Blood and Bones!

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Students looked at reproductions of anatomical illustrations to inspire these gruesome masterpieces. Careful observation was encouraged in order to retain realistic accuracy of the structure of the bones and organs. We employed a variety of techniques to create a vintage “antique” feel to our drawings, including painting a sepia toned background and using chalk pastels for hints of muted color. Final touches including optional “blood” splatters and creating a wire frame around our drawings. My 7th grade students loved the macabre subject matter and this was a perfect fall lesson for the weeks leading up to Halloween!

This INSTRUCTION PACKET will take you all the steps, from creating the preliminary drawings, tracing onto the final paper, and finishing details!

Here is a reference of packet of BONE ILLUSTRATIONS

Here is a reference packet of CREEPY OBJECTS like bats, poison bottles, pumpkins, etc.

Here is a link to the HANDMADE PAPER we use for this lesson, (though any watercolor paper can work well too.)

A NOTE ON THE SUBJECT MATTER: I have received feedback from colleagues who have questioned the appropriateness of the subject matter for middle school students. Indeed, the gruesome imagery and blood can imply violence, and while I have found most of my middle schoolers love the creepy and macabre theme, I have had one special needs student declare that the reference pictures were “too scary” to look at. Some colleagues were turned off by the addition of blood. In the future, I might tone down this lesson my focussing more on the theme of Memento Mori, the movement in the art world which confronts viewers to face the truth of their own mortality.

A good explanation of Memento Mori and its accompanying still life painting style, Vanitas, can be found at the website:

“Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’. A basic memento mori painting would be a portrait with a skull but other symbols commonly found are hour glasses or clocks, extinguished or guttering candles, fruit, and flowers.

Closely related to the Memento Mori picture is the Vanitas still life. In addition to the symbols of mortality these may include other symbols such as musical instruments, wine, and books to remind us explicitly of the vanity of worldly pleasures and goods.

The Vanitas and Memento Mori picture became popular in the seventeenth century, in a religious age when almost everyone believed that life on earth was merely a preparation for an afterlife.”

Memento Mori

Jean Morin (French, 1612–1650). After Philippe de Champaigne (French, 1602–1674). Memento Mori, ca. 1650. Etching and engraving. De Young Museum


Some Pictures of students at various stages of the lesson:


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