and Sketching Forms
When I first got involved in Amateur Astronomy, I remember vividly being overwhelmed by what seemed to be a unending learning curve. Coming to terms with the equipment, finding the targets in the sky, understanding what each of them actually were, and melding all of those things into an enjoyable experience was very challenging.
As time went on, and I got more comfortable with managing all of those things, one thing seemed to still need work. It seemed that everybody was seeing "more" than I was seeing. In reading observation reports from other observers, using similar equipment to mine, it always seemed to me that they just saw way more detail than I was seeing in the same objects. The same was true of star parties I attended. Many times after a feature was pointed out to me by another observer, I could see it, but I did not come up with it on my own.
What I did not understand then was that observing is a skill. Put an experienced observer and a new observer at the same eyepiece in the same scope on the same night, and the experienced observer will almost always see more simply due to their better observing skills.
Like any skill, it takes time and practice to get better. In reading about developing observing skills, I kept coming across the same recommendation, to keep descriptive records or sketch your observations. The reasoning was that the process of transferring your observations to paper in the form of words or sketches forced the observer to slow down, take extended looks at the object and really see the detail presented.
I decided to try sketching - I am no artist, but even if I never showed them to anybody, undertaking the process would be of benefit. What I found is that it worked very well for me. As I lingered over a single object and returned time and time again to the eyepiece to gather more details for the sketch, I was gradually honing my skills. I soon found myself trying new techniques, like color filters on planets, to extract finer detail. While the sketches will not win any awards, I found great satisfaction with producing a decent sketch of what I was seeing at the eyepiece.
When I recently purchased a Coronado PST, I found that I had a whole new set of observing skills to develop. Hydrogen Alpha solar observing is quite different from any observing I had previously done, so I broke out the pencils and paper and starting sketching, and with time I improved my skills in this new discipline.
My sketching these days is limited, I don't sketch on every outing, but do from time to time as the spirit moves me. Comets seem to especially inspire me to get out the pencils. Although I don't sketch all of the time, I have no doubt that my skills as an observer were immeasurably improved with the time I spent sketching.
To make my sketching easier, I produced some observation record forms. For those of you interested, you can get these forms free in PDF format by clicking on the forms below.
You can find some great sketching resources on the net, including both instruction and examples, some that are truly works of art. Here are a couple of places to start.
Astronomy Sketch of the Day - A new sketch daily
Cloudy Nights Sketching Forum - Lots of great talent and information here
Give sketching a try, you will be a better observer and you might even have some fun doing it!
©2009 Rod Nabholz