Sketch Notes from the British Museum 1: Incomplete Animals

In January I resolved to go and sketch somewhere different once a month. I didn’t make it in January, but on Thursday, with Beautiful Beasts and the dragon puppet in mind, I spent a few hours at the British Museum. It is my very favourite place in London and I never leave without finding something new and fabulous. This time the trip was for more for visual research, than sketching for its own sake and I spent a long time just wandering and looking, and then returning to make notes. I made about 20 rough notes of beasts, bits of sculpture, of fabrics and ceramics. I was looking for dragons, found a few, but saw many other bizarre and wonderful creatures too.

marduks-dragon-horse-and-pi bm-1-bg



Dragons, lions, a cat, dogs, horses, a pig, a hen, a fire serpent, a harpy and a frog… from various rooms at the British Museum.  Pen in A5 sketchbook.

Incomplete Animals

Following on from my Incomplete Dodo from the Hunterian Museum, and as you might expect in the British Museum, I found some more delightful  incomplete animals. This is a pegleg Chinese Horse


The Pegleg Horse, the sketch and my sketch kit.

My sketching kit is very simple. One pen, 2 sketchbooks one A5 and one A4 and a water pen which I sometimes use.

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he Peg Leg Chinese Horse, A5 sketchbook

And then I found some wired crouching lion guards from the Nereid Monument in room 17.  One has a disembodied foot, both have missing bottom jaws.. poor things.


A metalwork lion and one of the great crouching Nereid lions


Another view of the crouching jawless lion, some of the beautiful big Chinese ceramic horses and a macabre little figure made of lead and glass with an ivory mask face. It was straight out of a Quay brothers film. But this one from the 7thC AD. Turkey. A4 Sketchbook

But my very favourite thing from this trip was a small stucco fragment of a horse being embraced by two disembodied arms, what a beautiful thing it is.


Fragment of a Horse.
Ming-oi, near Shorchuk, 8th-10th C.  Stucco with traces of paint.

I decided this would be my subject for Beautiful Beasts next week. I returned to the Museum for an hour yesterday and made some more notes which I will post this coming week. I could just take photos but drawing something means you have to spend a long time looking at it.

Sometimes the thing turns out not to be as interesting as you had hoped,  but often it is through the quiet, slow, observation and drawing that you fall in love with it and find some unexpected beauty.

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  1. I agree the arms and the horse are moving – except I worry that before the piece was fragmented, the rider had fallen from the horse – maybe in war?

    I wish I could sketch, even a little. I used to be able to do quite detailed botanical drawings but I've never been able to look at an object and reproduce it with any degree of accuracy.

    Would you be interested in joining Loose and Leafy in following a tree? There's some information on this post –

  2. Thanks for your note on Loose and Leafy. I've added you to the list of Tree Followers – with a note to say your choice of tree is yet to be announced. Delighted you'll be taking part.
    It's fun this. Some people have already chosen – some not . . . so there's an air of expectancy.

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