Birds on the brain - bird sketching tips, bird #sciart books, and more!
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© 2015, all rights reserved
from Bethann Garramon Merkle
June 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.
Birds on the brain

Happy full moon! Lately, I've been writing about birds, drawing birds, tending to the six that are now my responsibility (chickens!), and watching birds.

In particular, there have been some fantastic native birds in (and above) our yard this past month: a male yellow warbler, a male yellow-rumped warbler, and a male Bullock's oriole; a female black-headed grosbeak; a red-breasted nuthatch; a Swainson's thrush that serenades mid-afternoon; a flock of around 100 turkey vultures cruising just above the tree tops; a Swainson's hawk, and a redtail hawk.

In their honor, this month's newsletter is (almost) all about birds.

Enjoy the tips and 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!

Finch on a perch_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2015
  • Sketching tip: 4 bird sketching tips
  • Artful Science: 2 great #sciart bird books
  • Artful Classrooms: Bird drawing tips from a top bird artist
  • Sketchbook Snapshot: Toads, gardens & a puppy
  • News & Events
Sparrows scavenging for crumbs_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2009

"The act of [sketching and
taking notes about a bird you see]
is enough to 'cement' the memory,
even if the sketch or words are
a very poor representation." 
– Ornithologist/artist
David Allen Sibley

<<Sparrows scavenging crumbs outside a bakery.
Bonus: makes ID of sightings & calls super easy.
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.
Sketching Tip
Diagram of shapes used for drawing bird body_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2005
4  key shapes
for bird sketches

Drawing birds can be daunting. They're often small, rarely in view for long, and seldom close enough to suit. 

And yet, if you keep in mind a few basic shapes, you'll be well on your way.

1. The body is egg-shaped.
2.  Wings look like 1/2 hearts.
3. Heads are round with flat planes on forehead, top, and back
4. The bill is often key for identification. If you don't fully capture the shape and size, describe it in as much detail as possible.

For easier ID later, add notes about coloration, distinct markings, and behavior. Do this while you're still in the field and your memory is fresh.
Upcoming Events
Photo of Bethann sketching outdoors_Photo by Jerod Andrew Merkle, copyright 2013
  1. Drawn to Natural History: full-day; Glacier National Park; Friday, June
  2. Drawn to Science teacher training: half-day; WY Dept. of Ed annual "Roadmap to STEM" conference; Wednesday, August
  3. Communicating Science Vividly: half-day; Ecological Society of America annual conference; Sunday, August
Don't see anything in your area? Contact me!
>>Click here for details about all three of these courses.>>
Artful Science

1. Genevieve Jones and her family's work
 on Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio 
was a labor of love that involved death, privation, and exemplary #sciart and #citizenscience in the Victorian era. This article by Brain Pickings (link) reviews 
America's Other Audubon* (link), which details the Jones' 
extraordinary artistic, 
and scientific undertaking.
2. For years, publishers rejected The Unfeathered Bird* (link); it was too 
scientific for an art book, too artsy for a science book. Fortunately, author-artist Katrina van Grouw 
persevered, producing 
a stunning insightful look 'under the feathers.'

Screenshot of article about attracting wild birds_copyright 2015, Bethann Garramon Merkle
Wild Birds: To feed
or not to feed?
I just ran a series in my syndicated column - Drawn to the West - about wild birds. Turns out, feeding isn't the most effective way to encourage native migratory species to stop by or stick around. Follow these links for lots of details!
Contact me about running Drawn to the West in your local paper!
Artful Classrooms
Chickadee on lichen-covered rock_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2015
Tips from a
top bird artist

John Muir Laws is a top-notch bird artist and ornithologist.

He is also passionate about sharing his love of drawing and birding.

As a result, he leads a monthly Nature Journal Club in the San Francisco area and presents lots of workshops and webinars.

In addition to his book, Laws Guide to Drawing Birds*, he shares a lot of free material on his website.

A great place to start is his How to Draw Birds (web page & PDF).
Click here for Laws's blog series on drawing birds (general tips & species specific instructions)!>>
Recent projects

Line drawing of chicken_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2009For four years, while we lived in a large city, I dreamed about having backyard chickens again. 

Now that we are in a rural-ish town, we have enough space to do so.

For the past month, we have enjoyed fresh eggs in exchange for our table scraps and some chicken feed.

It's a simple relationship - these hens don't even have names - yet a very satisfying one.
Sketchbook Snapshot
A few non-avian sketches to mix things up
Diagram of how to identify toad (as different from frog)_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2015
Sketch of plants in garden_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2015Sketches of a puppy_Illustration by Bethann Garramon Merkle, copyright 2015
A couple of years ago, I was the field assistant for my husband's research on bison (Click here for lots of sketches, photos, and stories about that project.).

One of the highlights of that summer was the constant sound of frogs. There were so many, the frogs would 'popcorn' up from the grass when we walked through marshy meadows. And yet, we rarely caught a good look at one.

So, I jumped at the chance to join the Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project's citizen science program this summer. We've adopted a drainage way up in the mountains, and our task is to spot and identify toads, frogs, and salamanders. If the monitoring is anything like the training, it's going to be hard to choose between photographing, sketching, and actually counting frogs!

<---- Rhubarb, asparagus, peas, and radishes are all up in the garden! They'd better hurry. According to some recent reports, our area averages a 51-day growing season!

<---It's hard to say who is more excited about the new chickens, our puppy or me!
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!
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Copyright © 2015 Bethann G. Merkle (, All rights reserved. All images and content by Bethann G. Merkle unless noted otherwise. 
*Occasionally, I will include in this email 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.