“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation.’ Creative viewing.” – William S Burroughs
I like this quote from Burroughs, it is a fit in many ways for the not widely practised activity of astronomical sketching. Not that the objects concerned do not exist, but rather they are perhaps unknown to or go unnoticed by many people. Lots of people in the world go about their lives without noticing detail. Only by being still and observing do we gather appreciation for the planet that surrounds us and our place in the universe.
Drawing something like the moon is a progressive journey of learning by observing and recording features as best one can. Creativity may play a part in the choice of materials used to produce a drawing or how those materials are used. For me observing and the drawing that results has to strive to be accurate and totally honest.
Sometimes I see things while observing that my head thinks are really odd or out-of-place. Drawing these noticeable features exactly as I see them is important. Therefore the more odd or surreal the view the more I am keen to capture it on paper. Any change in a comets coma or a crater shadow interests me. A twisting filament or leaping prominence brings full attention. Being observant in this way has many benefits when drawing objects such as comets over time. Comets can be very challenging but they are always great teachers if you find one and follow its path across the night sky.
When you make an effort to be accurate in drawing your chances of learning something increases greatly. However, if you say to yourself “I am no good at drawing ” that is an excuse not to try. Whatever drawing you produce is your effort, for your learning journey. It matters not if your drawing is good or bad, the learning occurs in the action of trying. It occurs in the action of pulling your telescope view through the tube onto the page in your hand.
Imagine going through life without ever noticing the features on the moon, or even being aware of the fact that our sun is a star. Space is always “out there” for most people, when in fact we live in space every day of our lives. During public outreach moon viewings, I have often noticed that most people cannot point to the moon and name even one feature.
What if moon knowledge was part of the school curriculum? Just the basics, like the names of the near side maria and the recognition of lunar phases. Most seven-year-olds I meet can name at least six species of dinosaur in Latin ergo they should have no problem remembering Mare Tranquillitatis (Latin for the Sea of Tranquillity) or Mare Crisium (The Sea of Crisis) Considering that the Moon is with us for all of our lives, it is so integrated into our planet and therefore our existence. It should follow therefore that lunar education is built into the primary school curriculum globally.
Drawing in School
When I was in primary school not a day went by without drawing time. We had little black paper copies with tissue in-between the pages to protect our chalk drawings. When I was in the second level almost every subject involved drawing. In biology class, we drew the heart, the lungs, amoeba, meristematic regions et cetera.
During geography, we drew the meandering life of rivers, learnt about glaciers, corrie lakes and volcanoes through drawing. In Physics and Chemistry, we drew our experiments. We notated every drawing, it was visual learning in action and I remember every nuance many decades later. In today’s school classroom drawing is not as important, it is however a very useful tool for education and lifelong learning.
My very first telescope was given to me at Christmas 1969 just months after the very influential moon landing. It was a small 50mm scope on a plastic tripod. I observed the moon, Jupiter and M42 with it but never drew anything. Many years later came another 50mm on a wooden tripod, it had a longer focal length and more eyepieces. Still not drawing but enjoyed comets and the increased detail it afforded me.
The first drawings I ever did of the moon were through a small EXT 70 mm telescope. It had the advantage of lunar tracking which kept the target in the objective for the duration of the sketch. First I would sketch the moon then later I notated it to learn details new to me and important for future drawings. I used the free software Virtual Moon Atlas which is really comprehensive and extremely versatile to identify features. The drawings above are 95 mm in diameter sketched like all my work through the lens at the time.