Sketching Tutorial

WHY SKETCH? You can’t even draw a stick figure, you say. Well the truth is that you do not have to be an artist to place dots on a piece of paper for stars and a smudge for a nebula or galaxy. So why would I wont to make a sketch of what I look at? Well there are many reasons why you may wont to try making a sketch, I will just share with you a couple of them.

Sketching ties you to a long history of making a drawing of what you’re looking at. In science, botanist, ornithologist, astronomers and many other fields made sketches for study and even publication. Before the advent of photography, the only way to record what you were studying, was to make a drawing of what you were studying. So making a sketch gives you a sense of being a part of that long history.

Sketching makes you a better observer. So often we use our goto mounts to go from one object to the next and only briefly look at each object. To make a sketch, we have to slow down and look at the object, study it and try to sketch all that we can see. The act of slowing down and looking for everything we can see to make our sketch, by necessity makes us a better observer.

Have you ever gone back over your older notes and started to think that all the descriptions kind of sounded alike? Each object being described as a faint gray spot that is twice as long as it is wide, etc. ect.. Sometimes I think when reading, what did it look like? Well have you heard that a picture is worth a thousand words? I think it is and it is fun going back and seeing the object once again on those cloudy nights. Not only that, others can see what you saw too.

So I gain a tie with the past, I become a better observer, and I have a much better record of what I have seen that can also shown to others. That seems like a win win situation to me.

WHAT EQUIPMENT OR SUPPLIES will you need? There are many types of sketching that you can choose to use, but I will share with you what I use. The following is a basic list and you may choose to add other items as you progress.

1. A sketch book or a prepared paper form may be used. Many choose to use a 5×8 artist sketch pad while some people use 5×7 index cards for ease of filling. I choose to use plain white printer paper that I print a form on that has a space for observing location, weather conditions, object information and description with a 3-inch circle for the sketch. You can see the form that I made on my observation sketches.

2. A clipboard to hold your index card or sheet of paper.

3. A number of pencils of differing hardness are used. I try to keep two or three of each in case the lead breaks. Although I have more pencils than these three, I typically only use  2H, H, and HB pencils. With the 2H being the hardest, the H being the medium, and the HB being the softest.

4. A white vinyl eraser. Although I have a pink pearl eraser and a art gum eraser, the white vinyl eraser works best for me.

5. A thin metal erasing shield. Great for creating those dark lanes in nebula and galaxies. It also enables me to remove misplaced stars that may be close to other objects, so I do not damage them in the process.

6. A blending stump for smudging galaxies and nebula. I have two different sizes. These can be resharpened on course sandpaper.

7. A red light and or a red flashlight to preserve you night vision and still be able to see while sketching.

8. A good observing chair or stool. I can not emphasize enough the importance of being comfortable and steady at the eyepiece while sketching.

OBSERVING THE OBJECT to be sketched is very important. Do not just look at the object quickly and start sketching. You should take your time and really look at your subject and the whole field-of-view (FOV). Try different eyepieces and magnifications to determine which gives the best view or the most information for your sketch. You may wont to try different filters with different eyepieces. This may reveal different things to sketch. It may be the only way to see some nebulas. Finally decide which eyepiece and filter your going to use. You may even decide that you are going to use a lower magnification for your sketch, but you will use a higher magnification to fill in the fainter stars. The same can be said for using a filter. You may prepare the sketch using a filter and then remove it to sketch the fainter stars.

PREPARING YOUR SKETCH after making these decisions will be much easier now. Through this kind of process you are also gaining familiarity with your target. Now center your target object in the center of the field-of-view (FOV), making sure that any bright star you wont to add to your sketch is not just outside your field-of-view.

Now you are ready to start sketching and the first thing I do is imagine a clock face on the field-of-view with 12 o-clock straight up with the object in the center where the hands would pivot around. This is important in that it helps you to place the stars in there proper positions on your sketch. Lets say that you have a brighter star located 3/4 of the way from the center of your FOV to the edge of your FOV in the direction of 5 o-clock. Now you are able to accurately place that star on your sketch. Do this with all the brighter stars in your FOV and you now have the framework of your sketch. (It should be remembered that the brighter stars in your field-of-view are depicted by larger black dots and the faintest stars are depicted by smaller fainter dots.)

Now that you have the framework of your drawing, start adding the fainter stars to your drawing. You may continue to use the clock face for their position or you may see them located relative to the brighter stars on your sketch. You should always be mindful of geometric shapes that will help in placing those stars accurately. These shapes may be triangles, squares, or straight lines of stars.

Now your sketch should be ready to add those really faint stars, those only seen with averted vision. these should be shown as the smallest and faintest dots. If your sketch was of a cluster or globular cluster, you may be through at this point unless there is an unresolved haze of stars in the background. Make a spot of soft lead on another piece of paper, using a blending stump, rub the stump in the spot of soft pencil lead and lightly rub it softly over the cluster where the haze is located until it looks like what you are seeing.

If you are sketching a nebula or a galaxy, now lightly sketch the outline of the object on its starry background in its correct location. With the side of your pencil, lightly fill in the outline of the object. Now, using your blending stump, rub over this shading and smudge this area untill it looks like what you are seeing. Continue filling in with your pencil to darken those areas that are darker or mottled looking. Continue to use the blinding stump until these areas are blended or smudged smoothly together.

You are almost thru now. At this point use the sharp edge of your eraser and your erasing shield to make the dark lanes in nebula and the dust lanes in galaxies.

Now that your sketch is finished, we need to determine directions. I let the object drift out of my field-of-view, that point is west. Depending on the type of telescope being used, north will be 90 degrees clockwise from west in a SCT, MCT, or refractor with a diagonal or 90 degrees counter-clockwise with a Newtonian reflector. Once you have west and north, east and south are the other direction. These directions should be shown on your sketch.

Once you come inside, where it is well lighted, look at your sketch and correct any problems you see while it is fresh on you mind. Erase any misplaced stars, that you crossed out with a light X mark in the dark. Do not erase those outside or you will probably make a mess.

NOW ARCHIVE YOUR SKETCH. Before filling your sketch, scan it into the computer, reverse the colors so that it is a positive image like what you were looking at in your telescope. You will probably be surprised by how good it looks. The good news is that the more you do these sketches, the better you will get at doing them.

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