Sketching at the New Bell Museum

September 20, 2019
Testing whether I want to use ink and watercolor on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Mixed Media paper at the then upcoming Minnesota State Fair.



I have to be honest, even if I had not had the year I’ve had (which has kept me rather immobile) I wouldn’t have gone to the new Bell Museum much this year.

I’ve been spoiled my entire adult life to live a 10 minute walk from the OLD Bell Museum on the U of M main campus. 

I’m finding that the drive over to the St. Paul campus is a deterrent. It’s not something I just decide to do on a whim, or a walk.

Since the new facility has opened I’ve only visited 3 times.  And only once since my eye surgeries.

But if you’re getting ready to draw live animals at the Fair and you want to test some papers and materials, the Bell is still an excellent place to sketch.

After our warm up sketches (the Raven on toned paper was mine) I saw this angle from a bench and made a quick sketch of the same bird with a pen that is drying out. (Field Artist Sketchbook about 6 inches square.)

Before the Minnesota State Fair, when I was able to be out and about again I went with my friend Teri who sketches. 

In the first image in today’s post you can see a raven sketch I made from the specimen which is now standing in a vitrine that you can get all the way around. This is a nice change. It’s also at about waist height so you can look down as well as sit on the floor and look up (if you wanted to).

Sadly there is one thing that isn’t a nice change for me. There is more light now than in the old Bell. 

I’m really happy for everyone else who had complained about lighting at the old Bell. The NEW Bell has lots of window light and ceiling light, and you should get over there right away and sketch. 

I stood beneath this specimen and looked up. The light was very bright. I also have a long history of neck issues (car accident) so I rushed to get something on paper.

For me, this is unfortunate. Everywhere I turn, even with my long-billed cap, there are lights that cause flare in my eyes. I can’t face this way because through an archway I see large picture windows. Light streams in and my eyes can no longer cope with such intense, brilliant light. 

Additionally many of the specimens are laid out in a VERTICAL fashion. Tall walls reach to the ceiling, covered with specimens in artfully arranged and scientifically detailed displays. But if I look up I’m blinded by the light. 

I’ve never spent such a short time sketching at the Bell. My eyes simply gave out.

I was able to drive to our lunch destination safely, but in the restaurant I ended up ordering simply a big plate of meat (Korean restaurant) because I couldn’t read the menu without great effort. (Terri didn’t notice anything odd about this because I often eat a big plate of meat!)

After a long chat at lunch I was able, with rested eyes to drive home—a 6-minute drive. The rest of the day was a visual waste: no more sketching.

(Note: Sketches two and three are in the Field Artist sketchbook. Their pages weren’t collated to match surfaces across the spread which is a bad deal for a sketch artist who likes to work across the gutter. The polar bear is drawn on a center spread so that isn’t a problem; it is the same paper surface across the spread. The raven on white paper above is drawn on one page, so that also isn’t a problem since I didn’t cross the gutter. Field Artist wrote in response to my review and said they have started to correct this problem, but they don’t know when all sizes of their journals will be collated to have matching paper surfaces across the spread. Please keep that in mind when ordering. I won’t purchase another without knowing if I’m getting one of the properly collated versions. Because I purchased 6 books when I first found them, sight un-seen, you’ll be seeing work in them for a long time—because I switch to different books when I finish one of a certain type.)

What Did I Learn on this Visit?

I learned that the Bell is all bright and shiny and good to go into the future as a training ground for young naturalists and people who care about the environment.

I learned that my long-billed hats cannot save me in all situations.

I had reinforced on this visit what I already knew—I have a long adjustment period ahead of me. I need to find new ways and new timing for interacting with my surroundings.

I learned that there is still and probably always will be some grief about this change in my life. Realistically I know it is simply preparing me for the other changes that will happen to everyone as we all age. I just would have rather not had to deal with this while still young enough that it impacted the physical, work, and joy aspects of my life. 

