Although my monthly Sky at Night sketch page is all about DSOs, it was actually the Moon that inspired me to give sketching a try. On a lovely summer evening in 2003, crater Capuanus drifted into the eyepiece and unwittingly became the first step of what would turn out to be an absolutely incredible journey. But like many other Amateurs who'd never had art lessons, teaching myself to sketch wasn't easy... and to be perfectly honest, i nearly gave up. However, during those frustrating early months of trial and error, an intuitive step-by-step technique slowly emerged which has already helped many Amateurs, and I'm sure it will help you too.
The lunar terminator is constantly moving, and makes sketching at the eyepiece a bit frustrating at first. That's why i always recommend practicing on lunar photos before actually going afield. Whether you're at the eyepiece or practicing at home though, allow yourself at least an hour per sketch. And don't give up... just keep remembering that your sketching ability will improve one sketch at a time just as your ability to walk improved one step at a time.
Most importantly, don't compare your sketches to anyone else's. We all have our own style, so just do whatever feels comfortable for you. And remember, eyepiece sketching isn't about the completed rendering. It's not about art or creating a pretty picture. It's about really studying the subject matter, and becoming a better observer because of it... you can't ask for anything more than that.
The series of photographs which accompany this tutorial were taken with a small digital camera as i made the sketch on the evening of 14 July 2005. It was begun at sunset (8:50pm) and was finished 55 minutes later as the nearly nine day old Moon floated 22° above the SSW horizon. Due to the deepening twilight, artificial illumination was needed for the last few photos.
Following the tutorial is some information on art supplies in case you'd eventually like to take things to the next level. You don't need anything special to get started, though. A common pencil, plain computer paper, and a cotton bud (or fingertip) for blending will do just fine. When using one pencil, just press harder to create different shades of grey. Since it might be easier to get a grasp of things if you sketch the same features i did, please feel free to use my illustrations as a model to practice from. Btw, the largest crater in the sketch is Orontius, which is part of a lovely little group located just east of Tycho.
Using a 2B pencil, roughly outline the features you'll be sketching, using a light touch so corrections can be made with the hard vinyl eraser if needed. Be sure to draw the outermost edges of the crater rims. This is the foundation of your sketch, so take your time and by all means, feel free to use different methods to help you. For example, a friend of mine 'quarters' his sketch with very faint lines, and then uses a four section illuminated reticle eyepiece to help him match place the features properly. Personally, i imagine a transparent clock face over my sketch area. Beginning at the central hub, i place things wherever they'd be on the clock.. 9:00, 5:00. 7:30, etc.
Now's also a good time to lightly indicate interior craters, central peaks and inner terrace slopes.
The terminator crawls along the Moon's equator at 1/2 lunar degree per hour, so shadows constantly shrink or enlarge, depending on whether the Moon is waxing or waning. Unless you're sketching fully illuminated features, you'll need to lock your shadows now, using a dark 6B pencil. Locking your shadows simply means 'freezing them in time' so their movements don't cause confusion during the rest of the sketch. For best results, try to complete the shadow-locking process in about 10 minutes or so. This step is quite rewarding, because after the shadows are emplaced and filled in, you can begin to see depth in your sketch.
Using a 4B pencil, shade the crater floors by laying your pencil nearly horizontal to the paper and lightly rub the flat side of the exposed graphite on it. Using the flat part of the graphite makes blending easier because it covers wider areas on the paper instead of making thin lines produced by holding the pencil in a writing position. Use a light touch.. things darken during the blending process. Blending is done with a blending stump, and the process gently pushes the graphite into the tooth (texture) of the paper, filling them in. You can see the difference blending makes by comparing the floor of Orontius in steps 3 and 4.
Blending very lightly with small circular motions can also create diffuse borders between dark crater floors and their brilliant white sloping terraces. See the left side of Orontius' floor? The border between the white slope and the dark crater floor is soft looking rather than being a sharply defined border. That's what the blending process can do.
Now it's time to create a backdrop and begin blending the craters. With the same horizontally-held graphite technique used on the crater floors, place a 4B 'halo' around the group of craters to frame it a bit. Then begin to blend the halo with the stump, using small circular motions. Take care not to pull any of the 6B graphite into the 4B graphite areas. After blending the halo, continue with the crater floors. As you blend, things will begin to look softer and smoother, creating even more of a 3-D depth than what you noticed in step 2.
In this step you'll be 1) blending lines, 2) creating depth, and 3) adding outer rim shadows.
1) First, blend the inner terrace slope lines drawn in step one, use circular motions with the tip of a small, clean blending stump.
2) Then begin to create depth. Look at the very bottom crater in the step 4 photo.... see the deeply shadowed vertical oval to its right? The right edge of that shadowed oval looks flat, like there's a sudden drop-off. Now compare it to the same area in the step 5 photo. The edge seems to slope from the lighter area into the darker one. This is done by pulling some of the darker graphite into the lighter area with a clean, medium sized blending stump. You can clean graphite coated blending stumps by drawing them across medium or fine grit sandpaper to remove the excess graphite. Make a habit of keeping your blending stumps clean, especially when pulling graphite from one area into another. It will avoid the possibility of accidentally applying graphite instead of merely pulling it from one area to another.
