Sketching: A Self Journey and Introspection

     I can be a very selfish person, I openly admit that. Ask my family. I can also be a very giving person. Just depends on circumstances and how I am viewing the world that day. I will say that no matter what, I am a very complicated man, full of contradictions, irony, humor, and surprises, both to myself first, and to others. I guess in turning fifty this year I have realized who I am, both the good and great qualities I have, and the ones that are sham, baseless and ones I work to overcome. I will state upfront I am a better person, man, human being today, than I was five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago.  I guess I should be. However, at times it is nice to see that reflected back to me to where I can see that growth and development. This post does that I believe, as it tracks my history of sketching, I'll share insight into me, the sketches, and how they reflect me and my personal and inner growth.  Again, for me, that is the fascination with this hobby. Not only do I learn of the many wondrous and spectacular objects of the universe, I get to learn about me. I guess my sketching reflects that.

     I had been observing for several years when I started sketching, well seriously observing for about 2 years prior to picking up a sketch pad. Let me state up front I am not an artist. I have taken a few oil and watercolor painting classes because I want to develop that skill, and yes, it exists within my family, but time has been a limiting factor in regards to this. So one day when I picked up and purchased Stephen O'Meara's Messier book that included his sketches, I was fascinated. The book made for great bedside reading and I was intrigued by his sketches. Shortly after this I found the forum on CloudyNights for sketching and decided to give it a go.

     Now when I say give it a go, for me that means full borne in, one hundred and ten percent. I went to the local Hobby Lobby store (not sure if it was Hobby Lobby or Michael's back then) and purchased a full set of pencils and sketching pads and other material I would need.  I then came back to the scope and went to work. I wanted to create my own log of each Messier item that I found, observed and make the sketch a critical part of the observation. Here is my first ever sketch:

It is of M21, an Open Cluster in Sagittarius.  I have to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing, I had very little idea of how to describe what I was seeing and guess what, it shows in the comments and in the sketch.  Having said that, here is what I have taken away from this. I documented an observation, I realized I messed it up and I had no clue and I began the process of learning. Not a pretty sketch for my first attempt.

My next attempt wasn't much better. It was Messier 11, the Wild Duck Cluster or the Borg Cube:

Ouch! What can I say. I described it far better than I drew it.  This sketch in a 8inch dob is superior by far LINK  This sketch done in a 12" dob, is also FAR FAR superior LINK.  The second posted link shows a cluster that is really beautiful, box like, and showing why some of us called it the Borg Cube from Star Trek the Next Generation.  I had a LONG way to go back in the fall of 2008.

From this same period of October of 2008, came this first drawing of Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy.  Positives were I captured parts of it decently, left out a ton of detail and found I was struggling to capture what I had observed in the eyepiece on paper. Good news, I was logging my observations and learning how to do that.

     Here is M31 from 2013 I believe, with the dark lanes quite evident, M32 in the upper left and the core rather visible.  By now I still had issues, the galaxy is far too round in this sketch, the core is lacking the zip and brightness it should have but the Mellish method I had learned was starting to pay off.  Here I can see better reflected what I see in the eyepiece, but with perhaps too much influence from other sources.  It took a LOT longer to sketch, over 2 hours versus 10 minutes on my first sketch of M31 in the fall of 2008.  I need to do a new sketch of Messier 31 since I believe I have improved even form this one, a lot more.

     Bottom line, is that I have grown and improved my skill.  What I don't like is that I just don't feel like I have captured M31 like I see it in a 14", 17.5" or 24" dob.  I have the components, just need to put it together. It also leads to another point I am wrestling with in my sketching. Do I really want to spend two hours of an observing session sketching one item, or would I rather complete the observing challenges I have set for myself regarding the Herschel 2500, the Abell Catalog, the Hickson Catalgog and the NGC list itself. That is something I will have to answer for myself, but as of today, I believe I would rather observe in a four to six hour session as many objects as I can observe and sketch (knowing I will now never on my own complete the challenge of sketching all 2500 Herschel 2500 objects; perhaps in time) those objects than nail just any one sketch.

     I do have M42 The Orion Nebula down for a re-sketch this winter if time allows.  Here is my first poor attempt at that object.

 Well, I have said it before, the first three look more like an Ent from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings than The Great Orion Nebula or Messier 42 to me.  Even the next sketch is just okay for me, lacking the pop in areas that the Orion Nebula has from those O & B stars that are lighting up the nebula!  I do like the bottom one a LOT more though then the top ones! I can see the improvement over time and to be honest, this is getting to how I see Messier 42.  In the above images you can also see that I had discovered the free program called GIMP. I had attempted to stretch out the nebula and brighten at parts and darken in others. Not done in the sketch below using the Mellish Method.

