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Skulls in Art

Finding ways to refine and develop artwork further

Hilary Nicholls

on 15 October 2018

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Transcript of Skulls in Art

David Bailly “Vanitas self portrait” 1651
Franciscus Gysbrechts “Vanitas” (1670’s)
Bubbles = the transience of life
Books = knowledge

Flowers (wilting) = the shortness of life and decay

Sword = a reminder that arms are no protection against death

Crown, sceptre, jewels, purse or coins = power and possessions

There are many objects with symbolic meanings which may appear in a vanitas painting

The paintings were made to warn viewers of the temporary nature of life.
Painting is a particular type of
still life
which was very popular in the
during the
17th century

Wine and food = earthly pleasures (things in life that we enjoy)
Musical instruments = love
Globe = the world we live in

Skull = Death
This is always present, it is the memento mori reminding us that we must all die in time
In Latin, Vanitas means emptiness
Vanitas paintings, which flourished during the period 1620-1650, became especially popular with well-to-do devoutly Protestant citizens of the Netherlands, following the country's revolt against the colonial rule of Catholic Spain.
Still Life
painting containing symbolic objects
Still Life
painting containing symbolic objects

Still Life
painting containing symbolic objects

17th Century
Vanitas works urge the viewer to avoid placing too much importance in earthly wealth and pleasures, in case they become an obstacle on the path to salvation
Still Life
painting containing symbolic objects

17th Century
Gyhen the Elder
Philippe de Champaigne " Vanitas " (c. 1671)
Still Life
painting containing symbolic objects

17th Century
Gyhen the Elder
To remind the viewer to avoid placing too much importance in earthly wealth and pleasures, they will mean nothing in the afterlife.

"You can't take it with you"
Set up page:
Create an illustrated double page using all of the objects you have listed in the back of your book as well as your KAT

Annotate each object by naming it and explaining what it symbolises - for example Skull = Death

Start with pencil and refine with pen and wash
Learing Intention:

To begin to understand the symbolic use of objects in a Vanitas painting
Still Life
painting containing symbolic objects

17th Century
Gyhen the Elder
To remind the viewer to avoid placing too much importance in earthly wealth and pleasures, they will mean nothing in the afterlife.
"You can't take it with you"
Tipped over wine glass = Emptiness
Violin (music) = Love
Skull = Death
Coins = Wealth
Hour glass = Time
Bubbles = Transience
Books = Knowledge
Globe = Scientific Discovery
Sword = No protection against death
Wilting flower = Shortness of life
Candle = Time or if extinguished shortness of life
Hour glass, clock or candle = the passing of time

Overturned vessel such as a cup, bottle or a bowl =

Harman Steenwyck 'Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life', 1640
Adriaen Van Utrecht “Vanitas still life with bouquet and skull” (1642)
Jacques de Gheyn the Elder “Vanitas Still Life” 1603
2. Create a tonal grid somewhere in your image using a pencil

How can you effectively make the boxes range from light to dark tones if you are using a pencil?
What could you do to lighten pencil?
As you evaluate your work think about what you need to do fulfill the success criteria.
Have you:
Have you drawn a skull and a bottle?
How to sharpen lines and add details
Have you filled the page ?
3. Start to fill negative spaces with different types of mark making

Try out a range of different patterns and tones.........
4. Refine details further by adding shading and highlights to make objects appear 3D
5. Build up the image with pencil then make a switch to pen (Biro or felt tip pen) and start the process again by adding a tonal grid somewhere on your page..........
Evaluate your work as it is now.......

