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Animal Drawing: Q&A with Diorama Artist Steve Quinn

Q&As

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Stephen C. Quinn has been teaching Animal Drawing at the Museum for over 30 years. © AMNH/D. Finnin


When night falls on Thursdays at the Museum, a group of people carrying sketchpads and charcoal enters the doors and heads to the animal halls. For over 30 years, Stephen C. Quinn, an artist in the Museum’s Exhibition Department and an expert on dioramas, has led a special evening course on Animal Drawing that teaches students the art of drawing nature using the Museum’s famous dioramas and displays. This spring’s session will begin on Thursday, March 15. Below, Quinn answers a few questions about the course.

What are some of the topics covered in Animal Drawing?

Stephen Quinn: The course focuses mainly on mammals, with a few birds and dinosaurs included as well. We start with skeletal anatomy and superficial muscles that aid locomotion, working our way to protective coloration and ending with dinosaur-bird evolution. I tell my students to think of themselves as naturalists rendering nature as it is outdoors. The Museum’s dioramas are so accurate in anatomical detail that it’s no different than drawing animals in the field; they’re such great illusions of nature that you can be transported to the places they re-create.

You’ve taught this course for over 30 years. How has it changed over time?

Quinn: People who really love animals have always attended the class, but more and more people interested in dioramas as art are joining. There are veterinarians, comic book cartoonists, wildlife artists, and medical illustrators. And there are first-timers. I would say my students have always been passionate about conservation and see this artistic expression as a means to convey that mission.

Which animals are the hardest to draw?

Quinn: The hardest animals to draw are also the most alluring. Any protective coloring or patterning is the most difficult. People are captivated by the stripes of zebras, the spots of leopards, and the patchwork of giraffes, but they can get so caught up in the pattern that they forget about the animal. And they’re falling for exactly what nature is trying to do. Those patterns are meant to dominate and break up the form of the animal so that it becomes less perceivable. As a solution, I tell my students to render the zebra stripeless and draw the form of the animal first. Then, they can fill in the pattern later.

Click here to sign up for the spring Animal Drawing course.

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