Another object that I like to compare my growth to is the Dumbbell Nebula, or Messier 27.  Here are my first sketches.  The first one right below, wasn't bad. I captured the basic shape, the brightness of the various parts of the object and the star field. I would say a decent attempt at this object.

These next two were done at around 9990 feet in the mountains to the east of Utah. They are the same sketch of course, the second is inverted. I have captured the brighter parts here, as well as part of the fainter parts.  The star field is nicely captured here too in the 14" dob.

     This is a sketch I did of M 27 about 2 months ago and yes, I am content with this one. It captured both the Dumbbell shape and the football shape of this nebula. Star field is good and highlights in terms of brightness and contrast are equally as good. A major improvement from the above sketches and it really reflects what I saw that night in my 17.5" dob and that I and others with me that night said was the best view of M27 we have ever seen.

     For most of 2008 and 2009, I was sketching on the astronomy league forms, until I eventually made my own form. I recorded observations and sketches there. With my discovery of GIMP, I used my new observing form to do a rough sketch of the object in the field, capturing the star field and outline the object and taking notes of the object on the form.  From here, I came home and when the skies were cloudy, I sketched the object using GIMP.  Here are some of examples from that period in late 2009 through 2011.  

In NGC 285 I really liked the simplicity of the star field and the capture of the galaxy. 

I really like the capture above of NGC 1980 with the star Iota capturing the detail and the glare of the nebula around it.  

GIMP allowed me to capture planetary nebula in the color that I observed them in, and the contrast and brightness that some have. 

Decent capture of NGC 7331 above but I have a sketch using the Mellish method that is far superior. 

NGC 6369 the Little Ghost PN and I love this capture. 

Capture of Sirius B, the Pup and though I like the rendition here, I have another that is a major improvement and I capture the object correctly.  That is one thing I have learned here, I have to make sure I label my sketches to reflect what I am actually seeing in the dob, or what a correct image would look like. 

     Planetary Nebula are one of my favorite objects to both observe and to sketch. Some of them are the best objects where color, usually in the form of a green shade is evident. NGC 1535 Cleopatra's Eye is one such PN.  The first sketch is based on a rough sketch at the eyepiece and done in GIMP. The second is expanded on that at high power showing more of the object about a year later when I moved up to a 5mm Pentax XW and 3.5mm Pentax XW on one of those rare, like you have two or three nights a year nights. Captured in GIMP, (and I am capable in technology) I was able to reflect what I saw. 

     By the end of 2011/12 I had moved from using GIMP to using the Mellish Method as taught by Alexander Massey. I felt I had finally arrived as you can see of this sketch of the Helix Nebula. I nailed the central star, the brighter parts of the Helix that I observed and the darker inner regions with varying contrast.  I realized with this sketch that though others may do it better, I am content with what I am doing and yes, when I do it right, I do it very well, or so my ego says to me. Bias, see, it goes back to bias and opinion (though I am not sure they differ).  

     I could go on and show sketches I have done using the Mellish method, but I won't. They are all over this blog and I am uploading many to my repository site, Jay's Astronomical Sketches located at this LINK.  I use to upload quite a bit my Photobucket Library and probably will start up again (I have) as a back up at this LINK

     Now here is where my feet hit the road so to speak.  I use to wonder if there is one right way to sketch. Was white paper with graphite the best? Is it okay to recreate a sketch digitally? What are my thoughts about the Mellish method? In truth, I have come to a point of I don't care what medium a sketcher uses, as long as the sketch reflects what they really saw in the eyepiece. I can spend an hour putting in field stars on a sketch from where I observe, but I need to back down and put in the major stars in the sketch. Why? Cause I have better things to do with my time than place over a hundred field stars of various magnitudes into a sketch when ninety percent of the people who view the sketch will never see stars like that when they observe the object. Basic, is best when it comes to star fields. Next, I have to ensure I am capturing what I am seeing so that someone reading this blog, or viewing a sketch I've done can say yeah, that is a reasonable view of that object. Most of my objects I sketch are of the Herschel 2500 and are small in size and detail, not the objects most go after.  I like to tease out detail, to see more than what ninety percent of observers see because they don't take the time to really observe an object.  

