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


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.

Biodiversity Institute open house_poster

Drawn to…conferences? How sketching can enhance your science conference experience

A version of this article is cross-posted on the ESA SciComm Section’s site.


Everyone can sketch. Even you.

And there are plenty of reasons why you should seriously consider trying it like I advocated for on www.crastina.se last month.

Researchers have demonstrated that drawing (even without training) can:

There is even evidence that collaboration between scientists and artists may result in better science. Continue reading Drawn to…conferences? How sketching can enhance your science conference experience

Op-ed: Why scientists (even non-artists) should draw

Lots of data indicate drawing skills are:
a) good for scientists, b) good for science,
and c) something anyone can learn.

Crastina_sketching scientists_screenshot (07.2015)

A few months ago, I discovered www.crastina.se, which describes itself as “A networking platform for the exchange of knowledge, skills, experience and opinion regarding both scientific peer-to-peer communication and science dissemination.”

I learned about Crastina when its founder Olle Bergman invited me to write an op-ed. He asked me to write about my deep conviction that drawing skills should be part of the modern scientist’s toolkit, not just a bygone ability for which we are faintly nostalgic.

My op-ed was published in July. Building on the theme of my op-ed, Olle will be running a series of interviews with scientists involved with drawing as a professional process and outreach tool. You can also tune in to Crastina’s Facebook page for a series of art-drawing-science links I curated.

Despite being limited to a mere 3,000 characters, I wove together some of the more compelling research and scientist-artist quotes I have encountered in the past few years.

Entomologist extraordinaire E.O. Wilson, himself an accomplished illustrator, maintains:

“The description of species and the study of biodiversity requires hand-wrought illustrations,” affirms E.O. Wilson.

Other stand-outs include research and popular articles by Robert Root-Bernstein, essays by Jenny Keller and Jonathan Kingdon, and several more items; many are listed in this month’s edition of my newsletter.

My piece for Crastina closed with insights which we would all do well to heed:

John Lembach argues, “Today’s problems require creative solutions. Creative solutions require imagination. Art can stimulate the imagination and so develop that which is creative in individuals. We are thankful to science for making it possible to live longer, but what do we live longer for? Under what conditions do we live longer? The creative in art can make the longer life worth living in terms of quality. Art is not a frill.”



Workshop: ‘Drawn to Science’ teacher professional development session in Wyoming

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Participants build drawing skills ‘tool kit’ through practice.
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Professors and researchers in a recent workshop practice drawing landscapes.

I’m delighted to announce a new collaborator, the Wyoming Department of Education! The WDE organizers of an annual ‘Roadmap to STEM’ conference are as excited about integrating art into science learning as I am. So, we’re teaming up to bring an arts integration training session to Wyoming’s science teachers in early August.

Continue reading Workshop: ‘Drawn to Science’ teacher professional development session in Wyoming