Cloud sketching, sketch noting, and more!
Click to view this email online.
© 2015, all rights reserved
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
July 2015
Collage header illustration_chickadees, potatoes, an iris, a girl doing science, great blue herons, and a polyphemous moth
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
High summer in the Rockies

This summer is filling up with drawing, nature sketching and SciArt courses, and catching up with friends and family. As I write this, I can hear a late afternoon breeze jitterbugging with aspen leaves while my puppy mutters at robins overhead.

This tranquil weather is just the thing for looking up and sketching what's overhead. That's why this month's tip focuses on clouds – a challenge my Glacier National Park workshop students were grappling with just a few weeks ago. Scroll down for details on how to get your head around the clouds you're watching float by!

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

Happy sketching!

  • Sketching tip: Drawing clouds
  • Artful Science:  Scientists on professional benefits of drawing skills
  • Artful Classrooms: Visual note-taking 
  • Sketchbook Snapshot: Montana & Alberta road trips
  • News & Events: Subscriptions now available for Drawn to the West!
Sparrows scavenging for crumbs_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2009

“To draw something accurately, you
must observe it very carefully. The
very act of drawing invites discovery,”

- Kendal Morris, science
illustrator and instructor

<<Observations made while sketching rabbit in my yard.
Incorporate sketching
into your k12, university, or
adult education program!

I am available for half- and full-day sessions as well as longer 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
Sketching Clouds
In my home state, the "Big Sky" country is no exaggeration. A few pointers make rendering all those clouds plenty of fun.
1. Shapes & Shadows: Clouds tend to be tallest/fluffiest at the top/top layers; mid-height clouds start to flatten out, and clouds near the horizon are flattest. Clouds have shadows at the bottoms and shadow masses within (squint to spot).
2. Types: Knowing basic cloud types makes seeing and sketching cloud shapes much easier. Try this cloud ID key and this top 10 cloud types chart.
3. Learn from others: "Study" cloud drawings and paintings for mark-making and color ideas. Ex: this cloud chart; Van Gogh; Da Vinci.
4. Books* with cloud-drawing info: 
First Steps:Sketching and DrawingSketching in Nature; Nature JournalFundamentals of Drawing Landscapes.
Upcoming Events
Photo of Bethann sketching outdoors_Photo by Jerod Andrew Merkle, copyright 2013
Drawn to Science teacher training: 1/2 day; hosted by the WY Dept. of Ed "Roadmap to STEM" conference; August 5 in Sheridan, WY

NEW! Drawn to Biodiversity: two evenings; Hosted by the Biodiversity Institute; August 6 & 7 in Laramie, WY

Communicating Science Vividly: 1/2 day; Hosted by the SciComm Section of the Ecological Society of America, at their annual conference; August 9 in Baltimore, MD

Don't see anything in your area? Contact me!
>>Click here for details about all three of these courses.>>
Artful Science

Value of Sketching
for Scientists

In prep for a op-ed and an article I recently turned in to American Scientist (about a scientist-artist!), I spent much of the past month reading research and articles about the role drawing plays in modern science.

Here are some of the stand-outs:
1. "The Art and Craft of Science"(link), "For the sake of science, the arts deserve support,"(link) and much more by Robert Root-Bernstein

2. Essays by Jenny Keller and Jonathan Kingdon in the book Field Notes on Nature and Science (link)

3. Scientists as artists - extending the tools of observation (link)

4. Drawing sketches & creating concept diagrams to communicate science (link)
An op-ed I wrote about why scientists (even nonartists) should draw, is live at

In February, I collaborated with researcher Natalie Sopinka (@phishdoc) on this piece about nest-building fish. A few weeks ago, she interviewed me for this article about sketching as a way of taking notes at science conferences!

Two of my photographs were published in the July-August issue of Montana Outdoors magazine!
Artful Classrooms
Visual Note-Taking
Visual note-taking (VNT) can enliven and enrich class, meeting, and conference notes. 

In a recent VNT course I led for school kids up in Alberta, we covered techniques applicable for any age group:

1. Creating a set of "fonts" with your handwriting
2. Using shapes as frames to enhance page design
3. Using only 1 or 2 colors for visual impact (and speed)

Want more?
Come to my Drawn to Science workshop at the WY Dept. of Ed's STEM conference or check out my tips from an interview I recently gave.
Subscribe to Drawn to the West today!
For too long, only readers of newspapers that syndicate Drawn to the West were able to read the column. That problem is history!
Now, you can subscribe directly.
No more waiting to see when your local paper will pick up the column. Starting this week, you can receive the column in your inbox!  Premium annual subscriptions also inclue a monthly email round-up and a free print of the year's most popular illustration.
>>Click here to subscribe via PayPal!>>
Recent columns:
Sketchbook Snapshot
Montana & Alberta at a glance

(2) (3)


I headed north in late June, bound for Glacier National Park. There, twinflowers(2) were in prolific bloom, and hordes of tent caterpillars rained down on the enthusiastic nature sketchers who joined me for a full-day field journaling workshop.

Then, my mom and I carried on across the border, where we took a good look at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
(4). This world heritage site in the Old Man River valley(1) is a striking museum/interpretive center nestled into the cliffs of the world's most intact buffalo jump.

Inadvertently, my voyage sustained a bison theme...on my way south again, my husband and I meandered through Yellowstone National Park. We made a bit of a detour to reach Hayden Valley, where the park's bison rut is gearing up.
(3) Having worked as a field tech on my husband's bison study a few years ago, I was delighted to have another opportunity to sketch this charismatic species.

Later, to catch our breath, fill our bellies, and soak in the vistas of Grand Teton National Park, we stopped for lunch atop Signal Peak. While my husband and our puppy dozed, I sketched(5) the Jackson Hole valley's intermittent thunderstorms.
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!
Google Plus
Copyright © 2015 Bethann G. Merkle (, All rights reserved. All images and content by Bethann G. Merkle unless noted otherwise. 
*Occasionally, I include affiliate links to products or books that I think are of particular interest to a #sciart audience. Your purchases via these affiliate links support this newsletter (when the pennies add up, that is).