Blog Posts


Drawn By Hand

Click here for Caryn’s profile.

Technology is awesome.

But sometimes the simplest kind of technology can be the very best one for the job.

Caryn Babaian teaches biology at Bucks County Community College. And she has her biology students draw living things (and parts of living things) just about everyday in her classroom.

Not only that, she has them draw old-school style… pencils and sketchpads only. As Caryn explains in one of her videos, “art captures the elusive and diverse quality of life.” But then again, there are all kinds of art—videos, photographs, computer-generated images—that can show the most minute detail of virtually everything we experience in the world. What’s special about drawing? What’s special about drawing living things with our own hands?

Here’s Caryn’s answer:

Caryn, chalk, and blackboard in our studio

“I think hand drawing is unique because everybody has a slight variation of how they’re going to interpret phenomena. When you look at graphics and all that other stuff they do in 3-dimensional models, you get this very slick perspective of life. And what you see art-wise and image-wise, influences the way you think about life. With drawing by hand, if you’re the person who’s doing it, you have the ability to create a lot of subtleties in organic form that machines can’t create and probably never will create. And those subtleties are significant because they reflect the complexity of living systems. So, that’s why hand drawing, I think, has it over graphics, when it comes to living things.”

My take on what Caryn said here is that hand drawing is a lot about the interaction between the person drawing and the subject. And that interactivity is clearly a great tool in the classroom—students are engaged because they get to build what they’re learning. Now of course, I’d never deny (and neither would Caryn) that there is a time and place for all the fantastic technology we human beings have created. But I do think that if you want to learn about another living thing (and most especially, your connection with it), you may want to follow Caryn’s advice—that is, get out your pencil and sketchpad.

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Tom Miller

    Tom Miller is the producer of “Secret Life” and co-editor of the site’s blog. His job involves interviewing scientists and engineers, getting them to tell their amazing stories and occasionally trying to get them to sing. It’s a fantastic gig and Tom is extremely grateful for it.