     So my first goal in sketching is to capture a realistic view of what an object looks like in the telescope I am using and to my eye. My next goal is to enjoy the hobby and to enjoy sketching. I love pulling out sketches at full moon or when it is clouded at new moon, and recalling the details of that observing trip. I hope I may always remember each observing trip as clearly as I do today.  I love working a sketch, and getting the detail down that I see. I like pushing my observing eye and my brain to tease out every ounce of detail I can.  Sometimes finding a Hickson object and as many of the galaxies related to it, is more meaningful personally, then finding a bright Messier object! Third, and last, I hope my sketching helps in some way to preserve the night sky, to use them to show to the public perhaps why we need to protect our wild lands where most of our dark skies now lay.  I want my grand children and great grand children to be able to go if they will, and see what I have seen,  My deepest hope is to perhaps line up with other sketchers and create a panal of sketches to share with the public and politicians on why we need to preserve dark skies. I would love to put some of our sketches together and show all these wonderful people our version of catch (get the object in the eyepiece and sketch it) and release. If your interested in a project like that, please contact me.  

    So there you go. I was a horrible sketcher, and yep, when I want to rush it, and rush observing, I am still a horrible sketcher. Are there others better? Sure are. Are we all passionate about sketching? Yep, we are. Here is one thing though I will say. If I am willing to get up and begin sketching to make me a better observer and a better amateur astronomer, then anyone in this hobby can take up what I do and many will do it better.  I challenge you to do so and I challenge you to use your sketches to inspire others, to lift the heads and eyes of others so they look up in wonder. That is a good motto, a sketch must make those who look at it, look up and wonder.  Come try this part of the hobby I beg of you. Post your efforts. Laugh at mine, its okay because I am okay with it. I laugh at them too, but I have learned from them. To all those who have taught me, I say thank you beyond measure. You have enriched my life, made it joyful and helped me to maintain a balance between the demands of everyday life, and the joys of the wild where a telescope at night, is  magical. You have made me look up wonder, wonder about what is up there, wonder about what I can find, wonder about how I can grow.  You have made me a better human being for the experience and so I say thank you.  Keep looking up in wonder!


I just did that article on my blog on the SNR Challenge and I posted over at AstronomyForAll (the forum to post sketches you want to share while ASOD is on hiatus and somewhere I am placing some of my better sketches, so please feel free to share there if you like)  and I posted up my sketches on SNR IC 443 in Gemini.  I am going to share there and one thing I realized I got away from is posting the STSci Image with the sketch so I am going to start doing that again. I believe there is value in that.

Above is my first sketch I believe of IC 443 and to me, it is the most realistic of the two. Cruder in some ways but North I believe is at the bottom, west to the right.  Just looks like how I remember seeing it. 

The Sketch above is a second sketch if I remember right and it captures more of the fine detail of the eastern part of the nebula but I cannot remember at this time which part I was capturing. I need to review my notes on the back of the sketch and in my database on this one! 

Here is the STSci Image of IC 443 and you can see why I believe the first sketch does indeed capture more of the essence of the SNR though I can see where I captured the second sketch from also now. Both are reasonable now, but I still prefer my first capture. Now to do it again this winter! I do believe this object does show my growth as a sketcher and since it fits with the next post I did, I wanted to include it here.  

Two Albums Related to Observing

          In my October 25th, 2010 post (LINK), I reviewed a CD I found at the Salt Lake County Library called the Constellations. In another post I reviewed Bruce Lazarus' fine work on the Messier objects called Messier Catalogue of Star Clusters and Nebula. which you can get for $9.99 from the iTunes store. Well worth the cost and very enjoyable. I often listen to the Messier Catalogue by Bruce while observing when I am alone. It enhances my views of the night and relaxes me while I am observing. Yes, I love the quiet of the night, but sometimes I want some music to play when out alone. Here is a LINK to it's web page and you can listen to parts of  the songs while see a Hubble image of the item here LINK.  I don't earn a penny from Bruce for promoting his work here, but if you like amateur astronomy and classical/new age type music this is well worth the $10.00 to have a copy of it! Here is what the album looks like:

     I also found another gem from a group that I really enjoy, Mannheim Steamroller by Chip Davis. The album is The Music of the Spheres which is about $10.00 at Amazon (add shipping for a CD) or from iTunes (Amazon LINK). Over on YouTube you can listen to the album prior to purchasing at this LINK. It is very typical for Mannheim Steamroller, and I love both the new renditions/versions of some of the songs, and the new original songs.  Again, an album I purchased now and will be listening to when I want something upbeat and space related out in the desert. I love the opening song, Escape from the Atmosphere and the Shuttle Discovery recorded launch in the background here. I'd love to see the music put to video of the launch!  Here is what that album cover looks like:

     So if your wanting to look for some space related music, that is upbeat, relaxing, and enjoying here are two wonderful option! Now, my next post will be on sketching; a journey of discovery. I am gathering up the sketches I want to use and organizing them so that should come up shortly!