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Sketchbook Snapshot: tortoises & hares in Tanzania

“There’s so much of everything! All of it inextricably tangled together […] To describe is to select – and to select only a microscopic sample from this overwhelming profusion.”

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So wrote travel journalist Michael Frayan in Travels with a Typewriter, one of several books I read during my month-long research trip to East Africa. Frayan distills into two sentences the opportunity, challenges, and complexity of traveling to conduct research, particularly in a new field site.

As I mentioned in my previous update, this was my first trip to Africa. In addition to a mélange of language, landscapes, and villages/cities, the region struck me with its boggling biodiversity, and a host of socio-political situations that resist categorization or outsider resolution. I spent much of the trip mulling over my own reactions to what is ordinary life there, and pondering how to honestly incorporate it in my project without oversimplifying, romanticizing, or otherwise inadvertently appropriating.

Continue reading Sketchbook Snapshot: tortoises & hares in Tanzania

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Is this SciComm? A book review about a non-science book

I’ve been mulling over the boundaries of #SciComm, in the wake of a book review I published this week on The Volta Blog.

The book I reviewed, Spring Ulmer’s The Age of Virtual Reproduction (Essay Press 2009), is a riveting eloquent set of “meditations on torture, slaughter, and the severity of so many human relationships.”* It is also a book fixated on relentless technological development and scientific discovery (e.g. photography, nuclear weapons).

But, there isn’t any explicit science in the book.

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Continue reading Is this SciComm? A book review about a non-science book

Sketchbook Snapshots: Tortoises and Hares in the Kenyan Highlands

This is my first trip to Kenya, and to Africa more generally. So far, it has been a fascinating blend of rural and urban, English and Swahili (and with it a reminder that learning a language isn’t a one-month project), and wildlife, plants, and landscapes utterly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

I’ve come to the Kenyan Highlands in exactly the right season. It’s the rainy season, and out of ten days so far, yesterday was the only day without rain. This consistent rainfall makes all the difference for my chances of seeing tortoises. They tend to only be visible this time of year. Continue reading Sketchbook Snapshots: Tortoises and Hares in the Kenyan Highlands

What do science writing and sketching have to do with each other? Wyoming EPSCoR asked me…

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I was recently interviewed for the Wyoming EPSCoR program’s blog.

In addition to a number of questions specific to the nature of sketching workshops I teach, Jess White from EPSCoR asked a thought-provoking question about how drawing contributes to my writing. It was a question I’d never consciously considered before, and I was delighted to be compelled to do so.

Little of that aspect of the interview made it into the final article, which is how interviews often go – there’s only room for so much, and no matter how interesting a tangent may be, it may not sync well with the dominant theme of the article.

So, here’s the “how sketching influences my writing” out-take:

Since you’re also a science writer and essayist, can you talk about the connections you see between art/illustration and your writing?

In a pragmatic sense, drawing compels me to look very closely at a given subject – much more closely than I find I do if I merely work to describe that subject in writing. I also have to problem-solve visually, which involves capturing color in a visceral way, drawing and re-drawing a form until I have accurately captured the shape, relationships of parts, sizes, etc. Continue reading What do science writing and sketching have to do with each other? Wyoming EPSCoR asked me…

Workshop: Using Analog Technology (Art!) to Teach Science

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I’ll be teaching a mini-workshop/crash course/ intro session on Wednesday at the University of Wyoming. We don’t have enough time to get too deep into skill-building (only 1.5 hours), so this session aims to get you excited about the idea of building skills (or resurrecting latent skills).

Teaching with Technology Series: Drawn to Science-Using Analog Technology (Art!) to Teach Science:

3/30/2016 ● 12:00-1:30 pm ● Coe Library 506 ● lunch provided for registered participants

Register here.

Hosted by: Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Wyoming

Continue reading Workshop: Using Analog Technology (Art!) to Teach Science

Project Snapshot: Ecological Principles & Children’s Books

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While working on my project on ecological concepts in picture books, I’ve come across some fascinating research about using picture books to teach science.

Here are a couple points that are particularly interesting:

  • Talking animals can confuse children’s understanding of why/how animals do things. (Ganea et al 2014)
  • Children don’t differentiate between fact and fiction unless guided to do so. Books presented by adults are viewed as equally authoritative, and fantasy books can lead to children developing faulty explanations for themselves. (Owens 2003; behind a paywall – contact author for reprint)

 

 

Video of my SciArt talk about Drawing, Creativity, and Science

Two weeks ago, I gave a seminar to the University of Wyoming Zoology & Physiology Department.

Illustration: student disecting a fishEntitled Drawn to Science: Exploring the Historical and Contemporary Synergies between Drawing, Creativity, and Science, my talk roved through history, technologies that have influenced art and science, and looked at research and examples of how art and science
can do much more than make data look pretty.

Click here to view the talk! It’s about an hour long, including the Q&A following my presentation.

 

 

 

Sketchbook Snapshot: Tortoises & Hares

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Sketching Antelope Jackrabbits and Black-tailed Jackrabbits – yes jackrabbits = hares – at the U of A Natural History Museum. (c) BGMerkle, 2016
As part of my MFA thesis, I’m working on an art-science project about tortoises and hares and the ecosystems where the two coexist: “The Ecologically True Story of the Tortoise and the Hare.”
One of those places just happens to be the Sonoran Desert, just south of where my husband grew up. So, while we were in Arizona over the holidays, I headed to that tortoise-and-hare desert.
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Desert tortoise carapace – photo of a live tortoise kept as a “pet” through the Arizona Game & Fish-approved desert tortoise adoption program. (c) BGMerkle, 2016

I was fortunate to connect with the Phoenix Herpetological Society, which manages a sanctuary with lots of tortoises, a hare researcher studying the little-known Antelope jackrabbit – yes jackrabbits are technically hares! – some friendly folks who (legally) keep desert tortoises as pets, and the curator of the University of Arizona Natural History Museum.

Between all these contacts, I had great opportunities to sketch live tortoises and hare specimens, ask lots of questions, and pick up recommendations for more people to contact and more books and articles to read.
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Same tortoise as the carapace pictured above. (c) BGMerkle, 2016
If you’re interested, so far two of my favorite books about these species are a pair of monographs (pleasantly accessible and fun reading!): Hare by Simon Carnell and Tortoise by Peter Young. Both are fascinating cultural, ecological, and artistic histories of popular but generally not-well-known animals.

Could #sketchyourscience be key to increasing appreciation of SciArt among ecologists?

Cross-posted on ESA SciComm Section blog

I’m a co-founder of the Ecological Society of America’s new Science Communication Section (#ESASciComm), so I am in a great position to infuse #sciart into #scicomm at ESA. I’ve done so with pleasure in scicomm workshops the past two years.

This year, at ESA’s annual conference/meeting (#ESA100) our section had a booth at which we encouraged folks to sketch their science.

We were blown away by how many people enthusiastically did so.

Continue reading Could #sketchyourscience be key to increasing appreciation of SciArt among ecologists?

Come sketch with me at the Biodiversity Institute open house

 

If you missed my recent workshops – and you’re in Laramie, WY – you’re in luck!

I’ll be a guest artist at the Biodiversity Center’s open house Thursday, September 3rd. Come by to learn/practice some basic observational sketching skills you can use anywhere. This is a great activity for “non-artists” and artsy folks alike – really. Trust me.

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