Observation By Drawing
Over a year ago, Animal Caretaker Katie Malmberg and Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore were teaching Discovery Corps teens how to handle Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches with guests. Typically, at these training sessions, we ask the teens to hold the cockroaches and make observations about them with the group. At this particular training though, they were in a room with a large whiteboard and many colorful markers. Inspired by the opportunity, the trainers asked the teens to take turns going up to the white board and drawing an observation they made about the cockroaches. By the time everyone had visited the white board, there was an extremely detailed drawing of a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. Although some of the trainees had been nervous about drawing on the onset, there was something about the activity that was ultimately accessible. It didn’t matter if the picture was “pretty.” What mattered was whether or not their additions accurately captured a trait they observed. Ultimately, it reminded Katie how close and careful looking is one way to understand anatomy, role, classification, etc., and she was eager to find a way to bring a sketching activity to the Pacific Science Center floor.
Fortunately, Katie found a bunch of staff members who wanted to help! They too understood the connection between sketching and learning, and wanted to make observational sketching happen regularly. Over the past year, their drawing group has grown, with a bunch of Pacific Science Center members who want to make drawing observations accessible and unintimidating to staff and guests. The group has had a few different prototypes that invited staff and guests to sketch the animals and plants in our exhibit spaces.
Sketching prototypes started with clip boards and golf pencils in the reptile area and butterfly house, but had difficulty with bottle-necking, the high temperatures, having the right supplies, and finding guests who wanted to spontaneously sketch. Around this time a small exhibit by the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators was installed, and though it has since come and gone, it strengthened the desire to add sketching to the living exhibit spaces, and work through the challenges. Additionally, some members of the sketching group were able to meet Gabriel Campanario, AKA the Seattle Sketcher and the founder of Urban Sketchers when he paid a visit to our Tropical Butterfly House. We were excited to hear that Pacific Science Center is a gathering spot for other local art groups. It’s not unusual to occasionally see an artist or two with sketchpads and pencils drawing their observations at Pacific Science Center, and we wanted to encourage other artists, and non-artists, to join in.
As the sketching group has continued to grow, we have had more ideas flowing in. Most recently, the group met outside our Tropical Butterfly House with chalk pens, dry erase markers, and big sheets of paper and we invited guests to draw directly onto the glass or on a piece of paper on the glass if they preferred. Some people drew plants in the distance, butterflies on the glass, while others traced the plants, or drew from memory after walking around inside the butterfly house. It was the most successful session yet. There was something exciting about drawing on glass, on such a big scale, that made it seem forbidden and more exciting, and many different ages participated.