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1000th Post: Flame Nebula Jan 18,2009

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#1 varmint

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 05:08 PM

Hello fellow sketchers.

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 it’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
Transparency ~3-4/5
Approximate NELM at Zenith: ~5.0 (based on rough starfield sketch of zenith followed by review of stars in Stellarium)

Posted Image

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 :grin:. 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 “under the hood” to get dark adapted to see it averted, but it’s kind of cool how it “melts” into view. See eye floaters now too, that’s a first.

Can see characteristic “Christmas Tree” shape, notice almost four “branches” or humps on the “right” side (This is actually EAST side), can only see two, maybe three “branches” or humps on the “left” side. The dark lane between them is actually a bit dimmer than the sky background..that’s cool, it’s a dark nebula itself right? The lowest of the “branches” are the brightest and the top branch on each side are actually the apex of the “tree shape.” The lowest “right” one (EAST) is actually a touch brighter than the “left” one, but the “left” one has a star at the “curve” between “branch and trunk.” The trunk also has a an interesting shape, it has a ledge that juts to the “right” pointing in the same direction as the “second branch.” The “left” 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 there’s a “glow shadow” or reflection glow at that side of the FOV which I know is from Alnitak…almost like a light pollution dome. :shocked:

Attempted to go for Horsehead for kicks, conditions are much worse than last night and couldn’t even see the faint “streak” of the emission nebula it covers like last night, though I could just be imagining things since I’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 must’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 I’m looking down on a Shadow Vessel from Babylon5… :p


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 “cement” 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 “re-do” 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 “dimness” 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 couldn’t keep the nebula from being barely visible, the graphite on sketch paper had too much contrast. Then I thought, “sheesh, I should do this on grey paper, too bad we don’t have any.” That’s when I thought, why not try and start with the FOV already biased “bright” with a light grey shading… 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 it’s not perfect or masterful, nor does it look quite right photographed than in person, I’m pretty pleased with my attempt.

A few mistakes that I’ll learn from on this: Don’t use a napkin to lightly brush away erasings, I accidentally smeared the entire FOV..ooops, Don’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 it’s “darker” 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. Don’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 it’s way to passing Alnitak!! :scared: )

A couple of techniques that I learned: circular motions while using a blending stump do a lot to keep the blend uniform and not “streaky” or directional. Using a “clean” blending stump is good at “erasing” or “muting” an accidental darkening to a point. Blending stumps RULE! :p Everyone one should get one, they’re cheap too, but a wadded/folded napkin could work in a pinch (though they’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 “do’s and don’ts” are in the Astronomical Sketching book that I read, and I agree they’re all there. I just find it’s one thing to “read” a technique, and then another to apply it. I think I’m just trying to say “wow, I get it now!! Thanks!” :smirk:

Hope you like it, and feel free to critique it as harshly as you like, I’m here to learn! :cool:

#2 markseibold

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 05:48 PM

Hello fellow sketchers.

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.

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 “cement” 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 “re-do” 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 “dimness” 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 couldn’t keep the nebula from being barely visible, the graphite on sketch paper had too much contrast. Then I thought, “sheesh, I should do this on grey paper, too bad we don’t have any.”
<snip>
A few mistakes that I’ll learn from on this: Don’t use a napkin to lightly brush away erasings, I accidentally smeared the entire FOV..ooops, Don’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 it’s “darker” 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. Don’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 it’s way to passing Alnitak!! :scared: )

A couple of techniques that I learned: circular motions while using a blending stump do a lot to keep the blend uniform and not “streaky” or directional. Using a “clean” blending stump is good at “erasing” or “muting” an accidental darkening to a point. Blending stumps RULE! :p Everyone one should get one, they’re cheap too, but a wadded/folded napkin could work in a pinch (though they’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 “do’s and don’ts” are in the Astronomical Sketching book that I read, and I agree they’re all there. I just find it’s one thing to “read” a technique, and then another to apply it. I think I’m just trying to say “wow, I get it now!! Thanks!” :smirk:

Hope you like it, and feel free to critique it as harshly as you like, I’m here to learn! :cool:


Wow and congrats to you Varmint on your thousandth!

What an observation and sketch story! :bow: :bow: :bow: It is as if you just retold my entire life from sketching as a child. I have not seen anyone new to sketching immerse themselves with such fast and furious fervent! This is the enthusiasm and desire that the art world needs right now. More people that discover the beauty of what this process does to the total experience of observing and really ['seeing']. You should enter this sketch and all of the text with it to the monthly contest before closing for entries tonight at midnight.

