Lunar Sketching

Getting started with astronomical sketching can be daunting at first but before long you’ll be producing great looking sketches of your favourite night sky objects.

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award-winning photographer Alex Conu


I am an artist. Well, at least that’s what my friends tell me. I’ve had no formal training, but as one friend noted,

“Do you like any of your work?”

“Sure”, I replied, “But every one of them could really use some improvement.”

“So you’re not satisfied with any of them? Then you’re an artist.”

So if that’s the test then I guess I’m an artist, but let’s start at the beginning. I always want to expand my astronomical repertoire. I’ve been doing a lot of imaging and wanted to do something visual. So I decided to start sketching. It trains you to see more detail when you sketch an image. This “artist’s eye” can then be used to see patterns and details when looking visually through the telescope or even at images.

To start I went to the Astronomical League. They have various observing programs that cover the spectrum of astronomy incredibly well. I typically complete an observing program a year. I consider their programs to be a great survey course that I can do in between all my other “normal” astronomical activities. For example last year I observed 100 red carbon stars. You can find a listing of all their observing clubs at: https://www.astroleague.org/observing.html. So at the end of last year I started their sketching club. I had no experience in sketching, but that was the point.

I highly recommend the book, Astronomical Sketching by Richard Handy, David Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix, and Sol Robbins. It’s part of the Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series and can be purchased on Kindle. You’ll also need some art supplies, but a listing is included in their book and also on the Astronomical League Sketching Club website. There are also some excellent YouTube videos on how to sketch astronomical objects.

I started out sketching star clusters (actually the first sketch was a deep red carbon star). When I was ready for my first lunar sketch I was a bit nervous. Putting dots carefully on a piece of paper is one thing, but the lunar surface? Just trust yourself and follow the step by step instructions in Astronomical Sketching or on a YouTube video. If you want to check them, Theophilus was my first sketch using pencil; Ptolemaeus was my first using charcoal.

Pretty soon you’ll develop your own techniques and preferred medium although I still like to mix it up to learn new things. I’m looking forward to my first solar prominence sketch, but I want to use white chalk on black paper for that one. I am also getting ready to do my first official “scientific” lunar sketch for the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers. This involves making a gradation scale (0-10), and then quickly sketching the object and putting in the corresponding numbers for the brightness of the key features. Those images will look pretty sterile compared to what I have here, but that’s science for you, and I plan on doing lots of those images.

Remember, unless you are sketching to submit for a particular organization or an online forum, there are no rules. You can sketch from images. The important thing is to have fun, and to let your inner artist out to play! When you’re ready, submit your work to Milky Way Kiwi, so you can share with others. Make your views of the heavens a work of art!