What went well? (WWW)

Even better if? (EBI)

How are you going to fix it? (FIX)
List 6 (or more) vanitas objects

Sketch out objects to become familiar with shape

Make three thumbnail sketches to try out different compositions
The vanitas genre, of which Steenwyck was the leading exponent, was a type of Protestant Reformation Art (c.1520-1700) consisting of still life pictures containing symbolic objects that conveyed a Christian moralistic message. Each vanitas picture is like a visual sermon based on a verse from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (1:2;12:8) "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity". Vanitas works urge the viewer to avoid placing too much importance in earthly wealth and pleasures, in case they become an obstacle on the path to salvation. All this is well illustrated by Steenwyck's still life An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life": see left. Vanitas pictures tended to be small-scale works, in contrast to the more grandiose examples of Vatican-approved Catholic Counter-Reformation art (1560-1700).
Kevin Best Photographer
Born in 1960, New Zealand
Matthew Day Jackson
Born in 1974, Los Angeles
Lives and works in Brooklyn

Skulls in Art
Create a
“mind map”
style title page starting with the words…..
Skulls in Art
Then add the two areas of study for the unit…
Mexican Days of the Dead

Include the 7 visual elements as well as artists who have been inspired by skulls.
Illustrate the page with your own drawings and printed images relevant to the topic……….

Flack (photorealism)
Steenwyck (vanitas)
Burton (films)
Posada (posters)
Hirst (diamond skull)
Orozco (chequers in pencil)
Hopkins (shelves)
Beto Janz (skate boards)
Jim (string and scoobies)
Picasso (absract)
O'Keeffe (deserts)

James Hopkins, A British sculptor uses everyday objects in order to create a shape of the skull.

Días de los Muertos(days of the dead) is a two day festival that originates in Mexico
Mexican Days of the Dead
Black Kites, 1997, Graphite on skull
Gabriel Orozco
(born 1962) A Mexican artist, who in 1998 was called “one of the most influential artists of this decade, and probably the next one too.”
His sculptures, often made of everyday things that have interested him, reveal new ways of looking at something familiar.

Brazilian Graphic Designer Beto Janz transforms old beat-up skateboards. These pieces were used as a promotion for a new store for the brand “Ultra Series Skate”. The address was put on the back of the boards and they were left lying around in the local skate parks – if you found one you got to keep it.

Tim Burton
(Born 1958)


Haarmen Steenwyck (1612 - 1656)
A vanitas painting is a particular type of still life which was very popular in the Netherlands during the 17th century

Damien Hirst
Born in 1965, England
Mexican-born artist Andres Basurto uses  shards from glass bottles that at one time held wine and beer, giving life to ”specific shapes that evoke the human skull and skeleton as a container of the soul.”
The self-proclaimed French ‘skull artist’ going simply by the name of Jim makes tribal-inspired sculptures out of woven rope and string and other simple materials. His work is surprisingly diverse, often highlighting the various ways in which the image of a skull will eternally hold sway over our imagination.

What does a Skull symbolise ?
Aztec skulls
Audrey Flack
(Born 1931)

Self assessment....
Title page
Vanitas page
1/4 skulls (with background)
Image of made skull (annotated)
For the Love of God is a sculpture by artist Damien Hirst produced in 2007. It consists of a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted with 8,601 flawless diamonds, including a pear-shaped pink diamond located in the forehead. Costing £14 million to produce, the work went on display at the White Cube gallery in London in an exhibition Beyond belief with an asking price of £50 million. This would have been the highest price ever paid for a single work by a living artist
Look carefully at the image of the skull and memorise the basic shape as well as interesting details (holes, blemishes, shadows, highlights )
Now spend three minute drawing it as you remember it

Drawing exercise No. 1
3 minutes
Drawing exercises
Use the hand you don't usually draw with.........What does this do?
Drawing exercise No. 2
Opposite hand
3 minutes
Drawing exercises
Carefully pierce your pencil through the middle of the paper provided. This will stop you from seeing your drawing and make you look at the image of the skull. This is a great exercise to build obsevational skills....
Drawing exercises
Drawing exercise No. 3
Covered paper
1 minute
Draw the skull without taking your pencil off of the paper

Drawing exercise No. 4
Continuous line drawing
Drawing exercises

Observe (look closely)

Scale (measure and sketch out)

Line (Details)

Tonal value (shadows and highlights)

To recap…………..
3 minutes
Open up the photo copy and lightly sketch out the basic shape of the skull
Fold the photocopy in half to help with the proportion of the skull.

