AstroSketchers Group

"I have only drawn what I have seen with certainty."
    —Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923), in 1894

"Responding to criticism that he preferred an artistic drawing to an accurate one, he replied, "I know no difference between the two."
    —Richard Baum (2007) reporting the words of Nathaniel Everett Green (1823-1899)

"...every man sees after his own fashion and draws after his own fashion."
    —Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), in 1897

Astronomical sketching is as old as stars on petroglyphs, and as new as Arp peculiar galaxies drawn on the web. Never static, its long practice is now in dialogue with the latest electronic-image processing; yet those who draw at the eyepiece can feel part of a chain stretching back through Messier and Herschel to Galileo. Its historical depth offers a broad array of graphic tools and techniques on which to draw, from chalk and the quill pen to modern polymers and touch screens, which can be combined in ways which are ever new. Sketching still has a role in solar and planetary data collection; and drawings of all celestial objects and phenomena provide valuable data for the study of human perception; and sketching can play a role in the serious experimental archaeology of astronomy. The eyes of no two observers are the same, their equipment differs, they handle pencils differently. Astronomical sketching allows a very personal dimension into a scientific pursuit (an aspect which made some Victorian observers very uneasy, but which we can now embrace). There is more than one scientific and attractive way to draw a lunar rill, depict an occultation, and sketch a planetary nebula or a starburst galaxy. It is a perfect way to avoid the dead-end of an astronomical monoculture. It sharpens the observer, and provides a lifelong learning experience, as does CCD work at its best. The simplest of tools can be used to start, and no equipment beyond what the observer already owns is required, be it but the naked eye. No particular talent, predilection, or gifts are needed for success, for the talent grows with the practice. There is no active RASC observer who cannot begin to sketch, and learn to sketch well.

Solar Sunpots

A sunspot drawing in watercolour done on 1890 Nov. 30, by Allan F. Miller, using the projection method with a 10.16 cm Wray long-focus achromatic refractor, probably from his observatory on Carlton Street, Toronto.


Modern guides to astronomical sketching tools and techniques

  • R. Handy, D.B. Moody, J. Perez, E. Rix, and S. Robbins, Astronomical Sketching: a Step-by-Step Introduction, Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series (New York-Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London: Springer 2007), ISBN: 978-0-387-26240-6: the fullest modern guide in English
  • P. Grego, Astronomical Cybersketching: Observational Drawing with PDAs and Tablet PCs, Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series (New York-Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London: Springer 2009), ISBN: 978-0-387-85350-5: a companion volume to the above, but with a technological difference
  • R. Handy, D. Kelleghan, Th. McCague, E. Rix, and S. Russell, Sketching the Moon: An Astronomical Artist's Guide, Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series (New York-Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London: Springer 2012), ISBN: 978-1-4614-0940-3
  • E. Rix, K. Hay, S. Russell, and R. Handy, Solar Sketching: A Comprehensive Guide to Drawing the Sun, Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series (New York-Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London: Springer 2015), ISBN: 978-1-4939-2900-9
  • Gerry Smerchanski, winner of the 2nd RASC astrosketching contest, writes about sketching the Moon
  • R. Sampson, "Recording Your Observations", in T. Dickinson and A. Dyer, The Backyard Astronomer's Guide, 3rd edition, rev. and expanded (Richmond Hill: Firefly, 2008), ISBN-13: 978-1554073443, pp. 154-155: an encouraging introduction - note also that Dickinson and Dyer have used both drawings and ccd images throughout the book
  • Alexander Massey's instructions and video for learning the effective DSO sketching technique developed by the late Scott Mellish (1963-2011). Alex is a superb astronomical draftsman (see below), and a worthy successor to Scott. Alex can be followed at his blog


Historical note: The Mellish technique is an astronomical application of standard procedures for using dry pastels, such as the dry-wash technique. Such techniques are described in books of instruction for those learning pastel painting. Intriguingly, many of the techniques Scott skillfully applied to depicting celestial objects can be found in the 17th- and 18th-century practice of pastel painting. It is not known if he was aware of those precedents, but he deserves credit for applying them to the modern practice of astronomical sketching.


