A Brief History of a Squash and Apple Drawing.

Since 2006, one of the pleasures and touchstones of my life has been studying natural history drawing. Once or twice a week I meet with others, from 9:30 to 11:30 in the morning, to draw  at the home of our instructor, Julie Childs. Julie has been illustrating and teaching for over sixty years. She has taught hundreds and hundreds of people how to see, how to slow down and to patiently and accurately put to paper objects from the natural world. She is one of the finest and most effective teachers I’ve ever had.

Here is a brief history of the most recent drawing I’ve made under her caring eye. A story has to start somewhere, so we’ll start with a photo from early April, when our long and cold and snowy winter of 2014-2015 was finally ending.


Early April, 2015. The last of the winter’s snow!

By the end of May the corn and and squash were thriving in the open garden.


May 31, 2015. See those two wooden boxes? They have just been taken off two hills of “Gold Nugget” winter squash plants.

Four weeks later, young squash were swelling on the hairy vines.


This little squash is less than a week old.

Fast forward to early August, when the first of the squash matured.


Fast forward again, to September 28, when drawing classes started. I wanted to draw an apple, because I’ve drawn apples before, and love their colors, shapes, and details. But I wanted to draw a gourd, or a squash, too. So both apple and squash were chosen, and both set up on a cardboard box (for the right viewing angle),  to draw.


The orange squash and the green apple, set up to draw.  

The first step at Julie’s is to make drawing on tracing paper, where you can erase and repair at will, without spoiling a sheet of high-quality drawing paper.


The tracing paper drawing. Main shapes, spatial relationships, and locations of details are now set. A more precise word would be “delineated”.

The tracing paper drawing is transferred to bristol board. Boxes of colored pencils come out. Colors are chosen and tested on a smaller piece of board. The chosen pencils are kept together during the drawing process.

Drawing begins. I started by laying in shadows and lightly applying color.


Transferred drawing. Squash gets shading and first color layers.

Preparing the first drawing took about two hours. Each successive photograph in this series will show the results of two more hours of work.


Apple gets work. Details and shading on squash.



More detailing, shading.



More detailing, shading. Sometimes at the end of the a class you wonder if you’ve done anything, or if you’ve just gone into a trance for two hours.



Color and detail are built up, layer after layer.



Colors are now being laid on more heavily.  (Sorry about this photo…it was taken with artificial and not natural light, so the colors are differently rendered.)

The end is in sight. Colors are burnished with an unpigmented pencil.  This step gets rid of places where the paper is still showing through the layers of colored pencil. Then come the shadows.


Shadows are not simple. 

Almost done. The shadows get more work. Details are refined again.


By the time I called it quits on the cast shade, I’d used over a dozen colors.

And then the drawing is done.

There is nothing left to do but sign the drawing and to apply fixative.

IMG_0883 (1)

Done. November 9th, 2015. 

The drawing was done.

And the squash was done for.

From the second story deck of Julie’s house I hurled that squash into the woods below.

I bit the apple in half and laid it out on a table on that deck.

The apple is for the birds.













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