In pencil make a mark for the top and the bottom of the of the skull so you know how big the drawing has to be.

Mark out where the mouth, nose and eye lines are to guide you further

Year 9 KAT

Pencil drawing of a skull

As this is a Key assessed task you will be working in exam conditions:

Work in silence
Work to the best of your ability
Follow instructions
Use the time given wisely

Finally start to add tonal value by shading in the darkest areas. If your drawing has become to dark use an eraser to bring back the highlights

Draw further details by using line. Remember to keep referring to the photo copy to make sure you have got the shapes right
Fold the photocopy in half the other way to find out how wide it needs to be….
Finally start to add tonal value by shading in the darkest areas.
If your drawing has become to dark use an eraser to bring back the highlights

(Don’t rush but make sure you complete the task )

Year 9 KAT Vanitas Independent Learning

• Print out a colour copy of the Harmen Van Steenwyck Vanitas painting and stick it in the centre of a double page spread in your sketchbook.

• Follow the instructions listed below

You must: Complete a double page spread on Harmen van Steenwyck, draw appropriate title & add key facts (5W’s)

You should: Draw at least 4 images from painting and annotate meanings

You could: Add colour value to drawings using coloured pencil &/or watercolour in appropriate colours

Use mixed media to create a dark background to the two skulls on your double page

Wax resist
Pen and wash
Mix it up (but NOT fine liner and wax crayon!)
Include a range of pattern and texture
Keep adding layers

Harmen Steenwyck
(this will be the main title)

1612 – 1656

Delft, Netherlands

Still Life painter

Steenwyck became a leading exponent of Vanitas paintings - a type of Still Life in which every object has a hidden meaning.

The festival is rooted in the ancient past.

Graves and altars are decorated with the cempasúchil flower (marigold)
Días de los Muertos
(days of the dead)
is a two day festival that originates in Mexico

Días de los Muertos
The word calavera is Spanish for skull

The Tree of Life has become the Garden of Eden

The cross of the four cardinal points has become the Christian cross
Traditionally, people believe that the monarchs are the souls of their ancestors, who are returning to Earth for their annual visit

At the same time every autumn, by November 1st, Monarch Butterflies, which have summered up north in the United States and Canada, return to Mexico for the winter.

Families visit the graves of their relatives and clean them. They then place offerendas for the dead which include sugar skulls and favourite foods and drinks of the departed

During the festival, altars are made in homes, businesses and cemeteries.
The film maker Tim Burton is influenced by day of the dead imagery

Nightmare before Christmas
Corpse Bride

Fashion inspired by Mexican Day of the Dead
A calacas is a figure with a skull or skeleton (usually human) commonly used for decoration during the Mexican Day of the Dead festival

The Aztec goddess of death Mictecacihuatl is represented by Catrina

Many of the symbols found on the altars are the result of the melding of Spanish and Aztec art and religion

"On the First of November we remember the souls of our dead children and, on November 2nd, the souls of our adults"

Días de los Muertos is a celebration of both Life and Death

Mick- tech - aci (like when you say acid) - wattl (enphasis on the T)
A very special editorial by British photographer Rankin and the talented Andrew Gallimore, inspired in the Mexican Day of the Dead Festival: Dia de Los Muertos, with a modern twist.
Day of the Dead masks, called Calacas (meaning skeleton), have long been part of the tradition and are now a global symbol of the celebration.
R=Response: Fix it time

Chose two targets to complete as homework for next lesson

Fill in the yellow sheet and write it in your book how you will complete your target.
Title page
Double skulls
Steenwyck page
Target 1
Target 2
Expected outcomes of todays lesson:

5w's and key words in book to show understanding
Experimentation with media - developing skills learnt in prvious lesson
Creative ideas developed in the form of own drawings and use of colour
Audrey Flack Analysis
Who made this:
What is it:
When was it made
Where did the artist come from:
Title of painting:
What can be seen in the painting:
visual analysis

Tasks for today:
Fill the empty rectangles on the sheet with thumbnails of at least three possible ideas. You could use a viewfinder to help you.