  • Bill Weir 2007, JRASC 101/4, 157-158: on one accomplished sketcher's path (note: the published repoductions do not do justice to the quality of his work)
  • C.Roussell 2008, JRASC 102/3, 102-104: on sketching Mercury
  • Raymond R. Thompson 1962, JRASC 56/5, 189-192: on lunar sketching (note: Thompson's strictures on stippling are belied by the superb results of Harold Hill, as in his Portfolio of Lunar Drawings 1991, listed below)
  • Kathleen Houston, Astronomical Sketching: Adventure at Your Fingertips, Observer's Handbook 2013, ed. David M.F. Chapman (Centre of the Universe: Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 2012), pp. 88-90. Also 2010, JRASC 104/6, 237-240
  •  the best general astronomical sketching web resource.
  • Roger N. Clark, Visual Astronomy of the Deep Sky (Cambridge-Boston: Cambridge University Press & Sky Publishing, 1990)―a classic resource on how to see DSOs, and also includes sketching advice; out-of-print and now scarce. The author maintains a related website
  • Stewart Moore 2004, JBAA 114/1, 32-36: Observing and Drawing the Deep Sky
  • Gordon Bond, Drawing the Deep Sky, 3rd edition (TPO Publications)―I have not seen this book
  • Serge Vieillard, Nicolas Biver, Frédéric Burgeot et al., Astrodessin: observation & dessin en astronomie, 2 vols. (Toulouse: AXILONE, 2013)―the largest single work devoted to sketching at the eypiece, and the most significant manual to date of current practice. Covers solar system and DSO objects, and techniques. The work of a team of fifteen experienced French and German observers; features over 1,100 sketches
  • Peter Vercauteren, The Art of  Deep-Sky Sketching―a very well thought-out guide to sketching DSOs at the eyepiece. There is an assoociated website, and useful videos illustrating technique. The author's gallery of sketches is a testament to his method

General scientific-illustration techniques applicable to astronomical drawing

  • The Guild Handbook of Scientific Illustration, ed. E.R.S. Hodges, 2nd edition (New York: Wiley, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0471360117―contains a chapter devoted to astronomical illustration
  • F.W. Zweifel, A Handbook of Biological Illustration, 2nd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), ISBN-13: 978-0226997018
  • M. Stevens, The Art of Botanical Painting, Smithsonian and the Society of Botanical Artists (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), ISBN-13: 978-0007169887

