Book of the Month January 2020

Astronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step Introduction by Richard Handy, David B. Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix and Sol Robbins

This month we have a guest review by our member Sherry Campbell. Read on!

I was pleased to review this book from our library and at 195 pages and mostly pictures, it did not seem very daunting. I can say that after reading through the book, I came away thinking that this is indeed a very valuable resource and mostly well put together.

Why sketch in this day and age when there are numerous astrophotographs of everything you may see and so many talented people (many of whom are members of our local club) that can produce amazing detail and stunning photographs? The answer is written in the preface of this book. We sketch for many reasons; insufficient time/resources to produce these photos on our own, a feeling of connection to the night sky when we spend the time drawing an object, or training the eye to detect subtle detail.

The book is divided into 7 chapters. Each one focuses on techniques to help you sketch the Moon, comets, the Sun, planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. There are also 3 appendices that list online resources (although seeing that this book was published in 2007, some of the online references may not be valid anymore), some drawing templates and a much needed glossary. Being an artist, I already knew the tools used to obtain these drawings, but for someone that is not familiar with the tools artists use, the glossary has helpful descriptions (and even comes with more pictures!). Although I feel the Saturn drawing template to be useless as the tilt of the rings change, there are Saturn drawing templates that can be found online. In fact, here is a link for many drawing templates, provided by one of the authors:

Each chapter walks the reader through step by step on how to create realistic, accurate representations of what you see in the eyepiece. At the beginning of each chapter, the authors list the tools required to complete the drawings, give simple, easy to read instructions on how to complete each phase of the drawing and also provide pictures of each step. Some chapters, like the Moon for example, detail step by step instructions on drawing the Moon using different mediums, such as pencil, charcoal, stippling with pens and white chalk on black paper.

One of the major points to sketching that is not made obvious to the reader is the amount of time one must spend at the eyepiece to achieve this level of detail. While that may be fine for deep sky objects, when sketching a crater on the Moon, the shadows and highlights will change quickly over time. The authors do mention to rough in the details of the crater before fine tuning, but they also say that one should expect to spend an hour on each sketch. Given the amount of detail for the Moon crater done in charcoal, more than an hour would be spent on that sketch until you became very proficient.

I felt that there should have been a chapter at the beginning of the book detailing the tips and techniques discussed in the book. There are 2 sections for tips, but the first one that talks about some of the materials required and how to create accurate drawings, does not appear in the book until page 39, and the second one on drawings techniques and how to use some of the tools described in the book, does not appear until page 153. Each of these tips sections are imbedded in their respective chapters on drawing comets and nebulae, instead of being given their own chapter. In fact, a tips and techniques chapter could have been expanded to show the reader how to use some of the more obscure mediums, such as Conté chalk pencils, charcoal and fixatives.

One of the features of the book that I do like is the pictures showing each step. If you do not feel comfortable drawing at the eyepiece quite yet, you can practice drawing in the comfort of your home and follow along with the step by step instructions. All of the accompanying photos are large and detailed enough that you can easily see the next step and develop your techniques before trying the real thing.

In summary, I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in getting into sketching at the eyepiece. Even though I have been sketching for years, I will probably be picking up a copy of this book for myself. As well as showing me some new techniques for solar sketches, it takes the guess work out of what paper to buy for each application and what tools work best on that paper type.

Happy sketching!

Sherry Campbell

This book will be available at the conclusion of the January 13th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.