Sketching Tip: Sketching your notes at conferences, meetings & in class

Toad 5x5
Notes from a training I did in preparation to volunteer for an amphibian monitoring citizen science project in Wyoming.

These tips are excerpted from an earlier article I wrote highlighting many ways that sketchnotes are being used by scientists. The following tips, though, are broadly applicable for many kinds of note-taking situations. Continue reading Sketching Tip: Sketching your notes at conferences, meetings & in class

Sketching Tip: How few materials can you bring?

Sketching any time, any where, gets easier with practice. But planning for sketching helps, too.

I discussed a couple of ideas for planning in the April 2016 newsletter. Those tips focused on paring down your materials to essentials and sketching from photos so you’re a little more familiar with subject matter when you sketch it in real life. Click here to read those tips.

Let’s take those ideas a step further, and figure out what, exactly, to bring along.

Having materials ready means I can grab the appropriate (and/or most convenient) set-up and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. And, having sketching materials along means I’m way more likely to sketch!

Along with some sort of sketchbook, I always have one of the following kits in my pocket, purse, or backpack when I leave the house:

Micro kit: small container with eraser, pencil sharpener, half-pencil, half-watercolor pencils in primary colors, mini waterbrush, and scrap of fabric for a blotting cloth (a corner of an old washcloth works well). This kit is 4 1/4″ x 1 1/4″ x 3/4″, smaller than the palm of my hand. (See top photo.)

Mini kit: Instead of a small metal container, I use a travel toothbrush case. This can hold full-length pen, pencil, a small eraser, half-watercolor pencils, and a mini waterbrush. If I really pack it tight, I can squeeze in a small blotting cloth or a sharpener.

Medium kit: I use a Derwent watercolor tin that has a removable metal tray. This enables me to fill the bottom layer with a combo of full-size and half-size pencils, pens, full-size or mini waterbrush, eraser, sharpener, blotting cloth, and odds and ends. Sometimes that’s all I bring. But, I can also include the removable tray, and layer in a lightweight plastic watercolor palette, enabling me to bring quite a lot of materials in a fairly compact container. The tin I use, when filled and closed, measures 7″ x 4″ x 1 1/2″. (See image below.)

Looking for handy sketching materials of your own?

I have the mini (toothbrush holder) kits and larger kits available for purchase in my online shop! Choose from a lightweight paper-back sketchbook or a hardback sketchbook with multimedia paper; all other materials are consistent in both kits.

Sketching Tip: Insects

Rob Dunn Lab_Bee Germs_Students Discover
A draft illustration that didn’t ultimately wind up in the final image (©BGMerkle, 2016)
It’s still summer where I live (though not for long – we’re at 7200′ in elevation!). The bees and wasps are honing in on crab apples falling in my yard and arugula bolting in my garden. A bumble bee I spotted the other day reminded me of some bees I drew a while back, and I went digging for my sketchbook.

Almost a year ago, I was thrilled to recently receive a commission to illustrate native bees. I did a series of them, compiled into two illustrations that are be featured on a “Bee Germs” citizen science lesson developed by the Your Wild Life/Students Discover project.

Drawing these insects took my back to my science illustration roots. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I started my career drawing aquatic macroinvertebrates (caddisflies, mayflies, etc.). And, when I’m sketching, I spend a lot of time looking at moths.

A glimpse at my sketchbooks and you’ll see I think sketching most any insect is a blast!

Click on an image to view enlarged/full image.

And so, I thought I’d pass along some insect sketching tips.*

Continue reading Sketching Tip: Insects

Sketching Tip: Drawing on Windows

This is a simple short cut for situations when you have a complicated landscape to draw, and you don’t feel up to it, or don’t have the time.

20160305_Biodiversity Institute workshop (81)_cr_c_sig

I recommend a wet-erase marker (like the ones that used to be standard equipment when using an overhead projector). These markers will enable you to re-use your window, along with ensuring that your sketch doesn’t smudge (as might happen if you use a dry-erase marker).

The basic idea here is to “trace” the scene outside your window. Really, that’s it. 🙂  What you get from drawing on a window, though, is a bit more nuanced.

Continue reading Sketching Tip: Drawing on Windows

Tips for ethical and legal use of images in science presentations and other science communication (Using Images-A Best Practices Primer, Part 1)

When you are looking for great images to communicate about science, the internet is a treasure trove. But it is easy to overstep legal and ethical boundaries.

Where your images come from, and how you get them, matters. (Sketching jackrabbit specimens, ©2017)

This article is the first in a series aimed at helping you enhance your #scicomm and #sciart by avoiding #visualplagiarism. It will do so by laying out some best practices for dealing with images (which are, by their nature) visual intellectual property protected by copyrights.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer, and no part of this article or series should be construed as legal advice. 

Please chime in, in the comments or by contacting me, if you have suggestions for how to enhance this article or the series.


Images are a crucial element of compelling science communication.

After all, something like 50% of our brains are keyed in to visual stimuli. And, more than ever, compelling images are easy to find on the internet. That makes the internet a powerful #VisualSciComm tool.

However, like most tools, how you use the internet to source images can have serious implications — in this case for your outreach, reputation, and efficacy.

No matter the use — presenting during a lab meeting, to a public audience, in a classroom, at a conference, or communicating via websites, news agencies, press offices, and social media — using images ethically and legally is an important part of the #scicomm and #sciart process. 

To help you do this, this article series is comprised of several sections: Definitions and Tips (covered today). As the series continues, we’ll also talk about Top Image Sources, How to find the creator/copyright holder of an image you want to use, Working with an illustrator, and Creating your own images.

Continue reading Tips for ethical and legal use of images in science presentations and other science communication (Using Images-A Best Practices Primer, Part 1)