I just wanted to also comment on materials as i believe you live in Pacifica? Isn't that a few miles south of San Francisco? Are you aware that that city has huge art supply stores for serious artists? I did not want to sound so obvious or insult here but you should consider going to a real art store and see the plethora of materials. You mention that you wished you had grey paper.

I think you want to grab a 9" X 12" tablet form of [black] Strathmore Artagain paper and try a few white tones of pastel chalk or pastel chalk pencils wrapped in wood (They appear as simple old fashioned wood pencils but with many tones and colors of pastel chalk as the medium. (DO NOT try to sharpen them in electric pencil sharpeners or even the old fashioned hand turned sharpeners as the chalk (appears like white pencil lead) will crack. THey come presharpened but will require that you whittle away the wood carefully with an exacto knife or similar single edhed razor (Be careful and take your time.) Then after careful rough shaping the pastel [lead] use the sandpaper multiple strip pads that are offered in art stores for a buck to finely sharpen as needed. I also commend you on your experimentation and resourcefulness of paper napkins. I do the same at times but prefer the recycled napkins from Starbucks that are not acid bleached. Real artists become experts at economizing and compromise in a world of overpriced and overproduced products. Also cotton swabs and Q-tips for fine blending. I finally bought the blending stumps recently.

It sounds like you will really enjoy sketching Deep Sky Objects on black paper with white chalks, conte crayons or white colored pencil.

I envey that you can see the flame. I never tried hard enough to mask Alnitak when I observed the Orion region from my dark sky home of nearly 30 years. :foreheadslap: :tonofbricks:

Now your having me inspired like never before but I live in the inner-city

Thanks for sharing this inspiring post for others to take note to and to learn to sketch more, thus learn to see more.
:bow:
Mark
My CN Gallery

#3 Jeremy Perez

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 01:25 AM

I've got to echo what Mark said: Wow!

Jim, that's a great sketch and and outstanding report. I really enjoyed hearing how you experienced and adjusted to some of the glitches that arose during the sketching process. I also got a smile at how you described the Orion nebula as a shadow vessel. I completely agree! Here's a bit of what I wrote when I made my first sketch of it:

...One common comparison is that it looks like a bird, but the way the 'wings' of the nebula are swept back reminded me more of: A) a Shadow Vessel from Babylon-5, B) a face hugger from Alien, C) a brine shrimp. Heh. Man that's not flattering for such a beautiful nebula....

I hope you keep those sketches and reports coming!

#4 frank5817

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 03:10 AM

Varmint,

Excellent sketch and very nice description of what you were doing and thinking as you adjusted to make this sketch a big success. :bow: :cool: Congratulations. I think you are now hooked.

Frank :)

#5 JayinUT

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 09:55 AM

Jim, tremendous sketch and very insightful sketch. Thanks for sharing it as it provides insights that I find very helpful. Congrats on your 1000th post!

#6 varmint

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 12:38 PM

Thanks Mark,

Yeah, my comment about the "Grey Paper" was a spontaneous reaction when working on the "redo." I wanted to show how my stream of consciousness lead me to think about using the blending stump to fill in the FOV so I had a bias to work off of in order to achieve my goal of depicting how "faint" the nebula really is under my conditions.

But, the photo seems to enhance the contrast too much, no matter how I expose it, so it's a little difficult to see the color difference between the FOV and the bare paper just beside it. In person there's a big difference and I got close to the affect I was looking for with the sketch.

I will, at some point, head to an Art Store and pickup more supplies, at the moment I think I have what I need to practice my techniques.

#7 varmint

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 12:49 PM

I also got a smile at how you described the Orion nebula as a shadow vessel. I completely agree! Here's a bit of what I wrote when I made my first sketch of it:

...One common comparison is that it looks like a bird, but the way the 'wings' of the nebula are swept back reminded me more of: A) a Shadow Vessel from Babylon-5, B) a face hugger from Alien, C) a brine shrimp. Heh. Man that's not flattering for such a beautiful nebula....

I hope you keep those sketches and reports coming!


Thanks Jeremy, I hadn't thought about a Facehugger (it's been awhile since I saw Alien or Aliens :lol:).

I got a little concerned the length of the report would be difficult for folks to get through, but I try to be very detailed when in the field. I tend to quickly forget details if I don't record them in some fashion.

I'm actually now waiting for some planning software (group purchase and waiting for all the checks to clear) so I can keep this a little more organized.

Next up, I'll take my best photo and learn how to invert it in Photoshop and adjust it...

