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Beginner's Guide

Sketching Tutorial

I know that many folks are not artists, but you don't have to be to make good sketches. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

  • Key Points:
    • You will get better with practice, so practice, practice, practice.
    • Use a light hand. You don't want to see the same sketch indentation for the three pages after the one you are on!
  • Prepare:
    • Have finder charts of your target handy so that you can positively identify your target.
    • Prep the page with info about your target, what equipment you are using (telescope, eyepiece...), your location, time, observing conditions (weather, sky clarity). This is where it helps to have an observing log template (see up above for an example).
    • Have 1 or 2 circles pre-drawn on the page. Each page should be devoted to one target, but you can make multiple sketches of it (like how it looks through different eyepieces).
    • Collect and sharpen your pencils. I personally prefer mechanical pencils, but use what you are comfortable with. Eventually, you might want to try colored pencils and other sketch tools.
  • Observe:
    • Make sure you are comfortable!
    • Look all around the field of view. Notice the different stars, their brightnesses, colors, patterns...
  • Sketch:
    • I usually go through and quickly jot down the brighter stars in the field of view and then add in fainter and fainter ones. I make one simple dot for each star. Once my drawn dots are correctly positioned I go back and make the dots of the brighter stars bigger. This doesn't necessarily mean bearing down heavily with the pencil.
    • Sketch in your target. Asteroids are simple since they are dots like the stars. If I plan on observing and sketching over several hours or nights, I'll label the first position with a time (hh:mm) or date (mm/dd). When I come back after a certain amount of time, I should be able to find the same field of view (this will depend on the magnification and how much time has passed) and simply mark the new position of the asteroid. My sketch of Vesta.
      Comets are a bit tougher. First, mark its position with a dot. Then, note whether it has a star-like core surrounded by fuzzy or just generally fuzzy. To draw the fuzzy, I just lightly draw out a circle of the right size, then lightly fill it in and then smudge the pencil lines. Are there tails? Use the stars in the field as reference points for where and how long to draw the tails. Deirdre Kelleghan's Sketches of Comets
  • Finish:
    • This is not a race, so take your time and glance back and forth between the view and your sketch.
    • On the other hand, it doesn't have to be perfect! You may not get every detail or see every star. Just do your best, then move on.
    • Unless you are using colored pencils, you might want to include some written descriptions to accompany the sketch to describe star colors or other notable features.
    • Label some of the brighter stars. This is at your discretion, but if there are stars that have greek letter names, then those are easy enough to label with their greek letter!
    • While it's certainly not required, eventually, you'll want to include some markings showing which way is East and North in your drawing. This involves slightly moving the telescope in each direction (and is usually opposite from what you intuitively think and assumes you have your telescope equatorially mounted)... When you move the telescope eastwards, new stars will appear on one side and disappear on the other side of the field. Where they appear is east. But like I said, this is not required.
  • Extras:
    • While you can always look in your notebook to review sketches, you might want to share your sketches. So you'll need to digitize it somehow. Scanning is the most obvious method and that I will leave to you. But if you don't have a scanner... try taking a picture of your sketch with your digital camera. One person has cleverly used his cellphone camera to take a picture of his sketch in order to get a digital file. Use a camera (of any sort), but don't hold the camera too close or it won't be able to focus. This may mean that you have your sketch plus lots of space around it. That's okay, you can always crop out the extra stuff. Take the picture in a well lit area so that your sketch is evenly illuminated. Then, once you have the digital file, keep the original file in a safe place and make modifications (cropping, resizing, contrast enhancements) on a copy. Give the file a sensible name and send it your friends or post online.
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Updated: 17-Oct-2016