5 tips for sketching the stars

The star fields of the Milky Way contain many great sketching targets. Credit: Will Gater

After all the excitement of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year results, I spent several evenings earlier this week enjoying a completely different way of recording the night sky. Sketching is an aspect of amateur astronomy that doesn’t always get a lot of coverage, but it’s a superb way to train your eyes to see detail at the eyepiece of a telescope; indeed sketching was, once, an important part of astronomical research. Whatever equipment you use, a simple sketch showing what can be seen through the eyepiece can be both a personal memento of a night’s observing and, if drawn carefully, a useful reference to other observers.

A sketch of the Lagoon Nebula (M8). Credit Will Gater

Above and below are a few of the sketches I made, while on holiday at a dark sky site, earlier in the week. They’ve been inverted in Photoshop Elements and the background sky has been tinted to more closely match the view through the eyepiece. I was observing with a 66mm refractor on a photographic tripod. The sketches were done on a standard artist’s sketchpad (135gsm) with 2B and 3B pencils. If you’re thinking about having a go yourself here are a few tips.

  • Use two or three pencils of varying softness to depict different objects. I find a sharp 2B is ideal for drawing on stars while a softer, slightly blunt, 3B is better suited to sketching diffuse nebulae, galaxies and clusters.
  • Always start by drawing a few of the brightest stars. If you can find clear patterns/shapes of stars in the field of view add them in early on. This way you’ll gradually build a framework of stars which you can add to, aiding the placement of other fainter objects.
  • With a gentle rub, use your little finger or a tortillion to create the smooth diffuse appearance of objects like galaxies or nebulae.
  • Take your time. Be sure to constantly go back and forth, between the eyepiece and the sketchpad, to check your sketch with what you can see.
  • Always record the date, time, equipment, location and observing conditions along with the object’s name, on your sketch.
A sketch of the Andromeda Galaxy, M32 & NGC 205. Credit Will Gater
A sketch of the globular cluster M22. Credit Will Gater

One comment

  1. Wonderful sketches! Astronomical drawing is my top favorite way of observing the sky. So much more rewarding.

    I’d add one more tip: for seeing fainter details, use your peripheral vision :)


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