DRAWING COMET ISON
To draw a comet, you need to spend some time observing the comet in real life. That is not always an easy task. Comet ISON, however will be in our skies for several weeks. If you have access to a telescope or binoculars you can mount on a tripod, you may be able to see it well enough to draw. Observe drawings or photographs of other comets. No two have been found to be alike, so far.
Just how does a person draw from a telescope? If you studied biology, botany, plant morphology, or any zoology, you spent many hours at a microscope. Your teacher/professor most likely asked for drawings of what you saw. You learned quickly to keep one eye centered on the eyepiece and the other on your paper which was placed in close proximity. You diverted your attention from the observing eye to the drawing eye.
This is very similar to the way persons currently wear and use two types of contact lenses. The lens in one eye is for distant vision while the lens in the other is for reading or close vision. They can quickly mentally change the attention given to either eye. In the same way, those persons looking through a microscope can change their attention from the slide viewed in the eyepiece to the paper upon which they are drawing the image. In this manner, you can draw the object viewed in a telescope. You will be looking through the telescope with one eye while the other is centered on the art material.
It’s best to be able to sit while you view the object through the eyepiece. The telescope I usually use requires a ladder to get to the eyepiece. To draw ISON I would have to sit on a tall stool or stand on a ladder. Not very convenient for drawing. I’m not a contortionist, but know my legs get tired quickly when I stand on a ladder. I’m going to have to find a strong support base that will raise the level of my stool, perhaps a strong wood box of some kind.
The paper or material upon which you create the image should be on a clipboard or some sturdy device to hold it securely. When flying, like most pilots, I have a small metal clipboard which fastens around the thigh with a strap secured with velcro. The material on which you’re creating your image must not be allowed to move about. The clipboard should be secured in some way.
If you are sitting with the clipboard on your lap, take care that you can see it easily. The observatory I use, the Lewis Observatory in Zanesville, OH, contains a lamp with a red bulb for safety. This red bulb will not greatly impede anyone’s eyesight. Night blindness should not be obvious with the red light, the same as is used in when developing film in a dark room. You could also put red cellophane on a dim flashlight.
It would be perfect if you had a stable drawing surface such as a table, but that is not always feasible.
The next question is to determine how to draw the comet. You can draw it on white paper with ink or graphite pencil (hard or soft lead). If you are using pencil, be sure to have a good pencil sharpener. You may find an extra clean sheet of paper to put under your hand while drawing will stop any smearing of the graphite. Have extra papers to make many sketches and one good drawing. A good eraser would be advisable for any errors. Many artists like several layers of paper to make for a smooth surface.
You could also obtain a sheet of scratchboard. What is scratchboard? It looks like thick black surfaced paper. Made of several layers, the bottom layer is a paper board or masonite. The second layer is a smooth coating of white clay. The top layer is black ink. By scratching into the black ink, you expose the white surface below. Any marks you make with a stylus would remove the black ink to expose the white clay. A wooden stylus with metal scratching needle is pictured. Scratching on the scratchboard would make a white drawing against a black background, more like the actual view of the comet in the sky.
There are many places from which you can order scratchboard such as Dick Blick Art Materials (www.dickblick.com). You may also buy scratchboard at your closest art supply store such as Hobby Lobby. One 8-1/2” X 11” scratchboard would cost about $0.45. The larger and thicker the board the greater the cost. Many are sold in packages of 10 or 12. To cut into the ink and expose the white clay, you need only a simple stylus. In biology we called them “teasing needles.” If you are a seasoned artist like myself, you will have many varieties of “Speedball” nibs and pens which could be used instead of a stylus. Have a soft cloth or paper towels to clean your nib or stylus as needed.
There are many types of scratching tools of various shapes for the scratchboard which come in kits. If you ever took art in school you may have created your own scratch board. You may have painted a piece of paper multi-colors and covered it with black crayon. When you scratched away the crayon, you created a colorful drawing. I recommend that you practice making different shapes on a practice scratchboard before you take one out to draw ISON.
Want to see scratchboard effects? On Google, click on the “images” word at the top of the search engine page. Then enter “scratchboard art” and be amazed at the artistic skills presented. Enter “scratchboard art tools” and seek what comes up.
When you are working on your drawing, it is recommended that if there are any other recognizable objects in the sky close by, you add them to your drawing. For the drawing to be used by any astronomer, they have to know where you were when you drew the comet. They also need: the exact time zone, time of day, and date. Since the comets can change second to second, this information is imperative. If you can give an indication of sky brightness, that would help. In bright sky the halo may not be as perfectly seen as it would be in a dark sky. Unfortunately, with ISON you will be drawing in either the early morning or early evening twilight. The sky will not be dark.
Astronomer Fred Whipple wrote that “Many comets show halos, which are more readily seen and measured by the eye than on photographic images. This difference probably arises from the eye’s remarkable ability to detect deviation from uniform intensity gradients over areas, or radially from the nucleus of a comet.” (Source: ON OBSERVING COMETS FOR NUCLEAR ROTATION, Fred L. Whipple, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA 02138 found in MODERN OBSERVATIONAL TECHNIQUES FOR COMETS, JPL Publication 81-68, Proceedings of a Workshop Held at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, on October 22-24, 1980.)
You may only have a short time at sunset or sunrise to clearly observe ISON. Set up your equipment quickly, get comfortable and draw. Enjoy the moment. Try to make your drawing as detailed as possible. Don’t expect any comet you draw to look like any other. There have been no two comets that were alike. Even persons sitting beside one another drawing the same comet have ended up with different looking drawings. Below is a picture of comets drawn in ancient China. They were found on silk scrolls from the Mawangduie tomb #3 at Changsha, Hunan. If you read my research on ancient Chinese celestial observations, you know that to the Chinese, everything that happened in the heaven meant something of importance.
To the left are very basic, shape type drawings of comets with no detail. They are from ancient China. Illustrating the multitude of comet shapes, they were found on silk scrolls from the Mawangduie tomb #3 at Changsha, Hunan. The drawings are currently located at the Taipei Astronomical Museum. If you read my research on ancient Chinese celestial observations, you know that to the Chinese, everything that happened in the heaven meant something of importance, including comets. (Unraveling the Christmas Star Mystery)