exploring the importance of downtime for creative thinking...
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
October 2016
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
Taking breaks and doing "other" activities are essential strategies for fostering your own work and creative thought.

Allowing ourselves to work and think outside of time is not just pleasurable, it's really important. A body of research indicates that arts activities are often key to science breakthroughs.

Drawing and writing are two ways that I manage to 'suspend' time. In both activities, my brain slips into a hyper-focused creative dimension in which I have no sense of time passing. Since I'm working on my thesis and illustrations for the tortoise and hare project, lately I've spent a lot of time thinking about this out-of-time approach to productivity.

So, this month's newsletter shares a few perspectives on why and how to engage in leisure and arts activities. 

Enjoy and happy thinking!

Illustration: snowy owl
Click section title to jump to topic.

As always, feel
free to share* this
newsletter with friends
and colleagues...and
share your sketches
(& sciart adventures)
with me via email
or social media.
Illustration: hummingbirdInsight

"My art practice and
science work really
inform and inspire
each other, so it's
literally cross-pollination,
where I couldn't do
one without the other."

-- Brandon Ballangée
scientist & artist
view website
 Hummingbird in
Desert Museum
aviary ---->
Sketching Tip: Reproducibility
Reproducible methods (and results) are a key part of rigorous science. And reproducing art has been part of doing art for centuries. 
Tape-transfer sticker; sketch on glass fragment
So this month's tip is a easy and cheap way to make reproductions of your own SciArt.

Make your own SciArt stickers!
You might recognize this as "packing tape transfers." I learned this method in an undergrad photography class, and still have the pieces I made using the technique.

Click here to view instructions on my blog.--> 
Artful Science: Creativity Research
There's a lot of research into creativity and critical thinking.  

What's particularly relevant are studies looking at how arts integration can influence, and often enhance, both creativity and critical thinking beyond the arts.

I'm highlighting four articles that speak to this point, but there are many others. Get in touch for more!

1. We can learn to think creatively.

Perhaps most importantly, we can train ourselves, and our students, to think creatively. Consider, for example a set of "4 strategies to develop skills in creative thinking and discuss underlying research and examples supporting each strategy." These strategies were investigated and reported by conservation researchers, who assert, "creativity is a learned trait, rather than an innate skill. It can be actively developed at both the individual and institutional levels..."

(Aslan et al, Conservation Biology, 2013; view article)

Click here to view the rest of the list on my blog. -->
Artful Classrooms: Necessary Leisure
 We need not apologize for doing "non-essential" things.
"...the most significant human achievements between Aristotle’s time and our own — our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough — originated in leisure..."

So says Maria Popova, author of the splendid Brain Pickings website/journal I've recommended before. In her essay "Leisure, the Basis of Culture," she provides a review/analysis/endorsement of the book of the same name, written in 1948 by German philosopher Josef Pieper.

Fascinatingly, a crux of the book is the etymology of 'leisure,'
which originally meant - in Greek and Latin - something akin to "free time for learning."

What I take from all this is that reading, writing, sketching, thumbing through cookbooks, puttering in the garden, or just sitting somewhere watching birds and clouds go by are an essential foundation to the creative thought I aim to contribute to the world. And, it's a worthwhile lesson to provide for our students. Just think!

Something to ponder:
How might providing down time, free time to let the mind and body wander, enhance student learning, and how can we facilitate that for them?
Incorporate sketching
into your k12, university, or
adult education program!

I am available for half- and full-day sessions or artist-in-residence
programs. I can teach or coach you in both drawing and drawing
facilitation, and I'm willing to help write grants to secure funding.

Please contact me directly if you'd
like to schedule an educational program.
Sketchbook Snapshot
I'm participating in a sketching initiative called #inktober.

The big idea is to make a sketch or drawing every day during the month of October. The catch - while under sketches can be in pencil, the main image should be done in ink. 


This sketch, of the negative space around a cottonwood leaf, was made using Quink, a funky type of ink. I explained Quink in more detail in the Sketchbook Snapshot section of  last month's newsletter.

This sketch was made by "painting" snowflakes freehand, using an art masking fluid. Once the fluid dried, I painted over the whole page with Quink. Once the ink dried, I could rub away the masking fluid, which dries to a texture sort of like rubber cement on something you can rub it off of.

*Right-click images to view larger, to see color variations in the Quink.
These are a few of the ink sketches* I've made recently. Note that I haven't been following the #inktober2016 prompt list.


This is a yucca seed pod and some of the hundreds of seeds that spilled out of it. I took some creative liberties with the colors of the seeds - they are actually much less colorful, but I was experimenting with Quink and drawing ink.

Another Quink sketch, in this image, I painted in
the leaf's shadow, but didn't draw the leaf itself.
It's a sort of hybrid trompe-l'oiel, I suppose.

Artful Gifts


Sketching materials

If it's not wholly obvious, a goal of this edition of the newsletter is to get you to consider sketching or doing some kind of art practice... and/or to facilitate such practice for your students.

And, using quality materials makes sketching a little bit easier.

That's because these materials are designed to produce visually appealing drawings. 

The art-quality kits I stock include the materials I find most useful for field sketching, or for packing around on a daily basis. 

If you have questions, get in touch! I'm happy to chat about what materials best suit your needs. 

We can discuss personal or professional use, bulk orders for classroom use, as well as reference books you might also appreciate.

>>Click to order yours!>>
Upcoming Events

Drawing a lion
Drawn to Wildlife: 
A Sketching for Scientists workshop
November 17, 2016
Cody, Wyoming

This hands-on workshop for wildlife biologists will take place during The Wildlife Society's Wyoming chapter annual meeting.

Participants will be be introduced to a suite of foundational sketching techniques, and will include discussion of materials and strategies useful for field sketching and incorporating drawing into research practices. Click here for complete details.

Looking for training? 
If you'd like to schedule a public workshop, artist residency, or professional development training, let me know!

>>Click to view calendar online!>>

SciArt for Children!
For almost a year now, I've been contributing natural history and science illustration+text to a gorgeous children's magazine called root & star.

My pieces have provided artful science-based exposure to fur, fish nests, chicken language, and coming soon, things that live in/under snow!

In the next year, I'll focus on natural history collections, raccoon "hands," horses, magpies, and the wind.

I'm telling you about root & star because: 
I think it's a phenomenal way to engage children in artful thinking and exploration. I love the magazine and love being part of it. There's no monetary benefit to me if you subscribe, or pick up a copy at one of the retailers now stocking it. But, that's fine -- I only hope you'll find it wonderful, too!
Can't get enough?
Here are two easy options:

1.Enhance your drawing & observation skills, or to learn to draw!
Check out my calendar for upcoming courses and workshops, or feel free to contact me about scheduling one!
2. Subscribe to my blog.
Get in-depth articles and tips on artful science, natural history observation, and science communication. Click here to get detailed explanations of how to incorporate drawing into your research and classroom, along with lots of helpful ideas for enhancing your own drawing skills. 
Find something helpful?
Feel free to share!*

I'm absolutely thrilled when you like material in this newsletter well enough to share. Please respect my intellectual copy rights, and those of contributors, by only:
  1. forwarding the entire email without altering any content;
  2. or by sharing a link to the newsletter links to specific content within the newsletter.
Thanks for not copying and sharing any of the text or images, especially without attribution! 

If you have any questions about sharing or reproduction, let me know!
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