from Bethann Garramon Merkle
April 2016
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
I leave for East Africa in five days! I can hardly believe this trip is happening! 

As I've mentioned in previous newsletters, I've been applying for grants to support the first international phase of my ecology storybook project: "Writing and Illustrating the Ecologically True Story of the Tortoise and the Hare." I am extremely grateful to the funders, researchers, and others who have made this trip possible (all listed on the project website).

In anticipation of this trip, I've been thinking about what kind of sketching and reading resources will be valuable in the field. I've come across a few items that I think you'll find useful, regardless of whether you're sketching in your backyard or in some far-flung locale. Hopefully, you'll let me know how you put them to work!


Meanwhile, happy sketching!

P.S. If you're planning to order greeting cards, sketching kits, or any other wonderful items for Mother's Day gifts (or for any other reason), Friday, April 29 is the last day I will be able to ship orders until June 1st.

Illustration: prairie dog
Brindled gnus - study sketch

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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.

Illustration: field sketches of desert tortoises"The most beautiful thing
we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source
of all true art and science."
-- Albert Einstein

Sketching Tip: Plan ahead
Though, perhaps, not as glamorous or inspiring as some sketching tips, planning ahead is essential for getting the kinds of results you want from sketching in the field. 

Illustration: watercolor gesture sketch of a feather

What I've been doing to get ready for this trip-of-a-lifetime can be useful prep for sketching in almost any location:
1. Organize sketching materials.
Go through your materials, and decide what you absolutely need to have along; the less you have to carry, the less you'll have to deal with in terms of weight. You have fewer distractions and choices when you need to focus on sketching quickly. And of course, the less you bring, the less you are likely to misplace.

In my case, I've been doing color mixing exercises, to figure out exactly which watercolors I was going to pack, and which I could leave home. I've also pared down my watercolor kit to a water brush and this great pocket-sized palette from expedition artist Maria Coryell-Martin.

2. Sketch from pictures, to get practice with common subjects.
Most of the time, I advocate drawing from real life if at all possible. But, there's no zoo nearby, so drawing from pictures and wildlife documentaries has given me a basic sense of how East African animals move, stand, etc. The study sketches I've done will give me a head start when I encounter the real thing.

See Jenny Keller's essay in Field Notes on Science and Nature for a lot more details about preparatory sketching. 

Note that drawings made from others' photos or videos shouldn't be used for anything other than your own training, because the images originated in someone else's creative work.
Artful Science: Drawing improves memory
A recently published study underscores the value of drawing what you want to remember.

Illustration: student disecting a fish"Importantly, the quality of the drawings people made did not seem to matter, suggesting that everyone could benefit from this memory strategy, regardless of their artistic talent. In line with this, we showed that people still gained a huge advantage in later memory, even when they had just 4 seconds to draw their picture," said Jeffrey Wammes, the study's lead author. 

Read a detailed summary of the paper

Of course, I'll be drawing like crazy on my trip, trying to capture details of the tortoises, hares, the landscape, and everything else I see.
Artful Classrooms: Facilitate Sketching
 Last month, I gave a mini-workshop about using drawing in science classes at the University of Wyoming. The facilitation tips I provided are relevant to sketchers of any age, from k12 to university and beyond.

Screen shot from my webpage about this project

The facilitation tips I shared are, when I stop to think about it, equally relevant to personal sketching work. Here are a few points to keep in mind when using sketching in the classroom or for your own purposes:
  • Shift the focus/assessment away from drawing skills; focus instead on learning and close observation.
  • Emphasize accuracy & depth of observation.
  • Draw frequently and informally, not just in high-stakes situations.
  • Provide explicitly clear rubrics when assessing drawings for a grade.
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

Testing out the pocket palette and my final color combos

Brindled gnu (formerly known as common wildebeest)


I've been reading a lot, and stocking up on reading materials for the trip.

Here is a list of the books I'm working through:
  • An Artist's Safari
  • A Small Piece of Africa & On a Kenya Ranch**
  • Dark Star Safari
  • Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna*
  • Green Hills of Africa
  • Laikipia - A Natural History Guide*
  • Out of Africa**
  • Striving for the Wind*
  • Swahili Phrasebook & Dictionary
  • The Promised Land*
  • The Shadow of the Sun
  • West with the Night
  • plus animal and bird guides & two more books by Kenyan authors that I will pick up in Nairobi
* = Kenyan author
** = author is/was Kenyan resident

Artful Gifts

Order by April 29 for May gifts (for yourself and others!)

As I mentioned above, I'll be away in May. So, this is your last chance to order for anything you want in May.

Regular order fulfillment will end April 29 and resume again June 1. 

Currently in stock:
  • Several card collections
  • Sketching kits
  • Artful gifts

>>Click to order your cards!>>
Upcoming Events

1. Science Initiative Summer Institute on Active Learning
hosted by the University of Wyoming Science Initiative 

I will be one of the instructors for this week-long professional development institute focused on active instruction in university-level science classes. If you are a UW faculty or graduate student, consider applying here.
June 8-12, 2016
University of Minnesota/University of Wyoming

2. Summer Teaching Instittue
hosted by University of Wyoming Art Museum
I will be one of the instructors for this week-long professional development institute focused on integrating science and art in k12 education. Contact the UW Art Museum directly to register.
July 25-29, 2016
Laramie WY

Looking for 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!>>

Writing Projects
Now Online!

As mentioned, I'm working on a writing and illustration project about the "ecologically true story of the tortoise and the hare."

I have also begun data collection for a project investigating how accurately Caldecott Medal-winning picture books represent key ecological principles children are supposed to learn in school. 


Summer Workshops
in Montana

I'm in the process of organizing a couple of workshops in Montana for this summer.

Hopefully, I'll soon be able to announce dates for a session in Helena and another in Great Falls. There's also a possibility of a joint workshop/art show in Missoula.

If you or someone you know is in any of those areas and might want to participate, let me know!
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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