I learned I’m not ready to give up sketching, but new realities will limit how sketching functions in my life.

I learned that while I enjoy drawing on the tan paper of the first image, I wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy it at the Fair (more on this in a future post). Some days you “feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.” (And for non-US residents that’s a Mounds and Almond Joy candy bar slogan—Mounds being coconut filling in a dark chocolate coating; Almond Joy being the milk chocolate version with the addition of almonds—i.e., a nut.)

Finally I learned that there must be a better way to order Korean food! (Though the beef was very tasty.)

What You Need to Know

When buying Strathmore 400 Series Toned Mixed Media paper be sure you don’t buy the DRAWING paper instead. Get the 184 lb. weight paper. (I’ll have more to say about this in a later post but it has already raised so many questions and people are confused about this. I am NOT painting on the lightweight drawing paper. And the HEAVY weight paper DOES come in their journals (hard- and softbound). Just be careful which you are buying! Read the labels and look for 184 lb. paper.

    • Paul
    • September 20, 2019

    Well… you learned a LOT in a single outing :o). Thanks for the heads up about the paper weight for Strathmore Mixed Media toned sketchbooks.

    1. Reply

      Always be learning.
      I think you would like the heavyweight paper Paul.

    • Tina Koyama
    • September 21, 2019

    Roz, the Bell’s lighting situation must be so frustrating for you… it’s almost always better to have more light when drawing, yet it is keeping you from drawing. I hope you can figure something out (a certain type of tinted glasses?) that might help. As for the Korean menu, it sounds like it wasn’t really a problem, since the food was delicious! Maybe you could do like my friend who frequently forgets her glasses, so one of us has to read the menu to her. I wouldn’t mind reading the menu to you!

    1. Reply

      Next time you are in town we are going out for Korean food so you can read me the menu!

    • SusanA
    • September 21, 2019

    Roz, I appreciate what you share about the physical challenges you’re facing related to your art practice. Do you know if the issues you’re having post-cataract surgery are common? Or are you dealing with more uncommon results? I’m not too far behind you in having to have the surgery, but I find very little online about the day-to-day realities of living with lens implants.

    1. Reply

      They are very common but evidently not much talked about. Google glare, flare, in conjunction with cataracts and you’ll find tons of stuff. I have the plain lenses. Research first. Then it’s pretty much of a crap shoot. You might be one of the lucky ones. You’ll have to decide.

    • georgy
    • September 21, 2019

    Thank you for all your sharing – and – Please Be Well. 💙

    1. Reply


    • SusanJ
    • September 21, 2019

    I’m 79 and had cataract surgery in both eyes in early July of this year 2 weeks apart. I’m not having the problems you are having but I do note that my eyes are more sensitive to light. I bought a pair of polarized sunglasses that fit over my regular prescription glasses. They are very helpful and not very expensive. I ordered mine from the diopticssunwear dot com which has several choices of tints for the lenses.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Susan, I’ve been wearing prescription Polarized sunglasses for 35 years or more—they were necessary especially when I spent all that time outside with the girls tracking.

      They don’t resolve the problem.

      Wearing long-billed hats indoors 24/7 seems to be the most helpfully consistent thing right now.

      What’s happening to my vision right now isn’t something I’ve written about on the blog yet because it’s just so involved, but there will be a post in the future.

      I’m really glad you’ve had a great outcome with your surgery.

    • SusanJ
    • September 22, 2019

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Sorry to hear about your long term issues and hope you find a solution or two. Yes, I’ve used prescription Polarized sunglasses for years myself but didn’t want to buy a second new pair of glasses until I’d waited to be sure my new prescription wasn’t going to change anymore. I was pleasantly surprised that the sunglasses made to fit over regular glasses work as well as they do. I knew you hadn’t written much about your issues yet but thought I should mention my experience just in case. I’ll be interested when you do feel like writing more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Cookmode

Pin It on Pinterest