Saturday Art Challenge


Ruskin Inspired Feathers!

Hi Everyone!

About a year ago St Nick’s Environment Centre was lucky enough to partner up with York City Art Gallery to run creative sessions as part of a Turner / Ruskin Exhibition which was curated by the fabulous Dr Suzanne Fagence-Cooper.

The exhibition aimed to highlight the plight of the environment and the incredible work that both Ruskin and Turner did ahead of their time charting landscape and natural details.

William Davidson (St Nick’s Book Club) and I ran a series of literature and writing sessions inspired by the exhibition, it was great fun and it also gave us the chance to keep re-visiting the paintings and drawings and to become very familiar with the work.

In particular I was really taken with Ruskin’s feather drawings. The attention to detail was immense, you felt as if you could literally just pick the feather off the paper, so beautifully had it been crafted on the page. So I thought I would have a go!

The lovely thing about drawing feathers is that you can really start to get to grips with using tone and light and dark shades to draw the feather out. You can also play about with the the weight of line – changing how hard you press into the paper to start to mimic the lightness of the feather.

As many feathers are so delicate and often pale colours, I have found that drawing on brown paper gives a lovely effect and also helps the lighter tones to stand out. These pictures are taken from a basic brown paper sketch book that I found in PaperChase but simple brown packing paper would work just as well.

I used water soluble pencil crayon’s which are lovely and soft and blend very easily, although for most of the pictures you see here I used them dry, rather than going over with a paint brush or dipping them in water. You can, however, use just a basic pencil or pencil-crayons to sketch with. As Ruskin often taught – the act of drawing is not to be an excellent artist, but to actually observe properly and to take your time with detailed observation of the natural world.

So, your Saturday Art Challenge is as follows:


  • Find a feather! If you aren’t able to go outside at the moment google images of feathers on line, you could even draw a fluffy Jackdaw’s feathers – as featured on this week’s creative writing class.
  • Choose your pencil, or drawing tools.
  • Choose some paper, this could be the back of an envelope, some plain paper, or the inside page of a book (Yes! I am one of those terrible people that adds sketches and notes to the books that I am reading!)
  • Begin to draw your feather. Note where the lines are clearer down the stem of the feather – here you can press harder to create a bold delineation of tone. For the actual strands of feather imagine the softness of the feather as you draw your lines, use that softness in the stroke of your pencil against paper.
  • For darker areas of tone, browns and blues give deeper colours and hues and blend nicely together to create shadows.
  • A white pencil crayon is excellent for highlighting where light falls on the shiny parts of the feather. White pencil crayon also captures those lovely wispy feathers at the base of the feather spine.
  • Really try to copy exactly what you see, where is light, where is dark? Take your time, get lost in the moment, enjoy!

If you are anything like me you might find this addictive. You will be picking up feathers everywhere you go!

If you are interested in the work of Ruskin, Suzanne Fagence-Cooper wrote an excellent account of his work in her book Why Ruskin Matters. I highly recommend it.

Yes my bookmark is a battered page from a book that fell apart!!

If you are interested in Ruskin’s feathers – google Ruskin and Feathers and then click on images at the top of the search engine – you will find many examples.

Hope you enjoy sketching feathers. Remember the most important part is not the end result of the drawing, it’s observing all the fine and beautiful details of feathers!

Take Care! See you on Monday for our next nature based poem.

Best wishes,

Published by Emma

Hi my name is Emma! I am a writer and artist. I work for the NHS at Converge ( and I am also an MA graduate in Creative writing and am currently studying for a PhD in Humanities. I have been leading a creative writing class at the beautiful St Nicks in York ( for the last five years. When I am not at work I'm on my allotment or at Base Camp (my home) planning new adventures.

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