Cut your ideas out and stick them into your sketchbook

Annotate each idea (what's it about?)

Choose your best idea and draw it on the opposite A4 page
Search through your sketchbook with the help of a view finder and find different compositions to sketch out as thumbnail drawings on the sheet provided

Spend time just looking. Use a viewfinder to work out if you need your paper to be landscape or portrait.....

On the back of your paper write down all of the things you can see.

1 minute
3 minutes
5 minutes
20 minutes
Spend 5 minutes mapping out the basic shapes - try to fill all of the page
Move around 3 spaces
Look at the work in front of you
Write your name in the box
Find the view using the viewfinder
Continue to develop drawing for 5 minutes
Move around 5 seats
Look at the work in front of you (turn it back round the right way)
Write your name in the box
Chose one object you can recognise that needs more detail
Spend 3 minutes drawing extra details
Move around 3 spaces (anti clock wise - count the drawings)
Look at the work in front of you
Write your name in the box
Turn the paper around so it is upside down
Chose one object you can clearly see and spend 3 minutes making 3 different drawings of it in suitable spaces
Return to your original drawing and spend the rest of the lesson refining it
Do you have at least one skull and one bottle as part of your composition?
Sharpen up lines
Identify negative space
Add more detail
Move around 4 spaces
Look at the work in front of you
Write your name in the box
Add 3 frames in 3 minutes - use up any large areas of negative space or refine frames that already exist
You will need a pencil, a pen and a ruler

In pencil mark off a rulers width along a short side of your A3 paper.

write your name and success criteria in pen
Fill the page
Add at least one skull and one bottle
Identify negative space

Fill the page
Add at least one skull and one bottle
Identify negative space

Have you identified negative space?
Develop drawing with

Three types of media
A range of different tones
The renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo depicts a young girl (thought to be the artist herself as a child) wearing a skull mask. The skull is the most iconic imagery associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead festival. It is thought that Kahlo intended the painting to symbolize the idea of death as the ultimate destiny, even for innocent little girls.
Georgia O’Keeffe began painting animal bones, principally skulls, around 1931, but had collected them since 1929. As she explained, ‘that first summer I spent in New Mexico I was a little surprised that there were so few flowers. There was no rain so the flowers didn’t come. Bones were easy to find so I began collecting bones’.
Paul Cezanne used skulls in many of his still life paintings . His Pyramid of Skulls is perhaps the most famous. Art historians think that Cezanne was drawn to skulls not only because they symbolize mortality, but because they are beautiful in and of themselves and make a strong impact on the viewer.
Who created these?
As well as the obvious symbol of death a skull can also signify:
Fear or caution (used to signify a poisonous substance, pirates, etc.)
Vanity ( such as in the 1892 illustration 'All is Vanity' by Charles Allan Gilbert)
Life after death, transformation or change (the Death card in the Tarot)
Nonconformity, free-thinking, rebelliousness, toughness, courage, bravery in the face of death and danger (flags, signs, or in tattoos)
Seat of power and the house of the soul (Celtic culture)
Memory of the dead (Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico)
Good luck charm (ancient and primitive cultures believed used them to ward off evil or illness and wore them to insure protection and well-being)
Appeal and fashion, or simply for decoration (some people just think they are cool)

Success Criteria?
Pieter Claesz "Vanitas still life" 1630
5 w's sheet
Success criteria:
5 w's and large skull (KAT)
10 illustrated and annotated vanitas objects
Pen and Wash
= Death

