Art and Science Sketching Lesson
Andrew Deaett, Science Teacher

In the first week of the semester, Earth Art and AP Environmental Science classes combined to sew and bind a field journal that students will use throughout the semester for their Phenology Spot project.  In the second week, we combined classes again to practice field sketching techniques that students can use while making weekly visits to their phenology spot.  Under the guidance of art teacher Robert, students settled into the practice of contour sketching.  

Students sketching pinecones
Students sketching pinecones

Kimone Nicolaides wrote, “This exercise should be done slowly, searchingly, sensitively. Take your time, do not be too impatient or too quick. There is no point in finishing any one contour study. In fact, a contour study is not a thing that can be 'finished.' It is having a particular type of experience, which can continue as long as you have the patience to look. If in the time allowed you get only halfway around the figure, it doesn't matter. So much the better! But if you finish long before the time is up, the chances are that you are not approaching the study in the right way. A contour drawing is like climbing a mountain as contrasted with flying over it in an airplane. It is not a quick glance at the mountain from far away, but a slow, painstaking climb over it, step by step."

Science class sketching pinecones in the art room

Students began the lesson by selecting one of several types of pinecones including white pine, red pine, and an unidentified species of pinecone that Robert and Nancy got “a whole bag full for 50 cents” on sale after Christmas. Students were instructed to practice blind contour sketching for five minutes.  A blind contour sketch requires students to search the contours of the object with their eyes, and without looking at their paper or lifting their pencil, translate what they see with their eyes onto paper. As students quickly found out, the intent of this practice is not to recreate a perfect image of the object, but rather to train their hand-eye coordination. Students then returned their pinecones, selected a partner, and practiced a blind contour sketch of one another’s face. After five minutes of focus, laughter ensued when students revealed the distorted images of their faces on paper. 

Student holding a pinecone
Students study and sketch pinecones

It is no coincidence that Earth Art and AP Environmental Science share a wing of the LAB. These two disciplines, which may seem disparate, are both attempting to bring students to a deeper understanding of our world with a strong emphasis on the practice of observation. “I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen and that when I draw an ordinary thing I realize how extraordinary it is.” - The Zen of Seeing, by Frederick Franck.  As we develop our observational skills we are training our minds to view the world in an objective manner, refining and trusting our senses.  

Over the course of the semester, we will continue to infuse art into science, and science into art, cultivating a relationship with our neighbors across the hall.


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