Before we could take incredible photographs of objects out in space, we drew pictures. Thanks to telescopes, features became clearer, but how were astronomers supposed to show each other what they were seeing and compare notes? Astronomical drawings became the norm. We might look at this as an antiquated practice today, but recreating what you see in the sky on paper can not only help you become better acquainted with the stars, it’s also a way to show others what they sky really looks like without the enhancement of photos. Here’s how to make an astronomical drawing of what you see in the night sky.
1. Pick something simple to start with, like a small portion of the sky or a constellation.
If you’re going to be drawing using naked eye observation, start small. Pick a formation that’s easy to see, like the Big Dipper or Orion. If you’re using your telescope, you’ll already have a limited view, but you’ll still want to focus on a portion of the sky that isn’t too crowded. The more stars there are, the longer it will take you to draw and the more often you’ll have to readjust.
2. Always use a pencil and an eraser. A professional sketchpad is icing on the cake.
You need the right tools, of course. You’ll definitely be erasing, so use a pencil and have a backup eraser handy. You can use pretty much any type of paper to draw, but if you want to keep a log of your sketches, go with a professional sketchpad or sketchbook to keep track of all your creations.
3. Find a comfortable place to set up and use red light to see.
You’re going to be outside for a bit no matter what, so make sure the observation area you’ve set up is comfortable, you have a wide view of the sky, and you’re not using a harsh light that will mess with your eyesight. Red light flashlights are handy for any astronomer, and they’re great options when you need enough light to draw but you also want to see the stars clearly.
4. Draw what you see, starting at the center.
If you’re drawing a group of stars, start in the center. Through your telescope, focus on the brightest one and sketch in all the others around it. To depict brightness, make your drawing’s stars either darker (if they’re bright) or lighter (if they’re faint). Also try to include relative size. If one star appears far larger than the surrounding ones, show that. If you’re drawing a constellation, begin at the middlemost point, as this will help you get the proportions and distances right.