Photography vs. sketching

Modern examples of astronomical sketching

  • Journal of the British Astronomical Association
  • Publications of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers
  • The Webb Society Deep-Sky Observer
  • H. Hill, A Portfolio of Lunar Drawings, Practical Astronomy Handbooks 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), ISBN-13: 978-0521381130
  • 150-Foot Solar Tower Current Sunspot Drawing
  • Jeremy Perez, beyond curating the Astronomy Sketch of the Day (ASOD) site, also maintains the Belt of Venus, which features his own fine work, and offers a list of online astronomincal sketching resources. Perez was recently part of an "amateur" team who had been granted an observing run at a major professional facility, the Discovery Channel 4.27 meter telescope. He may hold the record for the use of the largest modern research telescope to execute a series of observational drawings; the full report is on his website, and a shorter version was published in  Astronomy 42 5 (May 2014), 44-49. Note: ASOD has gone into a long-term hiatus as of 2015 June 16
  • Work of Erika Rix, a noted and experienced solar, lunar, and DSO sketcher
  • Work by a very good DSO sketcher Rony De Laet. Also see his The Casual Sky Observer's Guide: Stargazing with Binoculars and Small Telescopes, Astronomer's Pocket Field Guide series (New York-Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London: Springer 2012), ISBN: 978-1-4614-0594-8: a good introductory observing guide, well-illustrated with the author's fine sketches of what can actually be seen by the eye (but the information on the history of astronomy should be read with caution)
  • Brandon Doyle, How to sketch deep-sky objects's, Astronomy Magazine January 2012, 64-69
  • Astronomy editor David J. Eicher until recently wrote a regular column Deep-sky Showcase on sketching at the eyepiece. Erika Rix has taken over the reins of Astronomy's astroketching with her Erika Rix's Astro Sketching
  • Carol Lakomiak's tutorials on sketching the Moon, and the Sun and Deep Sky Objects. Carol also writes the astrosketching column for the BBC's Sky at Night Magazine
  • The UK magazine Astronomy Now also frequently features articles on astrosketching
  • ArpGalaxies―Martin Schoenball's, Uwe Glahn's, and Matthias Juchert's drawings of 100 of the visually most interesting and striking of the objects in Dr. Halton C. Arp's famous Atlas of Peculair Galaxies (1966)
  • Michael Vlasov's superb dso, double star, and solar-system object sketches can be found here
  • superb planetary skecthes can be found in Paul Doherty's (1947-1997) Atlas of the Planets (London: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., 1980)―the book also includes sensible sketching advice by Sir Patrick Moore (1925-2012). Used copies can be picked-up quite inexpensively on the web
  • Paul G. Abel's book Visual Lunar and Planetary Astronomy, The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series (New York-Heidelberg-Dordrecht-London: Springer, 2013), features planetary drawings by the author, Carlos Hernandez, and other BAA members


Jupiter Shadow Transit, 2012 December 20, Gordon Webster, 120mm f.8.3 refractor, at 125X — co-winner of the 1st RASC Astrosketchers' Contest!  © Gordon Webster.


Guides (historical) to astronomical sketching

  • C.P. Smyth 1843, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 5, 277-279 (this is the short version of the paper; it appeared fully in Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society 15 [1846], 71-82
  • M. Huggins 1882, The Observatory, 5, 358-362
  • T. W. Webb 1871, Nature, 3, 430-431: on Jovian Sketching
  • T.W. Webb, 1873, Popular Science Review, 12,234-242: on sketching the moon
  • T.W. Webb, 1875, English Mechanic, 22, 255: on drawing the Great Nebula in Orion (M42)
  • T.W. Webb 1883, Knowledge, 4, 302-303: on sketching the moon
  • Rosse, 4th Earl 1874, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 34, 235-247
  • L. Weinek, 1890, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2, 201-214
  • D. Morehouse, 1922, Popular Astronomy, 30, 461-464
  • R.A. Rosenfeld, 2008, JRASC, 102/5, 200-205: History of Astronomical Sketching in the RASC
  • L. Chimirri, et al. 2009, L'esercizio illegale dell'astronomia: Max Ernst, Iliazd, Wilhelm Tempel (Firenze: Centro Di Edifimi srl): reproductions and studies of Wilhelm Tempel's superb 19th-century DSO drawings - and the remarkable 20th-century surrealist art they spawned
  • W. Sheehan, F. Launay, & R.A. Rosenfeld, 2010, JRASC, 104/5: on the technique used to make the earliest depiction of Mare Orientale in 1675
  • Deep sky observer Wolfgang Steinicke has come out with an excellent account of the making of the New General Catalogue and the role of astrosketching in its genesis. Many drawings are reproduced: Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters: From Herschel to Dreyer's New General Catalogue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), ISBN-13: 978-0-521-19267-5
  • Professor Omar W. Nasim has recently been working on the role of astronomical sketching in 19th-century DSO observations The results of his studies have just appeared in Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014)―based on a first-hand examination of the manuscript drawings of Sir John Herschel, William Earl of Rosse, William Lassell, Ebenezer Porter Mason, Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel, and George Phillips Bond. According to the publisher "Nasim focuses on the ways in which these observers created and employed their drawings in data-driven procedures, from their choices of artistic materials and techniques to their practices and scientific observation"

Historical scientific-illustration tools and techniques applicable to astronomical drawing


Craters Aristarchus, Herodotus & Vallis Schröteri, 2012 February 4, Alexander Massey, C5, f.10, at 250X — co-winner of the 1st RASC Astrosketchers' Contest!  © Alexander Massey.


