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Sketching autumn, drawing to learn, & more
T H E
CommNatural NEWSLETTER
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
September/October  2015
Tips & inspiration for incorporating drawing into science, education & daily life.
Autumn is here, even though the weather in my corner of the West has been holding steady in the 60s and 70s for weeks! 

The start of a new school year took on new significance this autumn, as I began an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing in late August. So, my sense of what to do/draw this autumn has a decidedly school-ish perspective. 
 
That's why this month's newsletter focuses on drawing autumn as a way to spend a bit more time learning outside before the snow flies.

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

Happy sketching,

Contents
Click section title to jump to that topic.

Sketching tip
Sketching leaves

 
Artful Science
Science behind leaf color

Artful Classrooms
"STEAM at the stream"

Sketchbook Snapshot
Sketching to learn

News & Events  
Quirky, illustrated, holiday greeting cards and recent media coverage
Insight
“Drawing is part of thinking
and observing. It is what
distinguishes us
from other species.”
- paleontologist Robert Bakker
Sketching Tip: Sketching Leaves
There are a few key components of a leaf to consider when you sketch one:

1. The overall shape: Think geometrically to identify the outline shape, or just trace the leaf! 

2. Veins: Lots of plants are identified by their branch and vein patterns (alternate or opposite). Look carefully and be sure to draw these in accurately. Start with the midrib (the big central vein) and work your way down in size. Don't worry about capturing every vein - the principle veins are enough.

3. Exterior margin: Is the edge of your leaf smooth, jagged, or lobed? Pay attention to how deeply into the leaf those jagged or lobed edges go. Think of it in terms of relative size/shape, and measuring won't be necessary.

4. Texture: My favorite way to capture leaf texture, shape, and venation is to lay the leaf on a hard flat surface, cover it with a thin piece of paper, and use a pencil, crayon, or pastel to rub over the whole leaf. As in the sketch above, this approach can capture a lot of detail fast, and then you can enhance the sketch with color, pen lines, notes, etc.
Artful Science: Drawn to leaf colors

The following is an excerpt from the first of my October "Drawn to the West" columns. You can read the whole column (and future columns) by subscribing! Click here for more details.

Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” exclaimed Humbert Wolfe in a timeless poem written in 1926.

What is it that drags those emblems of autumn to the soil, and how is it that they turn such glowing colors while the summer sun fades?

Cold not the only factor
It is a common misconception that cold weather triggers the change. Rather, the shift is due to a combination of factors. Above all, during the summer, pigments that cause a leaf to appear green (chlorophyll) mask the yellow and orange pigments (carotenoids and xanthophylls). That chlorophyll is essential for photosynthesis throughout the summer.

In response to the shortening length of days, trees actually slow the delivery of water and minerals to their leaves. At the same time, trees also develop a layer of cork cells that eventually block off the flow between the leaf and the branch to which it is attached. Eventually, the leaf no longer receives enough of the nutrients necessary to regenerate its chlorophyll and the green fades away. This is what actually allows the yellow pigments to shine through. 
 

Note: in maples and other trees that turn red, there are another set of compounds (antioxidants including phenols and anthocyanins) that preserve the leave while the sugars are slowly withdrawn. Here in the West, forestry ecologists are discussing anthocyanins - in conjunction with our wet spring and long warm autumn - as reasons why aspen are turning firey orange and red this year.
Artful Classrooms: Using & discussing field journals scientifically
This week, I'm collaborating with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Wyoming on a "STEAM at the stream" initiative. What we're doing is a great example of how to incorporate drawing into a science classroom of your own.

Through the 'Discovering Wyoming Water' project, local Girl Scouts are learning about the scientific process from start to finish. I was invited in to facilitate two sessions with the participants during which they will learn to think of drawing as a way of collecting data and as a key observational method. 

During the first session, we focused on what a field journal is, what it can be, and what kind of information we want to capture when taking field notes.
  • We first determined (through group discussion) that a field journal is a place to record observations and questions through a combination of written and sketched notes. 
  • Then, we generated a list of about 10 variables/types of data we could collect when doing observations at the field site on the Laramie River. We did this by discussing what they had observed during their first site visit, then working in pairs to develop lists of at least 5 variables. Of the final 10 variables, we discussed which ones were meta data (also known as orienting information) which we would want to include with every sketch or set of written notes we make.
To practice the notes+sketches+questions method of recording observations/collecting data, we then selected specimens from the Biodiversity Institute's teaching collection.
  • Focusing on vertebrae, feathers, and bird feet (like the student work to the right --->), we practiced a super-fast way of capturing form, dimensions, and relative relationships between parts: tracing!
  • We then elaborated on our sketches by freehand sketching in other essential interior details, making notes about our observations based on the 5 senses, and recording questions we had about our specimens.
  • Once we identified our questions, we also took some notes about how to find the answers.
  • During the subsequent show-and-tell session, we learned a lot of new words, such as ornithologist, mammologist, morphologist, and anatomy.
This weekend, we'll build on this foundation by spending a few hours outside doing field sketching exercises. The whole time, we'll be thinking about our overarching theme - watershed ecology - and how what we're observing can help us better understand the Laramie River Watershed. Then, the Girl Scouts should be ready to incorporate sketching and observational writing into their study design and data collection methods. 
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
 

Sketching to depict leads to sketching-to-learn.
Lately, most of my sketches have been for illustration projects. These preliminary sketches for a prairie dog illustration exemplify the learning which often characterizes sketching from life. I noticed a few unexpected things:
  • Head is blocky, ears hardly show up.
  • Dark patches above and below eye, and white tail tip, are identifying characteristics for the species.
  • Awkward (to depict/sketch) blobby chunky rectangular-esque body
  • Remarkably long claws
Artful Gifts
 
New! "Drawn to the Holidays" greeting cards


Like traditional correspondence but want something more edgy this holiday season?

I designed these cards because I felt the same way.

And, because your friends and families are so diverse (like mine!), this collection is appropriate for any year-end holiday greetings. 

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 Water workshops with Girl Scouts in Science's "Discovering Wyoming's Water" program; October 2015

2. Looking for some training? 

If you'd like to schedule a public workshop, artist residency, or professional development training, let me know!

I have room in my schedule for a couple more sessions this autumn, so contact me as soon as possible.
Recent columns
 
News
 
Although I do a lot of interviews for the articles and columns I write, the tables were turned in the past month. 

I was recently interviewed for two articles about the drawing+science workshops I facilitate and the illustration services I offer! 

 
Wyoming School-University Partnership Newsletter features my "Drawn to Biodiversity" workshops!

 
Click the image to read the full article.
 

Misadventures Magazine features my illustrations & workshops!
 

Click the image to read the full article.
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 © 2015 Bethann G. Merkle (www.commnatural.com), All rights reserved.


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