Sketch-pad astronomy

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, June 25, 2007

If you've read any of my observing stories in Astronomy, you know I'm a big fan of sketching what you see through a telescope. I think it's the foremost activity that can make you a better observer. Sketching causes you to look for minute details, and it teaches you patience while observing.

Imagine my joy, then, when this book crossed my desk: Astronomical Sketching — A Step by Step Introduction by Richard Handy, David B. Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix, and Sol Robbins (Springer, 2007).

Although I encourage sketching at every opportunity, and I even wrote a story entitled "Sketch the universe" in the November 2005 issue of Astronomy, I hear the same replies: "I'm no good at art." Well, neither am I, but you have to start somewhere to improve. And while my article gave some helpful tips on how to sketch, its 4-page length imposed some limits. Astronomical Sketching devotes 195 pages to every facet of sketching. In fact, if this weren't an astronomy book, it could work as an art text.

In the first chapter, "Sketching the Moon," the authors introduce you to sketching basics with graphite, charcoal, pen, and chalk. They list the supplies you'll need to get started and give step-by-step instructions for each media.

Other chapters help you tackle comets, the Sun, the planets, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Within each chapter, the authors tackle questions like, "How do you correct a misplotted star?" and "What's the best technique for blending two areas with a common border?"

I've been sketching celestial objects for years, and I've never found a better reference than this. In fact, I can't wait to get to an eyepiece so I can implement some of the new techniques I've learned. If only these clouds would go away.

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