Sketching: A Step-by-Step Introduction
by Richard Handy,
David B. Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix, and Sol Robbins
Reviewed by Thomas
I was very young some kind soul tried to teach me how to draw a duck, using
that peculiar method of ovals and squares art teachers find so attractive.
What I ended up with looked very little like any sort of waterfowl from this
world, which may explain my later infatuation with science fiction.
experience was, to be honest, more than a little embarrassing, and I spent many
years afterward looking at the art of sketching the way I viewed algebra or public
speaking, with fear and loathing.
Realizing that many of our most cherished
limitations tend to be self inflicted, when I returned to college after a
lengthy delay I studied public speaking, tackled algebra, and took a class that
involved sketching what I saw of plant specimens through a microscope.
sketches were more than good enough to get the job done, which surprised me.
I was less inclined to balk at the sketching requirement for some of the
Astronomical League clubs when I took up astronomy a few years later.
As I continue
to work my way through the Messier Club I find myself with quite acceptable
Acceptable, however, does not mean they are especially pretty, which
they certainly are not.
But they meet my needs and the AL requirements, and
for the most part dress up my log book in a pleasing way.
And the act of
sketching really does improve my ability to concentrate on an object and see
more of its subtle details.
So these sketches in my log get the job done.
the Cloudy Nights sketching forum, however, often leaves me feeling as though I
have come up short, back to scrawling mutant ducks while others are depicting
swans in flight.
Some of the sketches posted on the forum are, in a word, beautiful.
They get the job done, but on a different order of magnitude.
As I look at
these sketches I often wonder, "How in the world do they achieve such effects
with mere pencils?"
Now, four of these master sketchers have provided us with
Astronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step Introduction,
a tutorial in book form that reveals these secrets,
not the least of which is that they don't just
material covered in the book provides instructions for the sketching of a
variety of objects that might be observed by amateur astronomers.
chapter starts this out by teaching how to sketch features on the Moon, employing
two of the authors, Richard Handy and Erica Rix, who instruct us on basic
pencil and charcoal sketching, as well as more specialized techniques (pens,
and white chalk on black paper). These techniques, when mastered, can yield
striking and dramatic images of the lunar surface.
I must admit that of all
the observing I do, the idea of sketching lunar features intimidates me the
most, to the point that I just don't bother.
I finished reading the first
chapter, looked back over the illustrated steps (especially of the pencil and
charcoal techniques), and realized that I need to reconsider my position on the
The second chapter covers the sketching of comets.
Jeremy Perez uses
the need for subtlety in sketching such ethereal objects as a means for
teaching how to apply graphite to paper with a range of light touches, using
ideas and techniques that are echoed in other sections of the book.
where I learned what a versatile tool the blending stump can be, and
essential it is to properly render the ghostly glow of objects such as comets.
I had wondered what that funky paper stick was in the sketching kit I picked
up a while back.
(Unfortunately, this kit was put together on the assumption
that you knew how to sketch, and no instructions were provided.)
Rix takes over in chapter three with several tutorials on sketching solar
observations, covering both white light and hydrogen alpha observing
Whether you use a filter, solar projection, or a PST, you will
find a way in this chapter to render what you see into something more permanent
The tutorial for sketching the view through a hydrogen-alpha filter
provides especially striking images.
The baton is passed then to Sol Robbins,
who in chapter four walks the reader through the tools and techniques he
employs when sketching planets, notably Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.
not have occurred to me to use layers of graphite to depict surface features
until I read of it in the chapter on sketching planets.
He also provides templates
for drawing these planets (in the back of the book) that are sure to simplify
Jeremy Perez returns for chapters five and six to cover the
sketching of deep sky objects such as star clusters and nebulae, respectively.
Ever wonder how sketchers manage to make such nice, round dots with a pencil to
Or deal with stars plotted in the wrong place?
are here revealed, and the answers are so obvious it is almost embarrassing.
but not least, David Moody provides in chapter seven a tutorial on the
challenges of sketching the most distant objects routinely observed by amateur
astronomers, the galaxies.
His special emphasis is on practicing before
trying your hand at sketching a 'faint fuzzy' in the dark, employing Edwin
Hubble's famous 'tuning fork' to help the reader gain familiarity with a
variety of galaxy shapes.
each of these topics the reader is walked through concise, clearly written
instructions that are profusely illustrated with photographs of an author's
hand holding the pencil, blending stump, charcoal stick, or eraser needed to perform
These tools of the trade are listed and described at the start of
each tutorial, and tips are provided regarding their effective use.
tips and tricks are supplied when they are needed to accomplish a specific type
of sketch, and are not segregated into a general how-to-sketch chapter.
first I thought this might prove cumbersome, but reading the book through
proved that this was the best way to organize the material.
introduced to these tips and techniques in a context that best illustrates how
they are employed, the best possible illustration of the ideas involved.
of the ideas featured in a given section can also be employed under other
This is not a large book, and some
might be reluctant to buy it, given the price.
A quick look, however, will
show you what I mean about the degree to which this book is illustrated.
black and white photographs will quickly run up the price of a book, and these
photographs are reproduced which exceptionally high quality.
Neither text nor
photos alone would provide such effective instruction, but the prose combined
with those pictures makes it all very clear.
So, put the price in
When was the last time you bought a good eyepiece, brand new, for
If you have tried to sketch the view in the eyepiece and been
frustrated by the result, I believe you will find this book turns out to be an
investment that pays you back, in terms of satisfaction, at a rate comparable
to the best eyepiece you own.
Reading this book provided me with
a series of revelations, and the 'secrets' revealed (having nothing to do with
ovals, squares, or ducks) all seem do-able, a tribute to both the writing and
editing involved in producing this slim volume.
I found myself finishing the
book with the thought that I, too, could (with practice) upgrade my own
sketches to something like the work I've viewed so enviously on the forum.
Put a proper emphasis on the word 'practice.'
The authors certainly do.
Reading this book will not turn you into an artist.
the authors manage to make these techniques seem, you will need to set your
hand to them yourself to complete the learning experience.
This is true of
all things, of course, but most things in life don't come with such a handy
instruction book to get you started.