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© Ciel Extrême, 1998
to be rolled down

 © Yann POTHIER, 1997.
  article published in Pulsar (SAP)

NGC 1023 - J. CRESPIN, T200, F/10, G=200x


The benefits of drawing in the deep sky are numerous and all "aficionados" agree to that (BENECK, Astro-Ciel no13; THOMPSON, Pulsar no660). Nevertheless, this recording method is not widely used by amateurs... Why ? The "affair" of martian's canals "imagined" by SCHIAPARELLI and LOWELL about 1877 is without doubt at the origin of the decline of the astronomical drawing as a good observation recording method. Moreover, the rapid flourishing of photography after 1890 contributed heavily to the drawing's disgrace. Let us insist on the fact that generations of well known observers were also deep sky drawers (MESSIER, ROSSE, D'ARREST, etc.) and that drawing was at the origin of scientific production of the 17, 18 and 19th centuries.

NGC 6826 - V. LE GUERN, T760, F/4.1, G=867x


It's a fact: deep sky drawing is back to fashion among amateurs astronomers, notably in deep sky observing but also for planetary and cometary amateur work. Deep sky drawings are allowing direct comparisons of observers, instruments and observing sites. The drawings have the undeniable advantages of focusing the observer's attention on the details appearing on deep sky objects and to constrain the observer to spend more time at the eyepiece. Thanks to the drawing, the eye becomes a searching tool and this method avoid marathon-like observing.
Drawing is a true educational process, teaching the amateur not only to see but to observe. This can lead novice observers who see two belts on Jupiter, at best Cassini's division, no details on comet tails and less on nebulae, to concentrate on planets nodosities, cometary ejections and darks bands on edge-on galaxies. Some says "A photography never lies"; it is true that a drawing can suffer from the subjectivity of the observer... However, deep sky photography never gives a fair rendition of reality because of spectral differences of receptors (maximum sensibility at 4300angstroms for photography versus 5000 for the eye's rods in night vision).
Of course, drawings are poorer than photos and CCD images in detail, above all in the fainter parts that are well shown on deep exposures. Even so, the eye can do a remarquable job on bright areas often overexposed on photos and images (unless unsharp masking or multiple addition is done - still rare thses days).

NGC 6934 - P. CHATARD avec T400 à F/6 & G=96x

One must take in account the financial investment represented by recording methods. The price of a drawing will always be a hundred times less than that of a camera (photography or CCD). Furthermore, a long period separates the photographic exposure from the developpment (less time in case of CCD imaging) but the drawing produces immediate results: the observer is able to correct in real time the errors without having to wait for another clear night to start again. No more frustration for the newcomers equiped with an azimutal mount: drawing is easy with or without equatorial tracking !
Let's cut short any tedious debate: for the amateur astronomer, there is no need to find a world champion method, but to find the world champion method for the type of observing planned. In visual observation of the deep sky, the drawing is (to my opinion) the best method. The deep sky sketcher will watch out not to be affected by memory images (those detailed magazines prints). There is no need to repeat other observer's observations but rather to see an object for yourself and give your personnal vision of the object.
Let us conclude these arguments by insisting on the fact that no artistic ability is required for this task. You know how to draw a point and a nebulous patch ? Well, it is all you need...


The deep sky sketcher will prefer to be seated at the telescope and still have access to the eyepiece (tiredness is always a problem). This position is better and one can lay a drawing board on the upper leg. Everyone can build a cheap drawing board adapted to its needs and usage. A very faint light (red or else) will illuminate the board.

