Jan 26, 2013

Rocks: Up Close and Personal

Our enthusiasm for the study of rocks--not the sexiest sounding subject for most of us--has been bumped up several notches by incorporating the fun, hands-on ideas from the Outdoor Hour Challenges for January. This time it was to study them up close. You know, REAL close. Magnifying glass close!

The Collection. Penny and nail for testing hardness.
Mei had gathered several rocks from walks in our area as per the previous challenges' instructions. But we were doubly prepared because of our field trip last summer to Penn's Cave! Penn's Cave, located in the middle of Pennsylvania near State College, is notable for being "America's Only All-Water Cavern."
But not only do you traverse the cavern by BOAT, you also are treated to a mini-museum of the history and geology of the area, a wildlife park, and a HUGE gift shop. If you're ever in the region, go. It was there that I picked out several samples of minerals as a surprise for my (doubtful) future gemologist .

Now to the Study. After each of us chose a rock we dug out all of our magnification tools, pencils, colored pencils, our printables, and our new nature notebooks (Vol. 2!). Our preferred tool was the
Carson MM-24 MicroBrite Pocket Microscope
Carson Microbrite
With its built-in light and 20x-40x zoom, we really could get in close on our subjects. And for its modest price, we can bring it with us into the field. We used the Outdoor Hour Challenge grid from the January Newsletter as a kind of Bingo card, crossing out the squares that held descriptive terms of our chosen specimen. Then we began drawing.

You can see how bright the Microbrite really is. Lives up to its name!
Drawing rocks is challenging. There is no recognizable form that simplifies the result for an amateur artist like there would be for, say, a cat. This is a GOOD thing actually because it demands careful observation! No symbolic marks on paper like triangle ears and whiskers.

A sample of Purple Mica and the drawing
But we gained heightened appreciation for scientific illustrators when we tackled that magnified view. Holey, moley, was it hard!!

Step 1: Zero in on an interesting feature. Hold the scope there. Slip.Whoops. Relocate. Hold again.

Step 2: Draw. Oh, yeah.You have to do that with one eye cuz the other one is on the 'scope. Whoops.Relocate. Hold. Draw.
And back-and-forth with one eye on the rock and the other on the drawing. Impossible, really. So we fell back on blind contour drawing, an artist's method whereby your pencil follows the edge that your eyes are looking at without YOU looking at your pencil. Then we finished the drawings with our colored pencils and some memory!

So now when we see those minutely detailed, worthy-of-framing studies by professional scientific illustrators of the past, we will be in greater awe of their persistence. And in sympathy of the eyestrain!

Mei's Purple Mica
Mom's Granite/Quartz combo

Hook up with the Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletters at  Handbook of Nature Study and check out other rock-ologists discoveries! Got any great rock-gathering sources? Tell Mother All About It!



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