Sketching at the California Academy of Sciences

On a recent field trip we took 90 fourth graders to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I had come here myself when I was in elementary school, back then it was known as the Steinhart Aquarium. The museum was completely rebuilt in 2008 and bears little resemblance to the museum of my youth.

When the museum reopened, which is about a 45 minute walk from my dwellings, I bought a membership and visited some of the 46 million specimens on display many times. I had since let my membership lapse, but on our recent field trip I thought I would take advantage of the teacher’s discount and reconstitute my membership.

So the week after our field trip, after work, I headed to Cal Academy and bought a teacher’s membership. This museum is a wonderful resource for the natural world and I came prepared with my sketchers kit.

At mid-afternoon, after all the school groups had departed, it seemed that I had the museum to myself. I took advantage of this time and did five quick sketches.

I started by sketching an African penguin. This bird is also referred to as the Jackass penguin, a name that makes fourth graders blush and laugh at the same time, but refers to their braying call. These penguins were easy to sketch as they were roosting on their rocks and posing for me. (Well that statement was very anthropomorphic of me!)

I then headed up to one of the best features of the new building ( well it’s just over ten years old), the living roof. I did a quick sketch with Sutro Tower in the background.

living roof

I then headed into the basement where the aquarium is located. Here I sketched a massive but stationary red-tailed catfish(all sketched in pen) in the drowned Amazonian flooded forest tank. I had a grand time sketching a moon jelly with my sepia brush pen, all without a underlying pencil drawing (featured sketch).


On the way out I passed under the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton at the entrance. When I was a kid I remember an allosaurus skeleton in a similar place. I liked this little reach back to the past and I sat on a bench for a final sketch. Sketching the entire skeleton with the museum soon to close for the day seemed a daunting task so I just sketched the skull.


I look forward to many more visits and more sketchbook pages filled with knowledge and life!

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