Science and Art: Field Sketching
Science and Art: Field Sketching
Kate Houle, Communications Specialist

"To cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people." This is the motto of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in 1780, one of the oldest learned societies in the United States. Wisdom and history tells us that art and science have always been inextricably interdependent. Yet art is viewed as creative and science, pragmatic.

You don't ever hear about "art anxiety" the way you might hear about "math anxiety," in fact, many find art to be therapeutic. Art is perceived to be an optional activity and when asked, often people will report that they are, "bad at art." What happens when we combine art with science? What happens when we need to use art for science? The discipline of phenology is both a science and an art. In phenology, one must notice changes in the natural world as they occur from day to day, month to month, and year to year.

Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycle events and biological phenomena in relation to cyclical and seasonal climate conditions and variations. "Phenology is nature's calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall." – USA National Phenology Network. Each student at Conserve School, as part of their AP Environmental Science class, chooses a quiet location on campus to make and record observations in their Phenology Journal as the seasons change during the four month long semester. As they journal, they may also use visuals like sketching and photography to record their observations. For some students the thought of having to sketch or draw as part of an assignment is somewhat intimidating.

Every student who comes to Conserve School is required to take AP Environmental Science. Art is an elective that some students choose to take. Nevertheless, art is a necessary tool and skill for all students for use in their Phenology Journal assignments. This is why at the beginning of the semester, AP Environmental Science, "combines with art teachers Robert and Nancy to practice techniques in contour drawing and field sketching. This lesson equips students to engage in field observation through their phenology spot project." – Andrew Deaett, AP Environmental Science Teacher

Robert says, "this lesson gives students who consider themselves to be non-artists confidence in field drawing by teaching them strategies for drawing nature." The lesson he teaches includes "contour drawing techniques that help students learn to draw what the eye sees rather than what the familiar symbols in the brain "tells" them to see." Students also practice creating value (highlights and shadows) in their drawings, which gives a subject depth, structure, and framing. Additionally they learn how to use their pencil for making proportional measurements of their subjects as they put them on the page.

This was one of several combined subject classes that takes place throughout the semester. It is beneficial for both students and faculty alike when we have the opportunity to combine classes for interdisciplinary studies. Students are excited about their respective "Phenology Spot" and are looking forward to putting some newly acquired nature drawing skills into action in their phenology journals for AP Environmental Science as well as in the newly created Community Phenology Journal.