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People Still Draw Astronomical Sketches? Really?

Technique And Drawings Contributed By Master Astrosketcher Chuck Hastorf

Above, you see a sketch of the lunar crater Eratosthenes. Below is the photograph used for creating the sketch. This photo and other lunar photographs can be seen at full size at 6 Inch Newtonian Astro-Photos.

But Why Sketch In This Day And Age?

You may ask "Why do we continue with astrosketching in this age of modern photographic equipment and expensive huge telescopes?"

There are several reasons:

  • (1) The huge observatory telescopes are dedicated to more arcane projects than objects visible in backyard telescopes.

  • (2) Believe it or not you can actually see more detail visually with a modest telescope than expensive CCD and SLR cameras can capture. Do you think that is too bold of a statement? Do think that you don't look like your driver's license or passport photo? Well, you are right, you don't. The camera can do one thing that you cannot do visually on dim, astronomical targets, that is capture some color. Even at that, almost all photographs that you have seen have been digitally enhanced.

  • (3) The activity of drawing helps you concentrate, and strengthens memory and viewing acuity.

  • (4) Most importantly, astrosketching is fun.

  • I have seen the work of many astrosketchers. I think that there are basically two types of sketchers. The most common of those sketchers are already accomplished artists that bring their lifetime accumulated sketching skills to the field of astrosketching. The second are amateur astronomers who want to enhance their astronomical skills and record their observations. My recommendations are, if you already are proficient at sketching, don't change a thing. Just apply your acquired skills to the fascinating subject of astrosketching. Have fun.

    A Workable Sketching Technique

    Personally, I find individual styles the most interesting. Read on about this sketching technique, and apply or reject as you please. If you lack sketching skills, the following steps won't guarantee to make you a polished astrosketcher, but may help you to create your own sketching technique.

    1. Pick Target

  • Have a photo
  • 2. Gather Your Drawing Tools

  • Drawing board
  • Red light
  • Bond paper
  • #2 pencil
  • Charcoal Pencil
  • Avoid dust
  • 3. Establish Centers "X" and Angles

    4. Use soft lines, avoid circles

    5. Lightly Sketch Primary Object Outlines

    6. Sketch Outlines of Peripheral Objects

    7. Repeat for Interior Objects

    8. Finalize Walls

    9. Finalize Interior Object

    10. Finalize Floors

    11. Establish Sunlight Source

    12. Draw Shadows

    13. For an additional challenge, you can scan in your drawing (or photograph with a digital camera), and use your sketch as a background in a drawing program like Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop, or Gimp. Then use their extensive tools to create a truly amazing image. That was the process used on the drawing in the following illustrations.

    14. Save as JPEG File

    An Example Sketch Sequence

    The following images illustrate the described sketching process as it was used to creater the Eratosthenes crate drawing shown at the top of the page.

    Astrosketching: Lay Out Angles

    The first step in sketching, illustrated above is to sketch out the angles to the areas of interest in the telescope or photograph view. This becomes the template for inserting the sketch of each interesting feature.

    Note that in this illustration, the center of the Eratosthenes crater (the X) was chosen as the reference point for the other features.

    Astrosketching: Rough In Feature Limits

    The next step, as illustrated above, is to rough in the main feature limits. In this way, the overall geometry and feature sizes will come out properly in the final drawing.

    Astrosketching: Rough In Feature Details

    With the geometry established and the main feature sizes drawn, it's time to rough in other features, as illustrated above, such as other smaller features. In this case, smaller craters, mountain peaks, and crater interiors.

    Astrosketching: Rough In Feature Details

    Now, as shown above, the lighting source can be considered, and the feature shadows sketched in. Note how what was just a bunch of lines is taking form as a clear crater and mountainous region.

    The Final Product And Comparison Photograph

    Astrosketching: Final Eratosthenes Crater Sketch

    And finally, you can end up with a finished sketch like the one above. Below, you see a photograph of the Eratosthenes crater region as a reference.

    Eratosthenes Crate Photograph

    To help you appreciate the art of sketching astronomical objects, you can enjoy more of Chuck's fine drawings at Chuck's Sketches.

    Another accomplished astro-sketcher is Eric Jamison, and you can view his tutorial and some of his sketches at Eric Jamison's Astronomy and Photography site.