Sketching: Realistic, Art or Fabrication?

     Sketching as an art form has been around for hundreds of years, if not thousands.  In that bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia we find the following definition that I actually like:

"Sketching is a rapidly executed freehand drawing that is not usually intended as a finished work. A sketch may serve a number of purposes: it might record something that the artist sees (or observer sees), it might record or develop an idea for later use or it might be used as a quick way of graphically demonstrating an image, idea or principle."

     In astronomical sketching I have seen a variety of these methods and ways and have used several mediums myself. Many of the sketches I post here on my blog are field sketches, right off observing from the eyepiece. They are raw for the most part, very raw and capture what I am seeing at that moment. At one point my goal was to sketch the complete Herschel 2500 so when I got one of these faint objects, I sketched it quickly, as thoroughly as I could and the result is that often stars are not rounded, some detail is left off on those fainter Herschel. On the other hand, when I come across something very interesting to me I take my time, I sketch the stars as circles, and I add as much detail to the object(s) will reveal and I can discover using my observing techniques and different magnification of eyepieces.

     Some of these sketches I am extremely happy with, proud of and display them knowing I nailed how they viewed to me. Since I use the Mellish method, of pastel chalk on black paper, applied with brushes and a couple of other tools, I find that my approach often delivers what I am trying to do. If I am a hurry, or if I am having a frustrating night, something I am sure most observers can relate with, my sketching suffers. So if I post what I call a raw sketch, it is that, raw and sometimes once home, I will redo the sketch with the details I had written in white ink, star placements and the object with details.  Other times as the business of life presses on me, I leave the sketch as is and post that.

     Another option I have done and am currently redoing is using GIMP to process my sketches and add detail to the raw sketch that I have made. I can round my stars there, add details that I had recorded or rapidly put down and come up with an end product or finished work that I really like. One of the biggest frustrations I have is how to photograph my sketches of pastel chalk on black paper. I have figured that out sometimes, and then forgotten that as a bad season of weather impacts my observing.

     Yet another item that I fight with is the notion that sketching as an art form and artists who are more concerned with an end product that impresses than one that reflects what a real observer will see at the eyepiece. What I get sometimes is that REALLY what you or another sketcher has seen in the eyepiece? I have struggled with that from time to time and have come to the conclusion that art is art, and needs to be labeled as art and a sketch or art that reflects the eyepiece view in reality needs to be just that. Here is an example of what I am talking about.

The image above is from Wikipedia on NGC 1535 LINK and the credit is: 

Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

This is an actual image captured by Adam Block. 

Here is my sketch of NGC 1535 sketched several years ago from Mike Clements 72" reflector. However, I would also state this is art as it is made from notes and an outline sketch that I made. I relied on the above image and others to help me  bring out the details. So to me this is simply an art reflection and why until now, I have never shared it. 

     In the sketch/art work I did capture the three distinct 3 dark green patters I saw from the core and a light green patch across from the central star. Overall, I like this sketch/art work though I would have been softer on the splotches. Yet for me, done totally in GIMP, this is art. 

     Now I am going to post some raw sketches and post GIMP digitally processed versions of these sketches. You can determine if you like the raw sketch or the digitally processed GIMP version. In the end though, I believe the thing that is the most important, is that the outcome reflects what someone using your scope would most likely see (it will differ since my eyes and experience are my eyes and experience and someone else may have more or less, be older or young, observes traditionally from a backyard in suburbia or from a dark site like I do. All factors and lets not forget sky conditions and local conditions that impact the view) for themselves. 

Sirius A & B 

     The top is the raw sketch that I made of Sirius A and Sirius B and the bottom is the same sketched, enhanced in GIMP to reflect Sirius A's brilliance and Sirius B in relation to A and without spikes from a curved spider. For me I feel the GIMP processed sketch on the bottom reflects truly what I saw at the eyepiece, though the top one is fine also. 

NGC 5139 Omega Centuri 

 This top one is the processed sketch in GIMP. I added a brighter core, added brighter stars and added structure to the glob. This is an uneven edge, stars evident and mottling hinting of more stars. This is close to what I saw but ask is it artistic after looking at the next three? 

This is my original sketch of NGC 5139 Omega Centauri. You can see the unven edges, the brighter inner core and the mottling hinting of other stars. This was done in pastel chalk, white pencil and white gel ink.  This is the version that for me is the best, though the top one comes very, very close in GIMP, with the core perhaps too bright now that I found the original. 

My first process in GIMP with not the fading and uneven edges that I saw, more of a blob.  Looks like a ball with points of light on it, not as good as the top sketch and a little less like what I saw in the eyepiece. 

The original raw sketch after I had taken an image of it and killed it. I lost the detail, the large inner core, the uneven edges and mottling that hints of stars.  For me the top image where I took the sketch, added the detail based on notes and observation in my 17.5" f/4.4 dob with the 22mm T4 and 26mm T5 Nagler is my sketch of this object. Having said that, the one in my sketch pad is more like the top one and is the model I used for it, and that is my favorite. I have to figure out a way to include them. So art nor not, the top image here is the one that is the winner for me and I guess that is what matters, since it is my sketch and that is my final product! 

