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Drawing from Nature

… everything you can see in Nature is seen only so far as it is lighter or darker than the things about it, or of a different colour from them. It is either seen as a patch of one colour on a ground of another; or as a pale thing relieved from a dark thing, or a dark thing from a pale thing. And if you can put on patches of colour or shade of exactly the same size, shape, and gradations as those on the object and its ground, you will produce the appearance of the object …
John Ruskin, Elements of Drawing, 1857

Shell, by Nether Kellet School
Shell, by Nether Kellet School
Shell, by Nether Kellet School


Shell, by Nether Kellet School Shell, by Nether Kellet School
Shell, by Garstang Community Primary School

You may perhaps have thought yourself very hardly treated in being obliged to begin your natural history drawing with so delicate a thing as a feather. But you should rather be very grateful to me, for not having given you, instead, a bit of moss, or a cockle-shell! The last, which you might perhaps fancy the easiest of the three, is in reality quite hopelessly difficult, and in its ultimate condition, inimitable by art. Bewick can engrave feathers to the point of deceptive similitude; and Hunt can paint a bird’s-nest built of feathers, lichen, and moss. But neither the one nor the other ever attempted to render the diverging lines which have their origin in the hinge of the commonest bivalve shell.

John Ruskin, Laws of Fesole, 1877-9


John Ruskin: Study of Cockle-Shell

Ruskin collected this shell on a visit to Venice.  In Fors Clavigera, he writes that he picked up a ‘little grey cockle-shell … out of the dust of the Island of St Helena; and a brightly-spotted snail-shell, from the thistly sands of Lido; and I want to set myself to draw these, and describe them, in peace.’ His diary for 16th November 1876 notes ‘Better after staying in all day resting, and painting cockle shell successfully; getting rhythms also into form.’



Shells from the drawing collection
at the Ruskin Library

School Visits Drawing Workshop Book
John Ruskin Booking a Visit


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