3) Now, add gradual shading to the non-illuminated side of crater rims in order to give them a sloping appearance. Two examples are in the step 5 photo... on the left side of the upper right crater, and on the left side of the bottom crater. See how adding just a bit of a shadow gives the illusion of raising the rim-edge? To create this illusion, lightly touch the blending stump on a heavily shadowed area to obtain a bit of graphite, and then apply it very gently where the sloping shadow is. Clean the stump, and then pull the darker graphite out into the lighter area the same way you did just now in part two of this step.
Basically, you're finished. This last step is just to make final corrections and to blend things together a bit better.
Again, be sure to keep cleaning the blending stump as you go.
These are the only items i'd recommend that you buy even if you're choosing to stay away from purchasing art supplies. Art erasers are gentler than common ones, and won't damage the tooth of the paper. You'll need two kinds of erasers, a hard one and a soft one. The hard one is white and often referred to as 'plastic' or 'vinyl'. The soft one is grey and kneadable like putty. Here in the States they're found wherever pens and pencils are sold. If they're not as easily available in the UK, you might need to visit an art supply store or a craft/hobby shop.
The vinyl eraser is basically used to remove light lines and stray pencil marks (much as you'd use a common eraser) and is also used as a deep cleaner. There are two types of vinyl erasers, one is a 1" x 2.5" rectangle, and the other looks like a pencil. The pencil type is a thick spaghetti-like molded length of vinyl eraser which is encased in a peel-as-you-use paper pencil. It's labelled for use on plastic drafting film, but online sources also say it can be used on paper. I purchased one out of curiosity but found it to be too rough on the tooth of the paper so i always use the rectangular kind.
The most common use for the soft eraser is to 'dab' graphite from a solidly filled area before deep cleaning it with the hard eraser. It's very important that you dab off as much graphite as possible because (as i'll explain in a bit), there is oil or wax in the graphite. If you use the hard eraser first, the graphite will smear quite readily. The soft eraser can also be squeezed into a flat edge and used to lighten the sunlit side of a crater rim, rille, fault, or wrinkle ridge (those vein-like worms in the maria). It can also be kneaded to a point and used to brighten the sunlit portions of tiny, deep craterlets. To refresh the soft eraser, stretch and fold it like taffy. The graphite will be worked into the eraser's interior, providing you with a clean surface to work with.
To be perfectly honest i have no idea what type of art paper to recommend, because i've always used common computer paper. But no matter what type you use, be aware of the 'tooth' mentioned above. All paper has texture which, when flattened or damaged by an eraser, reacts differently to graphite when re-sketched upon. This can result in sketches with rough, splotchy-looking areas .
Art pencils are made from graphite powder, clay powder, water and salt. If the mix contains more clay than graphite, the pencil is considered 'hard' and produces lighter values. If the mix contains more graphite than clay, the pencil is considered 'soft' and produces darker values. After being mixed in the proper proportion according to how hard or soft the pencil will be, the material is formed into spaghetti-like strings and kiln-fired. Then they're dipped into oil or liquid wax which soaks into the tiny pores of the product, resulting in a smoother application when being used. But as already pointed out, this wax or oil will cause the graphite to smear if you attempt to erase it with a hard eraser, so remember to dab with the soft eraser first whenever a correction is needed.
The pencils are labelled with letters and numbers according to their hardness or softness. Hardness is indicated by the letter 'H' (hard), softness is indicated by the letter 'B' (black). The higher the number, the harder or softer the pencil. There's an HB pencil at midpoint which contains equal parts of clay and graphite. Even though there are many hard and soft pencils, you'll probably only need about four for the Moon: 8B, 4B, 2B and HB. Keep in mind that any pencil will produce quite a variety of grey shades depending on how hard you press, so you may find that four pencils is too many.
There are two kinds of blending tools: a Tortillon and a Blending Stump. They're various sized paper 'pencils' which are used to gently rub the graphite into the tooth of the paper to produce a soft, foggy look. They're also used to eliminate the distinct boundary between dark and light border areas. As stated in the directions, blending tools can be cleaned and kept to a point by running them across a strip of medium or fine grit sandpaper.
This is usually found in the 'drafting' area of an art supply store. It's a credit-card sized piece of thin metal with various sizes of dots, arcs and shapes punched out of it, and is a valuable tool used to help erase a specific area without harming the surrounding one. All you do is choose an opening which best matches the size and shape of what you need to erase, and then place the chosen opening over the area to be corrected. As its name implies, the metal 'shields' the surrounding area while allowing you to quite vigorously erase what's needed. Use a stump to blend away the distinct 'correction border' surrounding the erased feature.
Thanks for reading!