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Sketching Museum Montages with Taxidermy Animals

January 30, 2017

Blog readers will know, I’m a huge fan of sketching from taxidermy animals. It’s better than the zoo :) After all, they hold perfectly still for you.


This year, I had two opportunities to squeeze in a mini-workshop on the topic of Montage Drawings. Once in Manchester, as we hid out from a rainy day in the Manchester Museum, and again in Myrtle Beach, doing montages in the sculpture galleries at Brookgreen Gardens.

I’m finding the Montage – that is, making a composition out of multiple figures or objects – to be more and more interesting these days. It’s a way to keep doing the still-life drawing that I enjoy, but to end up with a more exciting composition built out of what might otherwise be ‘boring’ academic portraits of objects.


This drawing was kind of a breakthrough towards this approach. Just something I did for fun one day.

For whatever reason, I didn’t turn the page as I’d normally do, and this overlap just happened.

I wasn’t planning for the effect, but on the other hand I had brought a few large sheets rather than a more typical stack of small boards – so subconsciously I was prepared for it.

They’re not ‘good’ drawings I suppose. They’re hard to understand. But for whatever reason I’m enjoying ‘complexifying’.

I have this idea that I should be overlapping forms, playing with scale, proportion, and rhythm. Even while doing the usual portraits of individual creatures. I’ve been touching on this kind of of montage at life drawing lately.

Can you see how the figures of the birds have a rhythm and movement across the page?

As we go left to right from owl, to eagle, to owl, to crow – the placement of the heads is in a subconscious ‘bobbing’ rhythm. The lesser birds, serve as contrasting notes. Little arrows pointing in different directions, to bounce the eye around the overall mass. At the same time, the figures rotate – from the frontal snowy owl to the profile of the crow.

Maybe it’s just me, but this is the stuff I like in these weird drawings. None of it was intentional. It just began to happen as I was sketching.


To me, a key thing is the use of ‘gaze’ in the composition. That is – where the subjects are looking.

Students will often find it hard to organize a montage. I tell them it can be as simple as making sure everyone is looking in the same direction.

The viewer will always want to move in the same direction as the subject’s gaze.

Here we have two groups. A smaller cluster of birds that look left, but the larger group looks stage-right.

They tie together by having the dove’s wings clearly pointing you towards the wolf’s head. This makes a fun composition with a push-and-pull that I feel keeps you out of the messy bits in the center – where the overlap of forms isn’t all that well handled.

It’s also fun how most of these critters are so attentive to something off-screen. But a few of the less prominent ones make eye contact with the viewer.

Again, I don’t know if anyone else sees these ideas in the drawings. But it was a lot of fun to play these mind-games while composing with creatures.

And – there’s a hilarious sense of risk – something like playing Jenga.

Every time I overlap an animal on top of the pile, I get more and more nervous I will ruin the composition. I have to push myself to keep adding until the page is full :)

Check out this step-by-step progression as an example of how I hang smaller figures off of the main character. (Click for slideshow).

I wish I had been braver with the colored sketches today. I feel they lack the complexity of the line drawings I’d done earlier. But this is how I learn. Poking at things, pushing out in various directions a little bit at a time.

It takes a while for me to realize what’s working. Next time I head to the museum, I’ll be ready to push this further!


22 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet Lee permalink
    January 30, 2017 10:29 AM

    This is so interesting. I love the concept. Thank you for explaining. Janet lee Essex,ct

    Sent from my iPad


  2. January 30, 2017 10:32 AM

    Excellent to see this montaging work with sketching. I’ve always used it when capturing photos of lecturers when no single photo is attractive, yet a series of 3 or 4 suddenly gives the complete picture of animated discussion. The concept has saved me, many times.

  3. January 30, 2017 10:35 AM

    Great blog entry, Marc. I am continually impressed with your willingness to share your process and your talent, year after year, blog after blog. Thank you for your generosity.