Hour Glass
= Time

Over turned cup

= Power

= The World

Wilting flower
= Decay

= No protection from death

= Love

= Knowledge

Food and drink
= Earthly Pleasures

= Transience (of life)

A Still Life painting containing
symbolic objects
A Still Life painting containing
symbolic objects
A Still Life painting containing
symbolic objects
A Still Life painting containing
symbolic objects
Noah Scalin
Create your own skull inspired by Noah Scalin
Once you have made it (or found it) take a photo of it
Print out the photo and stick it in your book
Annotate the photo explaining how and why you made it
You don't have to limit yourself to one skull.....
Home Work
(Don't forget to mention Noah Scalin and his "skull a day" project)
if you don't have access to a camera you could draw the skull
HW: Bring in imagery which will help you develop your day of the dead page
Family portrait
this is an image ofher first-born child, Melissa (Missy), was born with autism in 1959, the year of the artist's first N.Y. solo exhibition. The event marked the beginning of her double life as artist and parent (eventually a single one) of two children, one with extraordinary needs.
Success Criteria
escribe what you see
xplain what it means (5 w's)
nalyse visually (draw the details then add colour)
ink to previous knowledge

Look at the A* example I gave you
set up your own still life of personal objects
Refer to the work of Audrey Flack.

Take a series of photographs of the still life from at least 3 different viewpoints.

Present beautifully and carefully in your sketchbook ( you may need a double page) Annotate & explain the objects chosen
The text in the book is from a biography of Marilyn and has references to her gaining recognition in a male-dominated industry. It contains the words, "paint yourself into an instrument of your will."
The photograph is of Flack and her brother
The calendar runs to the 28th day, concealing the date when Marilyn died
The pocket watch displays the time the public first started to become aware of Marilyn's death
Purple is the color of fabric historically limited to use by royalty
Red roses are beautiful, traditionally given by lovers - and they have thorns
A brush paints a picture, which is not real, and the color that is dripping from it is the color of blood
Grapes were fed by hand to emperors and empresses - and they are also noted as "grapes of wrath".

Candles burn down, have been used to light dark places, and are often said to be "burnt at both ends" by people who live life very quickly
Peaches, when the sweet fruit is cut open, reveal an ugly rough pit
The blue glass has been called a wine glass by others, but it isn't - it's a water glass, albeit a fancy one, so I haven't a clue as to its meaning - but it certainly serves a great technical purpose by its color. And I'm sure the little Delft pitcher has significance, but again, I don't know what it might be.
Both Marilyn's portrait, and even more so, the mirror image, shows us an imperfect woman - one eye too small, the bump on the nose - not the glamorous made-up movie star
The hourglass has time running out, of course
The candlestick and the pearls are silver, which tarnishes quickly
The makeup pots hold red - presumably for lips. But green makeup is used to tone down over-red flesh, a frequent "imperfection" of blondes like Marilyn and Audrey
Two pears are painted - one is so green it is almost raw, the other is quickly ripening, soon to be overripe
All of these are images/symbols of female conflicts about self-image, truth vs. falsity, the constraints of time and aging. (Flack did another Marilyn painting the same year - 1977 - "Marilyn - Golden Girl", but it isn't nearly as detailed, nor as celebrated as this one)
Success Criteria
5's and interesting information
Sugar skull
Illustrations and colour
Experimentation with pen and wash
Success Criteria
Pencil drawing of skull
Pen and wash drawing of skull
Dark backgounds for both skulls
Success Criteria
Title and key words
Drawing of skull
(include at least three artists)
Vanitas page
Have you.............
Continue to develop initial final piece by filling all negative space with pattern using a range of black and white media
Ensure that all pages in sketchbook are completed before moving on to the next task (check with me if you are unsure about the status of your work - you should have written targets to complete - have they been fixed yet?
Come up with an idea for a second final piece

(pencil, biro, pen and wash, paint, collage etc.)
Title Page
Vanitas page
Noah Scalin HW
Mexican DOD page
Audrey Flack page
Make a photocopy of your first final piece and develop that with colour and other alterations
Draw a copy of your personal still life
Create your own composition based on the theme "Skulls in Art"
Search through your sketchbook with the help of your view finders and find an interesting composition
Order of tasks:
1. Continue develop initial final piece

2. Complete all targets in book

3. Develop ideas for second final piece

In this vanitas still-life, the border between the two genres of the still-life and the portrait are blurred.

