A parliament of owls



I love skulls. Skulls tell stories and evoke emotions. They’re beautiful as whole objects, but they’re also full of micro-landscapes and eerie abstractions that resonate in nameless ways with our own visual and tactile experiences. So I draw them often. But I’ve rarely painted skulls.

I got the urge a few days ago, so I pulled out a few bird skulls and looked them over. I intended to paint a raven skull, but my eye kept getting drawn to the owls.

I started with the one in the center. It was really meant just as an exercise in brush strokes and values. But after I got it roughed in, it looked lonely. I set out a couple of the other owl skulls and added them into the scene…and they instantly gave the whole painting a story. I like the way a single static, lonely skull on a dark field turned into a conversation.

Owl Skull

Owlskull-kmh A friend found a barred owl (Strix varia), dead, in the woods. After a few months in contact with the busy soil critters, the bones were clean. I am fascinated by the double-domed shape of the cranium. 

It's interesting to compare it to the skull in the owl sketch page I posted on my "classes" page. I think that one's a great horned owl. This one is smaller, a bit more delicate, with a shorter bill. Also, the frontal bone (just above the beak) of the barred owl is much less swollen-looking than that of the great horned/great gray owl.



Since 1997, I’ve been offering classes in field sketching, nature journaling, and science illustration.

  • University of Alaska, Southeast campus: annual summer course, Field Sketching and Nature Drawing
  • The Canvas Community Art Studio and Gallery, Juneau: periodic classes in sketching, colored pencil, scratchboard, and other subjects
  • Alaska State Museum: youth drawing classes in conjunction with various exhibits
  • Various Alaska elementary, middle, and high schools (Juneau, Gustavus, Wrangell, Lower Kuskokwim School District, and more): artist residencies in nature journaling and science illustration
  • Stikine River Birding Festival, Homer Shorebird Festival: classes in field sketching

Contact me if you’re interested in participating in a class, or arranging for a class at your school, museum, festival, or organization.


Owl sketch page, graphite



Rufous hummingbirds, colored pencil and gouache on toned paper