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2016 workshops, "bird cards" & make prints of your sketches using the sun!
T H E
CommNatural NEWSLETTER
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
January 2016
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
Temperatures here are swinging between sub-zero and warm enough to cross-country ski without a coat. 

When it's felt too cold to be outside lately, I've been browsing the web for ideas such as making prints of your sketches, why the fact that Darwin didn't think he could draw shouldn't stop you, and more.

I've also been thumbing through a handful of great sketching books I scored over the holidays. And, I had a merry time sketching desert creatures like tortoises and javalina, and coyotes.Finally, there's a new set of cards available - "Flock Together" - which features three of my favorite bird illustrations! 

This month's newsletter is a smorgasbord of all these goodies. I hope you'll find them as much fun as I have.

 

Happy sketching,

Contents
Click section title to jump to topic.
News & Art 

As always, please feel free to share* this newsletter with friends and colleagues...and your sketching adventures (and sketches) with me via email or social media.
 
 
Insight

I'm looking for some from you!

It's the new year, and instead of the popular
resolution to loose weight, I'm contemplating reducing
the word count on these newsletters, to make them
easier to digest  in one sitting. What do you think?
 
Which newsletter format do you prefer?
Click the green link to submit your choice.

1. Brief posts (say 1-2 sentences) and a link to the full content, so the newsletter itself is short and easy to skim.
2. Full-length posts within the newsletter, like it usually is. Even though that makes the newsletter fairly long, I prefer not having to click away from the newsletter.
 
Note: Please indicate your response within your email inbox. 
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Thanks for your feedback!
Sketching Tip: Make prints of a sketch
Cyanotypes are a vintage way of making reproductions that don't require anything more than water and sunlight (and the right paper). 
 
1. The basic idea: Place transparent or translucent objects on the paper (in the dark or a shaded place). Make sure these objects can't blow away (should be heavy, or held down somehow). Move the whole set up outside or place under a bright light.

2. The objects you chose block the light. All the rest of the paper is exposed to the light, which causes a chemical reaction in the light-sensitive emulsion covering the paper.

3. After about 5-15 minutes, depending on your light source, rinse the paper off in water to stop the reaction. As you rinse the paper, either in a tray of water or under running water, you'll see a remarkable transformation - all the areas exposed to the sun will turn a vivid blue, and the areas protected by your objects will be light blue-to-brilliant white.

How does this relate to sketching? Well, if you photocopy one of your sketches onto transparency paper, you can use your drawing itself as the object that blocks the sunlight. Follow the basic steps described above, and you'll wind up with vivid blue-and-white prints of your sketch!

The Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkley has been selling Sunprints Kits TM since 1975. They remain one of the most popular suppliers for easy-to-use cyanotype kits. And, purchasing your materials from them supports the science education research and curriculum development they do.
Artful Science: Darwin couldn't draw
 
Seriously. He said so himself . And he regretted it. 

"[Not being urged to practice dissection] has been an irremediable evil, as well as my incapacity to draw." -The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

It was Darwin's shipmate on the HMS Beagle, Conrad Martens, who made the sketches best known from that expedition (link). And, it wasn't until well after Darwin's famous voyage to the Galapagos that a publisher sent an artist back to that region with the express responsibility to illustrate Darwin's observations. Most publications from Darwin's era were similarly professionally illustrated, with many of the illustrations based on specimens he collected. However, these illustrations were not Darwin's own work.

Mind you, Darwin did occasionally sketch, as can be seen in a series of diagrams of "trees" - trees roughly indicating how organisms were related.  And, there are a few rough sketches of plant cross sections and geologic formations scattered through his myriad notebooks. But, these few sketches pale alongside the copious volumes of written notes and manuscripts he made.

Darwin maintained he couldn't draw. So he didn't. His colleagues are said to have bemoaned his lack of skills and reluctance to practice. Despite encouragement from luminary scientists of the day and the utility of his rare sketches (which are absolutely functional in terms of conveying information), Darwin restrained from using drawing as a regular tool in his work.

Darwin's dilemma is a cautionary tale. 

Imagine what we'd be able to "see" through his eyes if he had drawn more often. Seeing firsthand what someone else discovered or found compelling is really hard to do if we're limited to written descriptions. There is only so much one's word choice can do to conjure the same image in someone else's mind.