Palomar 11 - Y. POTHIER, T450, F/4.5, G=222x

One can choose to draw in black on white paper of in white on black paper. The former is easier to do and a copy of the drawing can be made later in white on black if needed. The "black on white" method stands better the rubber erasing, so we will concentrate on this way of drawing.
Choosing the pencils are important and I recommend a fat and sharp mine (diam 0.5mm) pencil to trace the stellar dots, and two pencils one fat and one dry to draw nebulous area and shadings. The rubber will need to be white and soft in order to leave no trace and could be grind thin for small erasing.
You can choose the drawing sheet of your choice with the info you find useful. It must contain a drawing area preferably round representing the observed field with a diameter comprised between 100-75mm for wide fields, 75-50 for medium fields and 50-25mm for small fields. This circle may represent the full field or a comfortably smaller area in the field given by the eyepiece. In both cases, in order to obtain a good object size, he must be 10-20% of the field.
A free area next to the circle will be left for data about the observation:
A) object's name and reference (catalogue) + type (cluster, galaxy, nebula, ...).
B) instrument, F/D, amplification used
C) scale and orientation
D) conditions of transparency, seeing, objects elevation above horizon.
E) any comments or details impossible to draw
Once the drawing sheet is set, duplicates (photocopies) will be made and tested in the field. For myself, I use a 10.5x9.9cm sheet (21x29.7cm page divided in 6) with a 7.2cm diameter circle. Humidity can soak the paper and reduce the possibility to sketch... A solution is to install a removable plastic cover over the drawing board.


I propose the following steps to achieve a correct drawing (proposed by numerous dedicated observers). These chronological steps are facilitating the sketcher's task and are helping to organize oneself.


0= watch the field for some time before starting to draw to memorize it and the principle details, as well as to center it the way you want to reproduce it.
1= draw the brightest stars and the one bordering the field you want to reproduce.
2= draw the other stars (fainter and fainter ones) all over the field (except the ones very near the object) by simple alignments or geometric shapes (triangles, squares, etc.).
3= draw the outline of the object thanks to the stellar background with a fat pencil if it is a bright object or a dry one if it's a faint one.
4= brush gently the object's trace with a rag or a clean finger in order to give the object its nebulous and homogeneous look .
5= with a thin rubber, define the edges of the object (if they are sharp) and place dark areas (if there appears some); add with a dry pencil any brighter knots or patches on the object.
6= find the field orientation and determine the scale (see Astro-Ciel no55 for more details); these indications are more accurate if determined at the end of the drawing process.

Some more advices:
- star brightness can be drawn by two methods: wether you choose to draw different star diameters (to the risk that a very bright star will look like a big black circle) or you choose to push more or less your pencil on the paper (a darker patch is a brighter star); I have choosen the former way of indicating stellar magnitudes but one can decide not to pay attention to it and adopt a very small stellar circle scale, proposing an aesthetic drawing but not an informative one.
- for the larger nebulous objects (big galaxies and gaseous nebulae), some reference stars must be sketched around the object location and some pencil markings are to be brushed for the nebulous aspect (classical method as described above). In the end, internal stars will be placed on the nebulous outline with the further internal details (they would have been "nebulized" by the brush process otherwise.
- for galaxies, the pencil markes to be brushed are to be placed in the core's place (if there is one); the outer halo will be brushed from this initial deposit.
- for globular clusters, in case of nebulous background caused by unresolved stars, the brush process must be done first to create the globular's halo before star plotting in the drawing and those resolved on the cluster (otherwise sharp stars could be blurred).
- for filter observing of nebulae, it is easier for the fainter objects, once located with filter, to draw the stellar field without it in order to plot the faintest stars (vanished with filter) before drawing the nebula thanks to the filter.
The deep sky sletcher must be aware of its own limits and will see to avoid inventing details and should take care of sketching only the details seen for sure. Doubtful or fleeting details will be indicated clearly in the comment section of the drawing sheet (eg. details seen 50% of the time).

M 13 - D. PONSOT avec T200 à F/6 & G=300x


Let's repeat it again: no need to be an reputated artist to become an experienced deep sky sketcher. Apart from this, even if you don't have access to a huge telescope or pristine skies, each drawing has its value for calibrating both the observer, his site and instrument, and this three factors are always forming a unique combination for each amateur.
Your drawings are of interest for Ciel Extrême's readers and you can send them at the following adress:
Yann POTHIER - Ciel Extrême
11 Impasse Canart
75012 PARIS

M 42 - L. BILLARD, T450, F/4.5, G=62x

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