On the one hand, there are several portraits (as painting within the painting) forming part of a still-life arrangement on the table. The arrangement includes, among other things, a skull, an extinguished candle, coins, a wine glass on its side, a pocket watch, roses, a pearl necklace, a pipe, books and sculpture. Soap bubbles hover above them as symbols of transience.

On the other hand, the entire collection functions as a statement about the young man on the left, whose face displays the typical features of a self-portrait. It may therefore be somewhat irritating that the artist was in fact 67 years old when he painted this picture in 1651.

However, the contradiction can be solved when we consider that his current features are shown in the small oval portrait, demonstratively held out towards the viewer - a medium which in itself already documents the transience of life. The youthful artist's face, by contrast, shows Bailly as he was at an earlier stage in his life, more than four decades previously. Thus, by changing the time references of past fiction and present reality, the painting suggests that the young artist is anticipating his future age, which - though part of the present in 1651 - appears to belong to the past, as conveyed through the medium of the portrait. The young man, who appears to be so real within the first-degree reality of the painting, really represents a state of the past.

Unlike the repetitive, dull and often schematic topics of Dutch vanitas still-lifes, the misleading time scale in Bailly's painting adds a new dimension to the whole subject.
Self portrait at actual age in oval frame, held in left hand by himself as a young man with maulstick. His wife at a young age in oval picture frame, and again as a ghost (she had already died in 1651) behind the wine glass in the smoke from the snuffed candle. Upper left on the wall is a print of the lute player by Frans Hals. The drawing of the bearded man is presumably his father or a teacher.
While variations of the Vanitas had been used for centuries, its rise in Dutch art coincided after troubling times. The Twelve Years Truce with Spain ended in 1621 and much of the next decade was spent under siege. In 1624 a plague swept through Holland claiming nearly 10,000 lives, it returned in 1635 and struck most heavily in Leiden where 14,000 people died. Possibly due to this Leiden become the center of this sub-genre.
Trace mono prints
1. Complete the 5 w's
2. Flower-Name (spanish or English) and colour?
3. Butterfly-Name and symbolism?
4. What would an Offerendas consist of and who is it for?
Bonus question: Who is Mictecacihuatl?
A Trace Monoprint is a direct-drawing printmaking technique.

A photocopy is placed face up on top of an inky surface. Using a pen (or pencil),
The image is traced by drawing over the image. The pressure of the pen picks up a line of ink on the other side of the paper.
When the paper is peeled off the plate, the lines appear on the paper.
A "ghost print" can be pulled by placing a clean piece of paper directly onto the ink. Even pressure is applied and the second print yields a negative impression of the first print.

For the next three weeks your task will be to create a final piece in response to the theme
"Personal Vanitas".

This will include:
Planning an effective composition
Evaluating ideas
Making an A3 final piece
What makes an effective final piece?

Relevant subject = your personal response needs to be inspired by "Skulls in Art"

Composition = how well does your design fit on the page, is it dynamic, ballanced, individual?

Use of media = have you chosen a media you are confident in using, do you need to experiment more?
Mexican Days of the Dead page
Horse head
Frame x 2
plug x 2 (one white one black)
black ribbon
extension lead
white bottle x 4
green rags tied into a rope
big piece of yellow material (table cloth?)
twisted stick
white box
life size realistic human skull
small patterned skull (sugar skull)

Ideas mindmap
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