Do you sketch in the field?

Normal fault (Bartlett Wash, Utah)

Normal fault (Bartlett Wash, Utah)

Geology is, by nature, a field-based branch of science, and making on-site sketches is the best way to approach an outcrop. Why? Because field sketching sharpens your senses and turns you into a much better observer. It forces you to focus, to make important decisions regarding crucial structures and features, such as cross-cutting relations, sequence boundaries, fault geometry, layer continuity and grain size variations. It makes you discover important details that otherwise might go unnoticed. And it makes the locality stick to your mind.

Student field sketch from Canyonlands, S. Utah.

Student field sketch from Canyonlands, S. Utah.

Students realize this once they are exposed to field sketching during field trips and guided fieldwork. In fact, it is quite amazing to see the change that many, students and professional petroleum geologists alike, go through during a field trip that involves what I find to be a very useful one; to start each new location by making an overview sketch. The first day it seems like hard work. Then the next day – not so bad. By the third day, everyone is enjoying it because they are familiar with the concept and they realize that it works. Sketching is starting to be a fun thing.

Students sketching

Students sketching

Students sketching

Students sketching

Everyone seems to agree on its usefulness, but few if any universities offer a dedicated field-sketching course. Students in Bergen recently decided to do something about this. Through their local geo-student association, they asked for help, and once we had set a date for the course, more than 100 students quickly expressed interest.

Now it is not so easy to go out in the field in November in Bergen, so we put pictures on the screen to practice our skills. The advantage of making sketches in the field is of course that you can move around, check out details, use your hammer, dig, measure things, use your hand lens and so on. But just sketching from a picture is also a good exercise, one that may give you some rewarding surprises every now and then.

Example of a quick sketch

Example of a quick students sketch

If you are a student and want to improve your sketching skills; make at least one quick sketch every day for a few weeks, and you will be amazed by the progress you make. Efficient sketching requires some practice, and you can get much of that at home by sketching from photos.

The picture from which the sketch was made (SW Portugal)

The picture from which the sketch was made (SW Portugal)


About Haakon Fossen

Professor of structural geology, University of Bergen. Author of book Structural Geology, published at Cambridge University Press
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5 Responses to Do you sketch in the field?

  1. Sowreh says:

    I am agree with you! I also have problem for sketching on field.

  2. Sudhibrata Ray says:

    Sketching at field is really very heplful for field geologist. Particularly for structural geology and sedimentology. It helps to remember the features for long time and also very useful in interpretation of geological structure in 3D. As the handy compact cameras are easiIy available today sketching of rock outcrops on field is becoming rare. But what a geologist can observe in an outcrop a camera cannot. It depends more on light and shade and many important features are not clearly visible in photograph due to poor reflection. While sketching we can change our position to get the clear view of whole outcrop or a aparticular area of it. I apreciate that you have pointed out the positive side of field sketching. Thanks to the students who have realised it.

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