A scientific illustration of the blackberry plant in my yard.
If you're reading my blog you probably have a teen that's into art, but there are other subjects that are also important to you. English, Math, Science, Music and so on... Every subject isn't an island, it's more like currents in an ocean of learning, they run into each other. Science and Art collide when we do scientific drawings.
This is a subject that interests me, as I spent some years studying microbiology and immunology. I never finished, I left it to start my family. Don't cry for me though, my grades weren't good enough to justify it! Besides my children are much more fun than any electron microscope.
My first scientific drawing was a conceptual design drawing for a helicopter chair. I wanted my father to help me by making some wooden helicopter blades that I could hook up to a lawn mower engine. Fortunately he said no, and so I'm here to tell you about it. I had learned to draw conceptual design drawings with measurements and labels from watching my father plan his wood working projects.
There are different styles of scientific drawings for different disciplines. Engineering drawings, Architectural drawings, Biology, Botany... there's even drawings for Chemistry, but they're pretty boring. The point is that art, even basic art is an essential skill to the young scientist. And an excellent avenue to get your young artist excited about science.
Today I'd like to talk to you about biology and botany drawings. As botany is a subject within biology the drawing styles and rules are quite similar. The main difference is between lab drawings and illustrations. You see, illustrations are meant to be fun and educational, and lab drawings are more plain, practical and serious.
So why incorporate scientific drawings into your science curriculum? Couldn't you just study the illustrations in the text book and have your student memorize the labels? You could, but... drawing and labeling it themselves will improve memory retention, increase their enjoyment of the subject and teach them to observe more carefully.
What should you have them draw? There are three areas where I think scientific drawing belongs in your homeschool curriculum: copying diagrams, lab drawings, and in a nature study journal.
- When studying things like the cell or the circulatory system drawing and labeling your own diagram cannot be beat for an effective study technique.
- Lab drawings; if you are fortunate enough to have a microscope or you do dissections, your student should be recording his or her observations in a lab book.
- A nature study journal is a scientific habit that has been made somewhat obsolete by the camera, but is a compelling way for a young scientist to begin to observe and catalogue the world around them. Some things to study include plants, insects, birds and animals.
Sometimes the rules are just constricting and limiting, especially from an artistic stand point. In my opinion they should be respected completely in the lab, mostly in study drawings, but stretched in nature journaling.
One rule that shouldn't be broken: Draw what you see. A scientific drawing ceases to be scientific when it is no longer a realistic representation of what you see. Drawing petals without observing how many petals and what shape is a cartoon not a scientific drawing.
Rules that should be broken.
- No shading only stippling. As soon as it's isn't a lab drawing I'd get rid of this one. Good shading only improves the realism of a drawing.
- No color just a line drawing. Almost every illustration in your textbook will have color, what does that tell you? Try colored pencils or watercolor!
- No cursive, only printing. If you're drawing this for yourself and you want to use cursive, then use cursive it will only improve your drawing.
- All labels to the right. If you're doing it for yourself there's more than one way to label a drawing. If you simply want a title without labels in your journal, why not?