Sketching Tip: Using words for all they are worth

Hares sketched in East Africa – this was the best I ever could do, because they didn’t stick around long enough! (© B.G.Merkle, 2016)
Not all sketching plans go according to plan, and then words can play a critical role. 

In May 2016, I took a trip to East Africa, working on the first international phase of my ecology storybook project: “The Ecologically True Story of the Tortoise and the Hare.” I did a lot of prep for my trip to East Africa. But of course, all kinds of situations arise which planning can’t anticipate.

In my case, half the animal duo I was looking for – hares – proved difficult to find and observe, let alone photograph or sketch. Where I was, these hares are most active at night. And, nighttime in East Africa is not a prime time for slinking about quietly with a sketchbook, hoping to spot a hare near a light source. After all, there are plenty of other animals, much larger and more dangerous, also slinking around in the night hoping to spot…dinner!

As a result, I resorted to writing. In my case, I will rely on notes hastily scribbled while hares were in view (or dashing off). For example, while I never managed to get a series of sketches of hares in motion, my notes remind me the hares in Kenya resemble foxes in both their posture and gait.

Capitalize on words to augment sketching. 

Particularly when intensive observation and sketching aren’t feasible, capturing your impressions on an audio recorder or in a notebook can help you bring that experience to life later. Here are a few ideas:

  • 3 words or phrases: After completing a sketch, augment it with three words or phrases that add information not captured in your drawing.
  • Fill-in-the-blank: I love the prompts from John Muir Laws and the other authors of the California Native Plant Society Field Journal Curriculum. When making sketches and observations, complete the phrases: “I noticed, I wondered, and It reminds me of…” I wrote a brief review of the CNPS curriculum in my April/May 2015 newsletter.
  • Questions: A key part of learning through drawing is making space in yourself for not knowing all the answers. Practice writing down your questions, and speculate about the answers. Or detail how you might go about finding the answer. Don’t stop at “what’s it’s name?” type questions. Push yourself to make connections.
  • Orienting information/metadata: Most research-based notes require that you include this information, and it’s a good practice for personal purposes, too. Basics include date, time, location, weather, and anything else that might help you interpret your observations.
  • Personal observation and reflection: Go ahead! Include your personal feelings, metaphors, and ideas. Write down the grocery list, if doing so will then free to you go back to observing lichen or birds, or whatever had caught your attention.

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

Summer 2017 newsletter: Drawing on windows, making fish & more art-science tips

201707_commnatural_newsletter_screenshot1.png
Click image to view full newsletter.

Happy summer, dear readers!

I trust this finds you enjoying the weather and doing a bit of sketching. It’s hot in my corner of the Mountain West. I’m writing you from my basement – the only space where it is cool enough to think. But, happily, along with the heat comes garden season, complete with loads of the pollinators I so love to watch and draw. Speaking of which, this is my third year gardening at 7,200 feet above sea level, and it’s a garden in a new part of town.

On top of moving, there are other reasons why it was a busy spring. I successfullydefended my master’s thesis and started a new job. I published a blog series about using the internet to source images for SciComm. I’ve also been co-editing a blog featuring the wide range of career paths possible in SciComm. And, I did some traveling and teaching about art-science synergy, collaborate on communicating about migration, and more. Also,CommNatural is on Instagram now!

As a result of my transition to a new job and all this other busyness, I’m shifting this newsletter from monthly to quarterly. That will ensure I can still connect with you, and share ideas and field experiences, while also giving attention to this new work. Meanwhile, I’ll be posting material on the blog more frequently. I will reference some of it in the newsletter each quarter.

If you’d like to keep up as material is published, and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to my blog. Just visit the website, scroll to the bottom, and provide your email address in the subscription bar! Thanks in advance for subscribing there.

As always, feel free to share* this newsletter with your  friends & colleagues. And do share your sketches & SciArt adventures with me via email or social media!

Happy sketching,

Summer 2017 Table of Contents

  • Insight: E.O. Wilson on drawing & creativity
  • Sketching tip: Drawing on windows
  • Artful Classrooms: Using resin sculptures and drawing to learn about cichlid (fish) phylogeny (genetic relationships)
  • Artful Science: A best-practices primer for using images
  • Sketchbook Snapshot: A mystery moth
  • News & Events: Upcoming science communication graduate course; field sketching workshops for the Wyoming Outdoor Council; recent publications, including a book featuring my illustrations of bighorn sheep; get your summer sketching kits while they’re still in stock
201707_commnatural_newsletter_screenshot2.png
Click image to view full newsletter.

 

 

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

Commissioning SciArt Illustrations? Know what you want and what you can spend. (Using Images-A Best Practices Primer, Part 6)

This article is the sixth in a series aimed at helping you enhance your #scicommand #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.

2013_bison summer sketches (36)_Lepidoptera_clean_sig_cr
Knowing what you want can make commissioning illustrations way more efficient and enjoyable. This entails planning ahead, being decisive, making lots of choices, and balancing budget vs. other constraints. (Lepidoptera sketches from Saskatchewan, Canada; ©2017)

PLAN AHEAD, SO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT AND WHAT YOU CAN SPEND.

In the last article, we discussed contract considerations, which are the core of any commissioned illustration project.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some other important elements of planning an illustration project. To increase efficiency (which usually helps with budgeting), do what you can to know what you want and how much you can spend before you approach an illustrator and ask if they are interested in working with you. Continue reading Commissioning SciArt Illustrations? Know what you want and what you can spend. (Using Images-A Best Practices Primer, Part 6)