Drawing became an essential part of science way before Darwin, and it's one aspect of his legacy where we see that he "missed the boat" in a way we should aim to avoid ourselves. Evidently, I'm not taking too much liberty by saying so; he encouraged his children in the skill he himself lacked. About a year ago, some 57 pages of the Darwin children's doodles were found...on the back of the original manuscript for The Origin of Species! Even better, it is possible the children responsible for those colorful illustrations grew up to become a botanist, astronomer, and engineer, respectively. 
Artful Classrooms: Neat Curriculum
 Thanks to John Muir Laws, an accomplished bird artist and field journal instructor I've mentioned in previous newsletters, I've recently become aware of two great sources for engaging science curricula. 

The BEETLES project, a program of the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkley has produced copious amounts of curriculum based on extensive research into how people learn best (at all ages), how to incorporate science into other subject areas, and best practices for teaching science outside traditional classrooms. My favorite resource, though, is their Recommended Reading page, on which they've compiled a really exciting list.
 
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.
Sketchbook Snapshot
 






As part of my MFA thesis, I'm working on an art-science project about tortoises and hares and the ecoystems where the two coexist.
One of those places just happens to be the Sonoran Desert, just south of where my husband grew up. So, while we were in Arizona over the holidays, I snuck away from Phoenix for a few days, and headed south to Tucson and that tortoise-and-hare desert. 

I was fortunate to connect with a herpetology society that manages a sanctuary with lots of tortoises, a hare researcher studying the little-known Antelope jackrabbit - yes jackrabbits are technically hares! - some friendly folks who (legally) keep desert tortoises as pets, and the curator of a university vertebrate museum. 

Between all these contacts, I had great opportunities to sketch tortoises and hares (only specimens, not alive), ask lots of questions, and pick up recommendations for more people to contact and more books and articles to read. If you're interested, so far two of my favorite books about these species are a pair of monographs (pleasantly accessible and fun reading!): Hare by Simon Carnell and Tortoise by Peter Young. Both are fascinating cultural, ecological, and artistic histories of popular but generally not-well-known animals.
Artful Gifts
 
Resolution Idea: Write a couple of letters every month!


Need something to write on? Stock up on "Flock Together," my newest set of illustrated cards!


This collection features three elegant illustrations that span the difference between sketch and drawing. The colors are perfect for late-winter and the birds may help you welcome spring.

Collection contains 2 each of a great blue heron, a hairy woodpecker, and a flock of finches. All three are species common across most of North America.

Details: ($15/set+s&h); 6 cards/set; bulk discounts for orders of 24+ cards. Cards & envelopes printed in the USA on sustainably sourced paper. 
>>Click to order your cards!>>
Upcoming Events

1. Drawn to Creative Science seminar: invited talk for the University of Wyoming Zoology & Physiology Department; February 8, 12:00 pm in UW Berry Center 138 (10th and Lewis St.).

2. Drawn to Biodiversity nature sketching workshop: hosted by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute; Saturday, March 5, 8:00am - 5:00pm in UW Berry Center.

3. Drawn to Science: Using analog technology (art!) to teach and learn science: Hosted by University of Wyoming Elbogen Center for Teaching and Learning + the Outreach School; Wednesday, March 30; 12:00-1:30 p.m.

Looking for some training? 
If you'd like to schedule a public workshop, artist residency, or professional development training, let me know!
>>Click to view my complete calendar online!>>
News
 
Recent publications & new collaborations

My article, "Drawn to Caribou," was published in the Jan./Feb. issue of American Scientist magazine. It's about the art-enhanced research being done by a friend of mine in the Northwest Territories. 

In 2016, I'm collaborating with ecologists and artists on three awesome SciArt initiatives here in Wyoming:
  • A set of SciArt sessions which will be included in the Wyoming chapter of The Wildlife Society's annual conference;
  • The University of Wyoming Art Muesum's annual Summer Teaching Institute;
  • A SciArt symposium that will launch a year-long interdisciplinary initiative at the University of Wyoming.
I am also a co-organizer of two proposed #scicomm sessions for the 2016 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, and I was elected secretary of ESA's SciComm Chapter at the most recent meeting.

I'm pretty excited about how much I can learn, and contribute, to all these SciArt efforts!
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 by only 1)forwarding the entire email - without altering any content - or by sharing 2) a link to the newsletter or 3) 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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Copyright © 2016 Bethann G. Merkle (www.commnatural.com), All rights reserved.


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