Note: I added sketch two, the original version once I located the sketch on file. I have to remember how to capture my actual sketches that way. 

Messier 101 Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major

The sketch above is meant to be my final product for Messier 101 in my 17.5" f/4.4.  I processed it in GIMP and the stars are indeed more popping, but I lost the background structure or oval of the galaxy and the arms are sticking out with their HII regions way to bright.  

Here is the original and if ONLY I could have captured it with the whiteness of the stars and lighter gray of the HII regions popping with the stars, this by far is a better sketch and end product in my opinion. The only thing I needed was to pop those stars and the pastel chalk and that is me figuring out my DSLR camera.  

NGC 5068 Spiral Galaxy in Virgo 

This is my original raw sketch of NGC 5068 that I captured and was rather pleased with the capture. The galaxy and pastel chalk are a little too blue here, but you can see the structure and detail of the original sketch. The original on my pad was wonderful and I love my capture of the spiral structure on the right and left side. To me this is a final product. 

Same sketch above as the first but two items have happen. I failed to take the image with my Canon DSLR correctly and some of the pastel chalk has faded off.  The result is I do not like this capture or display. The original is far, far better. 

Here is the digital rendition and again for me, the original on top is the best final product for me. I like my star field here but it is just missing the details of the pastel chalk that the top one gave from a 45 minute sketching and observing session. You can decide but for me, the first one though a sketch, resulted in a final product and is artistic also. 

NGC 5170 Edge on Galaxy in Virgo

Above is my original sketch of NGC 5170 and I LOVE this sketch. I love the effort I put into it and the forcing of an observer to the sketch to use averted vision if you want to see it elongated.  I like my star field and I love the fact that I can look at that sketch and remember observing it.  I love the dark lane near the core, and the bright inner core region. My 17.5" was truly strutting it's stuff on this object with great conditions and an experience observer! 

Same object, actually same sketch as you can see the wire binding on the right side but here I have darkened the background, laid in a long slender galaxy, with a bright inner core.  Hint of a dark lane is there but the length you can see, you don't need averted vision like in the top sketch.  I added some stars, not many but a few to the field (I am beginning to think on star fields to only put in the bright stars and leave the actual stars and the one I place for affect out). I much prefer the top sketch and am great with it as a final product. 

NGC 5426 & NGC 5427 

The top is the original sketch and it is mis-shapen to me, but that I how I wrote it down in my notes. NGC 5426 the bottom galaxy in this sketch has mottling which I saw and overall I had to admit I am not bias to either version of this sketch. 

The GIMP version of the sketch shrunken down a little and brighter.  Perhaps closer to the shapes I saw in the eyepiece. Again, no bias either way. 

Rosette Nebula Caldwell 49 (Yes, I know most do not like that term)

Here is an example of a sketch I did that I never processed, I nailed the taking of its image and it has never been processes because I don't think I can improve on it. It took many hours and two back to back nights of observing to nail this. Others may disagree but for me, I just love how it came out. Artistic, probably, what I saw, yes when I combine the wide field views together. 

Messier 16 The Eagle Nebula 

Done several summers ago, I got the Pillars of Creation and the nebula nicely. Never processed as the time and effort I felt I had a final product and I do. 

B33 The Horsehead Nebula 

Stephen Waldee did a through and complete measurement of the sketch and the position of the Horsehead and its shape and found that I was right on with this sketch.  As such there was no need to repeat it or redo it so it has stood. 

NGC 2362 Tau Cluster 

So here is NGC 2362 the Tau Cluster in Canis Major and my favorite open cluster. I took my sketch, took its picture, loaded it up on my computer in my folder I keep for that observing session, brought it up in GIMP and added the stars and brightness to them and color tint as I see it. To me this is what I see on NGC 2362 but my question is, is it digital art or is it a sketch? Call it what you will, it is an end product for me and shows what I see. 

     So, what is my point in all of this? Over the last five years in the sketching world I have seen sketching evolve to the point that I see a lot of great sketchers and great digital sketchers and the product they make, is not only photographic, but amazing. Some of have asked me if I think that is what they are really seeing? The question seems to be is what is being done in the name of sketching real, or is it someone just using art or digital art to impress others? I laugh when I hear that. The greater question is does it really matter? Realistic sketching or art or just simply space art, does it matter? Enjoy what the sketcher or artist is bringing. In truth what most imagers product is not what the image probably really looks like either. It is the colors we assign to the parts of the object. 

      The most important item for me moving forward is to continue to create the image that I am seeing in my eyepiece in the scope I am using and share that. To me that is key to whether a sketch or final work of art passes the muster. I never question an observer on what they see, I am not there, in their seeing conditions with their instrument. In the end it doesn't matter. What matters is that I am enjoying sketching as a way to observe and sharpen my observing skills and I am happy with whatever end product I product. Now to go and play with my Canon Rebel DSLR to figure out how to take photos of my sketches so they are like the ones I posted today. 
     Keep on sketching, keep on observing, the weather will pass, I hope.