#8 varmint

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 12:50 PM

Varmint,

Excellent sketch and very nice description of what you were doing and thinking as you adjusted to make this sketch a big success. :bow: :cool: Congratulations. I think you are now hooked.

Frank :)


Thanks Frank, I was hooked when I did that sketch of the moon a few weeks ago, but I've been fighting colds and work to get time to sketch or practice.

#9 varmint

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 12:52 PM

Thanks Jay, I try to detail my approaches in hopes they may help others, or spur discussions about how to improve my techniques.

#10 rodelaet

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 02:28 PM

Jim,

Nice story. I like it, and it shows how an evening at the eyepiece can turn into a fine sketch.
You learned a lot of things and I hope you had fun doing so.
It is not the easiest target to draw, so don't be so hard on yourself. Keep on sketching and posting, you're doing a very fine job!

#11 markseibold

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 02:42 PM

Varmint

I do not mean to stray here or go off on tangents but I believe that those of us who become so engrossed with this process should be teaching it. Could you tell us that this is not your very first sketching experience in life? I ask because now you must realize that if it is, what were you waiting for in this experience to discover for all these years? Imagine that those who would just rather say, that they can only draw stick people, are missing something deeply profound here. They need to learn and they will eventually. But you have the right approach to get people going!

I wanted to address what you said about color yet you are referring to only a black and white sketch. I know you are addressing the Flame Nebula here. I cannot wait to see your treatment of M42! You'll probably write book on it and with your enthusiasm it will be published and on the local shelves in a month or so! :cool:

You are aware of course that M42 does exhibit much in color if one gets away from city light pollution and to observe M42 through at least an 8 or 10 inch reflector from that dark location. These colors are very subtle and many who observe the nebula at first from dark skies may be overwhelmed by the amazing abundance of overlays of many apparent and familiar lines and images that we tend to attach our minds eyes to. But do try to keep in mind that there is an overall bright greenish tint to many parts of the nebula and yes, even some noticeable red. You will be surprized as to what you can render on Strathmore black Artagain paper and with colored pastels if you should decide to try them. The images that one can create with these mediums can be very life-like. The subtleties cannot be duplicated in the computer screen or camera image as they always turn out as contrasted and a loss of the subtleties. It is simply not the same process as seeng the real sketch live which as you know is not the same process as a photograph of that art.
Each step changes the image if only slightly from its previous one yet the eye knows this in the end.

It took me years till one night that I accidentally noticed the dark brick red or almost colorless maroon edges at the outer cusps or wings as some describe them. It can stun you when you first see it. I would guess that there must be enough light from the brighter parts of nebula to trigger the cone cells of our retina to show some color. I had to run into the house and get my wife to come out to look some years ago. I don’t think her eyes were dark adapted and she said that I was just probably seeing things. Well of course I was! When I made this image in color pastels (below) from my home last year, my dark observing site of twenty years, I may have contrasted the rendering as an exaggeration to show these colored regions for the purpose of illustration. I would redo it now as less contrasted and more subtle. The second image I did recently from where I live now at about 7 miles from downtown Portland to show the diminished image due to terrible light pollution. I'll try to repost these images again in the appropriate thread and show a photograph of the area at night to display the problem of light pollution as I would like to display this for the discussions of why proactive participation in campaigning against this malady is important to observational astronomy and education. -Mark

PS: I do not know if I could come up with a seminal description of what I think I see in the many layers of this nebula. At first we see it as static and still and unchanging yet to me it looks alive. Symbiotic, visceral or internal biological are the words that come to mind as I heard people in the street describe the sun through the h-alpha filtered telescopes that I allowed people view through. Many women said that the sun appeared like something from the womb. I know that we are literally connected to the sun but even with M42, I feel that we are somehow connected to it as an all reaching astro-biological organism and with everything in the universe for that matter. I feel at times that we are one with it all; a Zen-like understanding perhaps; a deep vessel or tunnel of passage to somewhere yet unknown. And then there are descriptions of it that I could not really share in a public forum as it is beyond words for me. You can only imagine. That is all I will say for now.


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#12 varmint

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Posted 10 February 2009 - 12:25 AM

Next up, I'll take my best photo and learn how to invert it in Photoshop and adjust it...


Ok, following up on my promise here. I think I doctored it a little "too" much in Photoshop, and the nebula still sticks out a little too much from what I recall, but I think the overall presentation of the stars came out about right.

I was probably a little too obsessive with the Clone Stamper tool to get the sky-background, but I thought this was a good enough example to show you.

This also almost felt like too much alteration, but I haven't figured out where I stand regarding my preference for digital sketching vs. non-digital sketching.

It was a fun exercise though.

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