Historical examples of astronomical sketching

  • Galileo's Sunspot drawings
  • Galileo's lunar sketches. Interesting infromation on Galileo as an artist can be extracted from a judicious reading of Horst Bredekamp, Galileo der Künstler: die Mond-die Sonne-die Hand (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2007), and the collective volumes under Bredekamp's editorship: Galileo's O: Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius, ed. I. Brückle & O. Hahn, vol 1 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011), and Paul Needham, Galileo's O: Galileo Makes a Book, vol. 2 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011). It has recently been shown (late June 2012) that the "New York" Sidereus Nuncius at the heart of these studies and associated books are the work of a highly sophisticated forgery operation in connection with the Girolamini book-theft ring, with the notorious Marino Massimo de Caro as a principal. Now see Nicholas Schmidle, A Very Rare Book, The New Yorker 89/41 (Dec. 16, 2013), 62. The team led by Bredekamp have accepted the findings of Nick Wilding that the book is a fake, and have released the results of their reanalysis of the fake, and its implications in Galileo's O: A Galileo Forgery―Unmasking the New York Sidereus Nuncius, ed. H. Bredekamp, I. Brückle, & P. Needham (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2014―the volume is available as an open access publication)
  • W.C. Bond, G.P.Bond, and J. Winlock, Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College, vol. 8, vols. 1-2 (Cambridge, MA: Wilson & Son, 1876)
  • É.Trouvelot, The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1881-1882). Also see Rosenfeld, R.A. & Sheehan, W. 2011, How an Artist Brought the Heavens to Earth, Astronomy, 39/1, 52-57
  • E.-M. Antoniadi, La planète mars (Paris: Libraire scientifique Hermann et Cie, 1930)
  • Michael Benson, Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, with a forward by Owen Gingerich (New York: Abrams, 2014. Some observational sketches keeping company with diverse graphic materials illustrating "the discovery of the universe through pictures". Benson demontrates the ongoing scientific importance of graphically respresenting data, both for comprehension, and discovery. Excellent reproductions

For a project which took its inspiration from E.E. Barnard's observations of the 1894 opposition of Mars, see:

For a good collection of digitalized versions of astronomical drawings published during the golden age of the practice, see:  (n.b: the scans do not do justice to the originals)

Non-RASC Forums


  • Les Cowley's excellent programme for determining the Sun's orientation, poles, equator, rotation direction, drift direction, and prominence position angles for any date, time and location
  •  Peter Meadow's Stonyhurst disks for various heliographic latitudes of the centre of the solardisk and projected image diameters
    He has also written some very useful programmes for determining the solar coordinates of features on sketches.


Most moderate sized towns in Canada have at least several art-supply stores, or office goods suppliers. The best place to buy supplies for astronomical sketching is at the art stores attached to colleges (or universities) of art and design. They usually have the largest selection, best prices, and most knowledgeable staff. If there are no art-supply retail outlets near where you live, you could try internet suppliers. The RASC cannot endorse any commercial supplier above another, put please try to buy Canadian.


We wish to thank Peter Abrahams, Jim Mosher, and Prof. Omar W. Nasim for advice and corrections.

If you have suggestions for sources on sketching at the telescope (modern or historical) which you think should be considered for inclusion here please forward them to the AstroSketchers' Group chairs.

Please report any broken links to the AstroSketchers' Group chairs.

this page is curated by R.A. Rosenfeld

Last modified: 
Monday, September 26, 2016 - 11:42pm