Incorporating Drawing into Natural History & Science


For years, I have indulged in the overlap between art and science, both personally and professionally, through the simple act of drawing.

One of my favorite parts of this work is sharing it with others. That’s why I’ve developed an intro guide that explains some of the basic principles and exercises I share in my classes and workshops.

While the materials in this guide focus on science and nature, the sketching exercises and basic principles are equally useful if you want to sketch your garden, coffee cup, or next trip. Download the advance copy of the guide and give it a try ($11.95/download).

And, keep reading to learn a bit more about how science and art have teamed up throughout the ages.

The history of art and science are closely intertwined.

Prior to the advent of cameras, scientific inquiry required drawing. Think of the drawings and paintings of Leonardo da VinciMaria Sybilla MerianJohn James Audubon, or the maps drawn by Samuel Champlain and the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Additionally, most people with an interest in the natural world were trained to make basic drawings of what they observed.  Their illustrated journals and drawings persist as tangible records of discoveries, adventures and personal experiences.

This ability has lapsed as a public tradition, but it persists in some ways – as a profession (scientific illustration) and as an avocation for many naturalists and enthusiasts of the natural world.  Certainly, professionals like Cathy JohnsonVal WebbClare Walker Leslie, and David Allen Sibley make it look easy.

And yet, drawing is not a domain exclusive to the pros.  Without much training, it is still possible to render what you see in a way that informs and delights you.

Even in the digital age, hand-rendered reflections of the natural world still possess the power to transfix us, and make us long for the ability to do something like it.

Furthermore, researchers such as Felice Frankel and her colleagues have demonstrated that drawing (even without training) can help clarify what you know, assist instructors in assessing student knowledge, and refine public communication efforts by identifying key concepts.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to know more about how drawing can contribute to science learning, teaching, and research, I have a series of blog posts about “Artful Science.” I also have a series of sketching tips posted on my blog. You might also be interested in details about how I share the potential of drawing to enhance science education, research, and communication with collaborators.

And, below, you’ll find a handy link to my intro to sketching guide.

Want to give sketching a try?

Click here to download

This guide provides an introduction to field sketching/journaling and three foundational drawing techniques (bonus, there’s actually 5!) ideal for nature-based sketching.

Don’t worry if you are not trying to make “fine art.”  Without much training, it is still possible to render what you see in a way that informs and delights you.

If you try these sketching exercises, be sure to let me know how it goes.  I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions, and of course, I’d like to see your sketches.

2 thoughts on “Incorporating Drawing into Natural History & Science

  1. I used your facilitated nature drawing exercises with two groups I taught this weekend at Harvard Forest, and even though I’m not an artist, they thought I was! Thanks for the resources. C. Hart, Harvard Forest Outreach & Development Manager for Education & Research Programs

  2. Appreciating the persistence you put into your site and detailed information you provide.

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    isn’t the same old rehashed material. Excellent read!
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