I started by looking at other artists' depictions of the skull. Such variation! Some with a typical theme of death and mortality (theVanitas), some of a sinister and macabre scene, and some simply showing the skull in its natural environment as no more than an object. The designboom website has some great insight on the image of the skull and its meaning to us as a race http://www.designboom.com/history/death.html
This Vanitas by Philippe de Champaigne is fairly typical amongst its kind although the ordered composition is unusual. The Vanitas paintings always contained obects symbolic of time and mortality so the hourglass was common, as were flowers (with their tendency to be cut, popped in a vase and then wilt away) and more often than not the skull features heavily for obvious reasons. A cold reminder of the undeniable path for all of us.
I gave this idea of a skull in its natural environment some thought. My Mum took some photos of dry stone walls in and around her garden in Cumbria for me - the first whole skull I ever found was a huge ram's skull, and I found it lying next to a dry stone wall in Cumbria. It seems natural for me to associate the two things.
I planned a composition to include the wall and my skull, with the idea that I'd be creating my own simple Vanitas.
I wanted to draw using my newly acquired drip-drawing method so had a practice run first. There is always an element of chance with this method, sometimes I made a complete mess of it and had to start over, but sometimes I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I painted a colour wash over my paper first and used oil pastel to add colour once the drip-drawn lines had dried.
And for my final drawing I was more careful over the composition - I shrunk my skull to a more realistic size (compared to the one in the preliminary pencil study above) and ensured there was a good wall to grass ratio. I used the torn paper collage method for the skull itself but found it was quite weak against the strong background of thick black line, so I used the drip-drawing to outline the skull hoping to bring to the two aspects together more successfully. The result is a vibrant representation of my skull in its natural environment - perhaps more of an illustration than an accurate drawing? The palette of colours in the dry stone wall have been accentuated to bring it to life. I didn't want to create a cold Vanitas reminding me of the sad inevitability of death. I wanted to create something warm and comforting - this may seem silly but we can't escape death, so why target the morbidity and misery of it when you can show it for what it really is - just a fact of life and not something to be afraid of.