Micro Observation Drawing

Observation drawings of three dimensional objects and spaces provide opportunities to improve spatial knowledge and perception.  Photographs and illustrations can also act as useful subjects for observation drawings, being clear to distinguish between reproduction and copying – and dominance of observation in the former.

Micro-scale Drawings

Photographs of micro-scale shapes and textures that were visualized with scanning electron microscopy can be excellent sources for observation drawing.  There is no way to view the shapes and textures at the nano-scale without use of high magnification technology.  Using high magnification images for observation drawing provides opportunities to explore the physical shapes that occur on the micro-scale.

Below is a 10 minute observation drawing (left) made from a micrograph (right) of an arm fragment of a microscopic ostracod (two-shelled crustacean), showing joints and fine vibrissae (hairs) coming from limb ends.

Micro Observation Drawing

Give it a try

Click here to view the original micrograph on Morphbank.  Or, explore Morphbank and find other micrographs or photographs you find interesting.  Choose one and create an observation drawing of the structural details.  You can zoom in/out of the Morphbank images.

Try it… and share your thoughts about if you were able to “see more” by creating the observation drawing.

Leave a comment below to share your experiences or questions.


Analysis RE:drawing


Observation drawing discussed on this site usually involves the observation of tangible objects or spaces, but re-drawing illustrations and photographs can also be useful sources for observation.  Reproducing meaningful illustrations from academic texts or atlases with observation-drawing heightens the attention and time directed to observing the details of the illustration.

Observation drawing takes time and allows for more subtle details to be observed from the illustration.  For example, while redrawing an illustration it may be neccessary to count the number of segments depicted in an element, so that the redrawing is accurate.  Without the goal of reproduction there may not be a need to attend to and analyze the fine details, such as the number of segments present.  Observing without drawing may simple result in a recognition that multiple parts are present.  Reproduction through observation drawing requires an deeper analysis of structure and spatial relationships.

Copying vs Reproducing

There is an important distinction to be made between copying and reproducing. 

Copying involves production of a duplicate (clone) through the use of a technological process.  The process might involve a photocopier or hand-tracing or a back lite illustration.  Each of these processes involves duplicating the marks of the original without observing the overall spatial relationships. Marks and tones are duplicated without the need to observe overall patterns and relationships.

Reproduction involves observation and production of a new record (drawing), technologically disconnected from the original.  Re-productions are new artifacts, each with unique features and distinctions.  Like the  gene mutations and morphological variation that occur across generations of organisms, subtle differences can become elaborated through multiple reproductions.

Lasting Impressions

The reproduction (eg. pencil drawing paper) is a record of the observation drawing process but it is not the only result. The impacts on the knowledge and memory of the participant are hidden and of course challenging to study. However, some aspects of the changes to knowledge can be demonstrated through production of secondary “memory-drawings” some time after the production of the original observation drawing.

Redrawing from memory, details that were originally involved in the observation drawing, provides documentation of what details were retained.  Multiple implementations of memory-drawings have a reinforcing affect, so serialization will produce confounding affects. However, altering the time between observation-drawing and memory-drawing (eg. 10 minutes vs 1 day) could provide some insight into the retention span of a specific observation-drawing activity.

Observation-drawing of illustration from Benton and Harper 2012 (left) and memory-drawing after 1-hour (right).
Observation-drawing of illustration in Benton and Harper 2012 (left) and memory-drawing after 1-hour (right).


Give it a try and share your thoughts

  • Choose a reasonably complex illustration from a textbook of a topic you are interested in learning more about.
  • Create an observation-drawing of the illustration (est. time = 15 minutes).
  • Some time later (eg. two hours), create a memory-drawing without referring to either the original source or observation drawing.  (est. time = 5-10 minutes).
  • Compare the original observation-drawing to the memory-drawing.
  • Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.