19 January 2011

Astronomical Sketching

A poll has been running on the Knightware website for several months that poses this question: Do you sketch observations?

The response looks like this:
Never: 42%
Seldom: 23%
Sometimes: 28%
Frequently: 4%
While the low number for frequent sketchers isn't surprising, the large number that sketch at all (55%) is.

Sketching seems like a dying art. Before the advent of photography in the 1830s, sketching was the best way to convey one's impression from the eyepiece to other people. Today's digital imaging may have displaced more sketching than any other factor.

Be that as it may, sketching is still an important skill for the astronomical observer for these reasons:

1. Sketching forces the observer to look for more detail so that it can be included in the sketch. With limited experience, this is my most compelling reason to pick up the pencil from time to time.

2. Sketches endure. Printed photographs fade over time, though archival storage helps. Black and white prints are less susceptible to fading than color prints or slides. Digital photographs may have storage problems too, but there isn't enough historical evidence to know for sure. Historians are concerned about the durability of digital photos stored on magnetic media because they definitely have a shelf life. CD-R storage is possibly the least durable medium, and many of us use them. Another concern is that digital images require software to be decoded and displayed. We all know that software and file formats change over time.

If you'd like to know more about astronomical sketches, why not check out Carol Lakomiak's monthly column in Sky At Night magazine? Each month she chooses an object and describes the materials and techniques required to produce a nice sketch.

Addendum - I received this note from Carol Lakomiak following the original post ...
  1. You don't need to be an artist to make eyepiece sketches, just learn and practice a few simple techniques. I'm self-taught and have never had any art lessons. My techniques were learned through trial-and-error... if i can do this, anyone can.
  2. Eyepiece sketches are your observations, not works of art. There's no need to reproduce them in a photo program to make them pretty.. that's what we call 'astro art'. Just concentrate on recording your observations as accurately as possible, and your skill will increase with time.
Thanks Carol, and good luck to all with sketching!

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