Winter sketching, book recommendation & more!
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
April/May 2015
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
Spring has sprung!
In between spring snowstorms that dump feet of snow on my sprouting rhubarb, I've spotted sandhill cranes, meadowlarks, and bluebirds. 

Recently, I've been busy discussing how to sketch when you're a 'non-artist' with a host of scientists and science communicators. So, this newsletter is going to focus on doing just that.
This month: spring into sketching

Enjoy the tips and ideas in this month's newsletter. And, as always, please feel free to share your sketching adventures (and sketches) with me via email or social media.

Happy sketching!

  • Sketching tip: Starting simply
  • Artful Science: A fascinating SciArt collaboration
  • Artful Classrooms: A nature sketching curriculum
  • Sketchbook Snapshot: Mountain West springtime
  • News & Events

"A pencil is one of the best eyes." 
– preeminent naturalist ecologist
Louis Aggasiz (1807-1873)

<<Polyphemus moth observed in Saskatchewan.
Bonus/quiz: Test how much you know about the benefits of art in education.
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 if need be.

Please contact me directly if you'd
like to schedule an educational program.
Sketching Tip
Start simply.

I was recently interviewed by a scientist writing about how to sketch during conference presentations. Some of the tips I shared are broadly applicable.

1. Limited materials: Pack just one pen/pencil, some kind of unlined paper, and one or two colors. The less time you spend making choices re what tool to use, the more time you can spend drawing. Ballpoint & felt-tip pens are my personal favorites, and I like a sketchbook that fits in my bag.

2. Use color sparingly: Use only one color as an accent, or use two complimentary or contrasting colors (such as the yellow/purple combo above) for an elegant effect.
Upcoming Events
  1. Drawn to Natural History: full-day; Glacier National Park
  2. Drawn to Science teacher training: half-day; WY Dept. of Ed annual "Roadmap to STEM" conference 
  3. Communicating Science Vividly: half-day; Ecological Society of America annual conference
>>Click here for course details>>
Artful Science
The U-Cross
Cross-Pollination Experiment

During two weeks of unscripted "failure is impossible" collaboration, 8 University of Wyoming faculty inadvertently demonstrated why SciArt collaboration should be commonplace.

My favorite outcome: 
the emerging use of dance choreography symbols to quantify bee movement. This 'new-to-science' notation methodology may finally enable pollinator researchers to compare healthy bees with those affected by pesticides, a heretofore daunting and imprecise effort plagued by run-on sentences and dizzying high-speed videos.
Click here to view the collaborators presenting their work.

The Laramie Boomerang is the most recent outlet for my syndicated Drawn to the West column!

In Drawn to the West, I am aiming for a shared sense of discovery and exploration. Recent articles include "Taking a closer look at spring" and "Wild birds: to feed or not to feed?" 
Contact me about running Drawn to the West in your local paper!
Artful Classrooms

Sketching resource for teachers
The California Native Plant Society's free Nature Journaling Curriculum provides detailed-yet-simple instruction on for how to draw basic nature subjects such as flowers and birds. Also included:
  • How to assess sketches in ways that emphasize observation and learning vs. art skills.
  • Language arts and English-second-language student integration
  • Botany basics
  • Journal activities
Click here to download the curriculum.
Recent projects

Before I dove into #sciart & #scicomm, I was a serious foodie.

For years, I have pondered questions posed by vegetarian/vegan friends regarding my choice to not just eat meat, but play an active role in turning a living animal into a meal.

Here's my behind-the-scenes take on a photo essay I recently published in The Learned Pig that explores the complexities of eating meat.
Sketchbook Snapshot

We've been having lots of thunderstorms, and I was caught out on the prairie during one. By happy accident, the storm moved right around the pine-topped knoll where I was sketching flowers, and bore down on the town to the west of me. I couldn't resist capturing the effect of that dark curtain of clouds and rain as it obscured the valley from view.

I've been having a blast sketching in my garden, and out in the prairie just outside of town. Everywhere, plants are sprouting and flowering, and birds are back in full force.

Some of my favorite recent bird sightings include a flock of nearly 100 turkey vultures flying over our back yard, and the bluebirds and meadowlarks that have returned to the prairie.

<-- I wasn't quite quick enough to sketch this nuthatch while it investigated our woodpile and called loudly from the base of the adjacent pine tree. As you can see, sketching it from memory poses challenges, particularly with the bill shape.
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!
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Copyright © 2015 Bethann G. Merkle (, All rights reserved.

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