    • January 30, 2017 10:39 AM

      No worries Barbara! It’s fun and very helpful to my process – to keep this journal. Glad to have readers out there :)

  4. January 30, 2017 11:25 AM

    You were a fish in a past lfe perhaps?

  5. Nancy permalink
    January 30, 2017 11:37 AM

    Hello Marc –

    Wow, this is the first posting I have received from Citizen Sketcher. What a challenge! I am so happy I discovered you.

    Cheers, Nancy Mosk _____

  6. Rita Cleary permalink
    January 30, 2017 12:33 PM

    Marc….if you have not already, check out Shirley Trevena’s demo on her Breaking the Rules of Watercolor DVD. She does a still life using six or seven objects, but not in the traditional still life style. She overlaps, she creates a dynamic diagonal vignette, she plays with the size and perspective of the objects, and most of the time, does not completely “finish” any one item….rather, just enough info so that you know what it is. Her results are captivating, rhythmic and colorful…and gives NEW life to STILL life! Love yours.

  7. lynne permalink
    January 30, 2017 2:06 PM

    love this, marc! thank you!

  8. January 30, 2017 2:24 PM

    Very nice. In Québec city last friday we went to Federation des chasseurs et pêcheurs du Québec where we did some sketches. to see

  9. January 30, 2017 4:29 PM

    go check out Boutique Kitsch and Swell on st. Laurent.

    On Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 10:16 AM, Citizen Sketcher wrote:

    > Marc Taro Holmes posted: ” Blog readers will know, I’m a huge fan of > sketching from taxidermy animals. It’s better than the zoo :) After all, > they hold perfectly still for you. This year, I had two opportunities to > squeeze in a mini-workshop on the topic of Montage Drawi” >

  10. hmunro permalink
    January 30, 2017 6:43 PM

    ASTOUNDING work. Thank you for sharing both your sketches and the finished paintings.

  11. Sheryl C permalink
    January 30, 2017 7:23 PM

    Interesting concept. Your montages are compelling, my mind explores the lines trying to decipher them. The perfectionist in me wants to resolve the chaos, the artist in me relishes the challenge of interpretation. Always enjoy your posts!

  12. January 31, 2017 3:30 AM

    have you come across The Unfeathered Bird? It’s a book on bird anatomy full of beautiful drawings by its author, an artist/ornithologist/taxidermist -

  13. January 31, 2017 6:09 AM

    Great work. The line the rhythm and the economy of thought. You’ve brought them to life.

  14. Babs permalink
    January 31, 2017 1:30 PM

    I have always loved montage paintings and drawings. I love how you didn’t shy away from overlapping your lines and I take it you went straight from paper to pen with no pencil as an intermediary step. I’m not that fearless yet but may dabble to see if it jumps my confidence forward another 3 steps. Thanks for all you share here, Marc, and also all your comments on work submitted in your classes.

  15. February 3, 2017 9:43 AM

    wonderful drawings

  16. February 4, 2017 8:10 AM

    Oh wow! They are great!! I ansolutely love this idea, it give so much life, as if the animals successively all ome to the same spot.
    However, I’m not sure I agree with your idea that they must all gaze in the same diretion, this is exactly wat I love about the first example (the various birds look in different direction, as if you had tried to catch the different poses and they had moved too fast) and what I don’t like about the others where they all gaze right or left.
    I really feel like trying this! Thanks for sharing!

  17. twenty four darker blog's permalink
    February 5, 2017 12:03 AM

    Great man 😃

  18. February 6, 2017 12:52 AM

    so simple, yet brilliant. i’ve never thought to try and sketch animals from taxidermy models. and here i’ve been stuck at my desk drawing from photo references all this time.

    here in the central valley of california, we have this funky diner in the delta region that has a tremendous amount of african big game heads that were hunted in the 1920’s. and up in the northern, more rural agriculture region of the valley, i saw a taxidermy shop in one of the small towns. how fun! new subject matter and very, very still models!

  19. February 15, 2017 9:21 PM

    How neat and very interesting.


  1. Zoo-Illogical Sketching | Citizen Sketcher

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