This is my 1000th post here on CN and I wanted to make it a special one, so I hope I have, as it marks a couple of milestones for me.
I know itâ€™s been awhile since I posted any of my attempts at anything, but I am pretty pleased with a couple of experiments I tried out with this one. I hope you enjoy my rendition of the Flame Nebula.
I finally went out and got a beginner artist sketch kit from a local shop that had an arts supply section. So now I have a couple of erasers, an eraser shield, a variety of charcoal pencils, graphite pencils and pastels, as well as a few blending stumps. And now I have new things to play with and new techniques to try out.
Here are the observing details:
Date: Jan 18th, 2009, 10:50pm PST Start ~11:45pm PST end.
C9.25 with 17mm Nagler, approximately 130x mag, 0.6 deg TFOV.
Seeing ~ 4/10 on Pickering Scale
Approximate NELM at Zenith: ~5.0 (based on rough starfield sketch of zenith followed by review of stars in Stellarium)
Larger image can be viewed here.
Here are my observing notes, written up when I came inside:
Sky background is a little bit bright, last night was better and Flame was more obvious. Flame is not direct vision, but dark adapted averted vision. Too bad the neighbors keep turning on their bathroom light, but hoodies work well . Focused on star placement, used recommendation to turn of tracking motors to determine E/W direction via star drift. Used Naked Eye and 80ED to determine which way N/S should be, but the reversals between the two still confuse me and I might have reversed directions. Used redlight headlamp with three layers of masking tape to diffuse and dim the light, keep it in pocket and only bring out to place pencil for raw sketch. Bummer is I have to stare 10-15 min â€œunder the hoodâ€ to get dark adapted to see it averted, but itâ€™s kind of cool how it â€œmeltsâ€ into view. See eye floaters now too, thatâ€™s a first.
Can see characteristic â€œChristmas Treeâ€ shape, notice almost four â€œbranchesâ€ or humps on the â€œrightâ€ side (This is actually EAST side), can only see two, maybe three â€œbranchesâ€ or humps on the â€œleftâ€ side. The dark lane between them is actually a bit dimmer than the sky background..thatâ€™s cool, itâ€™s a dark nebula itself right? The lowest of the â€œbranchesâ€ are the brightest and the top branch on each side are actually the apex of the â€œtree shape.â€ The lowest â€œrightâ€ one (EAST) is actually a touch brighter than the â€œleftâ€ one, but the â€œleftâ€ one has a star at the â€œcurveâ€ between â€œbranch and trunk.â€ The trunk also has a an interesting shape, it has a ledge that juts to the â€œrightâ€ pointing in the same direction as the â€œsecond branch.â€ The â€œleftâ€ edge of the trunk extends deep into the nebula but diffuses about the second star of the right triangle pattern on the raw sketch.
Keeping Alnitak outside the FOV, too much glare causes me to look directly at it and lose all contrast with Flame and sky background. Curiously thereâ€™s a â€œglow shadowâ€ or reflection glow at that side of the FOV which I know is from Alnitakâ€¦almost like a light pollution dome.
Attempted to go for Horsehead for kicks, conditions are much worse than last night and couldnâ€™t even see the faint â€œstreakâ€ of the emission nebula it covers like last night, though I could just be imagining things since Iâ€™ve stared at photos of this object a ton.
Swung down to M42, wow is it bright after staring at the Flame for so long. Seeing mustâ€™ve settled as I can see E component direct vision and F component with averted, it wavers in and out with direct vision. This time I actually see some mottling and structure to the Orion Nebula, no color though. It still looks like Iâ€™m looking down on a Shadow Vessel from Babylon5â€¦
Here is what I did to generate this sketch. My raw sketch focused on star placement and relative magnitude of the stars, and I exaggerated the features I described above so I could â€œcementâ€ the image in my head a little better, though it was much much darker in the raw sketch than in reality. So I decided that I would â€œre-doâ€ the sketch inside and try to recreate it from memory, the raw sketch, plus the notes.
I really wanted to try and keep the relative â€œdimnessâ€ of the object as close to reality as I could, yet still make it obvious enough as to what I saw. This was quite challenging. I figured that I would take my pencil sketch, take a photo and then throw it in photoshop and figure out how to invert it so the stars are white the background is black/grey and the nebula a slightly brighter grey. This got challenging as I couldnâ€™t keep the nebula from being barely visible, the graphite on sketch paper had too much contrast. Then I thought, â€œsheesh, I should do this on grey paper, too bad we donâ€™t have any.â€ Thatâ€™s when I thought, why not try and start with the FOV already biased â€œbrightâ€ with a light grey shadingâ€¦ So I used the blending stumps to try and put a bland flat grey background, then build up the stars on top of it and have the nebula layer ontop of that.
The image above is the end result, and though itâ€™s not perfect or masterful, nor does it look quite right photographed than in person, Iâ€™m pretty pleased with my attempt.
A few mistakes that Iâ€™ll learn from on this: Donâ€™t use a napkin to lightly brush away erasings, I accidentally smeared the entire FOV..ooops, Donâ€™t use a soft dark graphite pencil to trace the FOV outline, the blending stump is EXTREMELY good at picking up this material and spreading it around, you can see that at the edges of the FOV itâ€™s â€œdarkerâ€ because of this. Creating a grey flat background is hard, and I spent a lot of time trying to keep it uniform. Using a grey paper would probably have been better. Donâ€™t darken the stars too much when using a stump as the same effect as the edge will occur (look I have a faint comet on itâ€™s way to passing Alnitak!! )
A couple of techniques that I learned: circular motions while using a blending stump do a lot to keep the blend uniform and not â€œstreakyâ€ or directional. Using a â€œcleanâ€ blending stump is good at â€œerasingâ€ or â€œmutingâ€ an accidental darkening to a point. Blending stumps RULE! Everyone one should get one, theyâ€™re cheap too, but a wadded/folded napkin could work in a pinch (though theyâ€™re not acid free I suppose so that could reduce the longevity of a sketch?).
Now I know you are going to tell me all these â€œdoâ€™s and donâ€™tsâ€ are in the Astronomical Sketching book that I read, and I agree theyâ€™re all there. I just find itâ€™s one thing to â€œreadâ€ a technique, and then another to apply it. I think Iâ€™m just trying to say â€œwow, I get it now!! Thanks!â€
Hope you like it, and feel free to critique it as harshly as you like, Iâ€™m here to learn!