Astro Sketching??

by Erika Rix

PCW Memorial Observatory, Ohio, USA

Every so often someone will ask why in this day and age people still sketch at the eyepiece.  It’s true, there are some magnificent images, gathering light far beyond what a human eye can, enabling us to see much deeper via cameras.  Frankly, I’m happy that we can have the best of both worlds.  I wouldn’t want to compromise one for the sake of the other, and in fact I share this hobby with my husband, who is an imager.

So, why indeed sketch?

There’re many reasons and I certainly can only speak for myself when answering this question.  I suppose, truth be told, one of the main reasons I sketch is for the connection I get with the target while studying it, looking for the smallest nooks and crannies, contrasts, its essence.  The experience is very intimate and humbling. Who can think of astronomical sketching without having Galileo come to mind?  To know that we can look under the same skies as him, using modest equipment, going back to the basics with sketching and yet achieve so much while doing so, is quite fulfilling.

Next, and just as important, is for recording what I can see visually at that moment.  I write reports for my records and having a visual reference to go with them helps me to remember and study that session’s target.  The Sun, for example, is in constant change and even though I try my best to put the views into words, it simply cannot compare to a visual record.  With the Sun, you’ve already got all the light you need, so you have to depend on moments of very clear transparency as well as steady skies to see the faintest, most intricate details.  Brief moments like that is a luxury we have as visual observers.

Among the many other reasons for sketching, I’d have to say on the top of the list is to help yourself become a better visual observer.  When you sketch, you are forced to really study the target. Instead of spending a few minutes on one object, you can spend a few hours on it, depending on what your target is or what you are trying to achieve with your session.  I’ve spent anywhere to just a few minutes with the Sun to the entire day on and off, or following active regions over the few weeks that it takes for them to cross from the eastern limb to the western, if they hold out that long.   Sketching, simply put, increases your visual sensitivity, allowing you to see more subtle details with each session.

As always, I am looking for better ways to render and record my observations.  I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a bad sketch since each sketch helps you increase your observing skills and leaves you with a record of your observation.  But along with trying to improve my observation reports, I want to strive to make my markings as true to life as I can.

How do you take the first steps towards sketching?

Got a piece of paper and a pencil?  That’s all you need…well that and a comfortable observing chair and clear skies.  The key to long observing/sketching sessions is comfort. Without that, you lose your concentration, rush through a session, and end up with a sore neck or back afterward.  I know I’ve hit the comfort zone when I lose track of my surroundings and feel like I’m hovering above the object instead of stuck on the ground at the backend of a telescope.

Of course, good optics are always a plus!

Good Optics are a Bonus!

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~ by Erika Rix on August 1, 2010.

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