underway, and I could join them immediately. Classes met in our teacher’s home, two mornings a week.

My first drawing was of an oyster shell. I chose the oyster shell as a subject because it seemed like it would be an easy thing to draw. A nice, easy, nondescript, not-too-many-colors subject.

“Easy” turned out to be a task that began with work on a preliminary drawing on tracing paper. Despite my decades of hand-eye based work, producing a sketch that looked like my oyster shell required hours of observation, attempts, erasures and corrections. The sketch, when finally completed, was only the beginning. Only after the sketch was complete was it time to transfer the drawing to a piece of good-quality “Bristol” drawing board.

“Patience” took on new meaning. When you concentrate on a subject, and on the minuscule area where your pencil tip is working, the measure of daily “progress” can be reduced to areas a half-inch square in extent. That oyster shell had a small overall area, but its geography was varied and extensive. There were years, an oyster’s lifetime, laid out in that shell’s topography, and to put that landscape to paper was neither easy nor quick. Drawing each side of that oyster shell took four to six weeks of classes to complete. Per side.

Talk about an “eye-opener”.

I’ll add some photos of those first drawings, but now it’s time to post.


Colors for the Io drawing, as laid out for a drawing session. They’ll be kept apart from the rest of the colors until the moth project is complete.


Test colors and technique experiments, which are usually done before starting on a drawing.


To be continued….

3 responses to “What Noise Annoys an Oyster? (Learning to Draw)

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