When words trump, inspire, and facilitate sketching
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
May 2016
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
For most of May, I was abroad, working on the first international phase of my ecology storybook project:"Writing and Illustrating the Ecologically True Story of the Tortoise and the Hare." 

With all the scenes and smells and encounters of this trip still fresh in my mind, I've been thumbing back through my sketchbooks. 

I realize, I had a hard time deciding when to sketch and when to take notes. So, this month's newsletter follows that theme: when words trump, inspire, and facilitate sketching.

Enjoy and happy sketching!

Illustration: prairie dog

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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"There's so much of everything! All of it
inextricably tangled
together [...] To describe
is to select - and to select
only a microscopic sample
from this overwhelming profusion [...] Observer and observed are inseparably bound up together."
-- Michael Frayan in
Travels with a Typewriter
A blue monkey and I observe each
other at an animal rehab center.
(Nanyuki, Kenya)
Sketching Tip: Words worth
Not all sketching plans go according to plan, and then wordsIllustration: hare sketches
can play a critical role. 

As I mentioned earlier, I did a lot of prep for my trip to East Africa. But of course, all kinds of situations arise which planning can't anticipate.
In my case, half the animal duo I was looking for - hares - proved highly difficult subjects to find and observe, let alone photograph or sketch. Primarily, my conundrum relates to the hares, where I was, being most active at night. As a result, I resorted to writing. 

Capitalize on words to augment sketching. 

Particularly when intensive observation and sketching aren't feasible, capturing your impressions on an audio recorder or in a notebook can help you bring that experience to life later.

In my case, I will rely on notes hastily scribbled while hares were in view (or dashing off). For example, while I never managed to get a series of sketches of hares in motion, my notes remind me the hares in Kenya resemble foxes in both their posture and gait. 
Artful Science: SciArt in Words
Not all SciArt inspiration must come from the visual arts.
Illustration: student disecting a fishAt the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories, a Poetry and Science Symposium brings together poets and scientists in an academic-quarter format that is producing really neat results. As an article on notes, "The heart of the task for scientists and poets isn't to solve a problem, necessarily, but to ask a really interesting question."      
Waterbuck in  Aberdere Nat'l Park, Kenya
Dr. Natalie Sopinka writes "aquatic-inspired poetry" as one of the many ways she digs deep into creative ways of communicating about science. On that note, she's written a thought-provoking response to the question "How does creativity fit into science?" and gives compelling keynotes on the same subject. (Disclosure: Natalie and I enjoy and on-going collaboration related to science & creativity).

In 2012, American Scientist reviewed a set of poetry and essay collections that look like they'd still make great reading.

The American Poetry Foundation has an article entitled "Ten Poems to Get You Through Science Class This Year" that provides synopses of several poems that could enhance science class (not just make it bearable).

Alison Hawthorn Deming's essay "Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide," published in Creative Nonfiction, is thoughtful and widely-roving, and Ruth Padel has a complementary take on this topic with "The Science of Poetry, The Poetry of Science," published by The Guardian. Paul Collins, in The New Scientist, offers a look at "Rhyme and Reason: The Victorian Poet Scientists," and Pireeni Sundaralingam, in World Literature Today, asks, "Science and Poetry: Predation or Symbiosis?"
Artful Classrooms: Active Learning
I'm re-thinking how I teach drawing. 

Illustration: student disecting a fish
I've been reading about active learning methods and philosophies, in preparation for the University of Wyoming Science Initiative teaching institute/mentor program to which I'm contributing in June. As a result of some of the material the institute organizers have compiled, I'm re-thinking my standard approach for answering "how to draw ______" questions, and will be working some of the following writing and reflection ideas into future trainings.

These activities can enhance awareness of motives, hang-ups, and opportunities related to drawing (for yourself and your students):
  • Self-reflection: Pre/post-session descriptions of your strengths and challenges, as well as reflection on why you want to enhance your drawing skills.
  • On-demand Content/Problem-based Learning: I see the efficacy of this approach in the "free sketching" periods of my trainings, when students focus on their own interests, and return with questions they think are specific to their own sketching situation, and then discover that many of their peers are striving to solve the same depiction challenge.
  • Process as End Goal: Perceive/experience content and skills as a way to build thinking/problem-solving capacity, not merely as an end in itself.
  • Integrate Research into Personal Mindset: Interpret results of SciArt research, such as many of the studies highlighted in past editions of this newsletter, and then reflect on how to apply the findings to your own work.
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

Cape buffalo at mineral lick 

Thousands of moths carpeted windows & patios one a.m.


Suni (mini antelope, even smaller than a dikdik)

Heynas napping, mid-day, by the side of a dirt road
East Africa

A few glimpses at
what added up to
five sketchbooks
full of impressions.

Note: walking in the bush isn't really an option in this region, so I didn't sketch tracks, plants, insects, etc., much. Drawing from the vehicle requires focusing on larger animals and landscapes.

Giraffes !
 Vulturine guinea fowl
"Our" Land Rover
Artful Gifts

and the
is easy!

Hopefully, Gershwin fans can forgive my ripping off that marvelous line from Porgy & Bess's classic tune. :)

On a summery afternoon, when I'm taking a work break but still want to feel productive while sitting out in the sun, my default project is letter writing. Join the fun, and send out some warm notes on one of my illustrated card collections!

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

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. 
° June 8-12, 2016 at the University of Minnesota & University of Wyoming

Summer Teaching Institute
° hosted by the 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.
° July 25-29, 2016 in 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!>>

Student-Nominated Teaching Award

I am absolutely thrilled to share this news with you! At the end of the Spring 2016 semester, I received a "Promoting Intellectual Engagement in First-Year Courses" (PIE) award.

The PIE award recognizes faculty who inspire students intellectually in first-year courses and is sponsored by several programs within both academic and student affairs: the Ellbogen CTL, Center for Advising and Career Services, Residence Life and Dining, and the LeaRN Program.

Nominees are chosen by freshmen and sophomore students in an on-line survey, and a committee selects recipients based on number of nominations and students’ comments regarding the faculty member’s success in (1) engaging students meaningfully in course material, (2) promoting successful transition to college expectations, and (3) fostering investment in learning. This year, there were 170+ nominees and selected 26 recipients.

Book review to be published in June

A book review I've written will be published mid-June on The Volta Blog. More on that in the June newsletter!
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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