Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Bird in the Hand.............Is Drawn Differently

Following up on my last post on precision in art I realized afterwards that one reason I've been able to do more precise work with insects is that I've caught the insects and then drawn them under a dissecting microscope. The detail I can see is strong AND the insect doesn't move. It is dead.

I don't know any bird artists personally. The ones I've read about sometimes work from study skins in museums, or dead birds that they may have happened upon. In that case the bird is also dead and allows more detailed study, though of course it is no longer alive. Still it does allow a more detached scientific study similar to that of an insect under a microscope. My understanding is that this was Audubon's primary method of work, after he'd shot the bird. It is probably the best way to see some details that can only be seen in brief glimpses in the field.

On the other hand some bird artists whose work I very much admire work primarily from life, i.e. they only draw and paint what they actually see. They don't use photos. This reminds me of the times I used to draw mayflies. Mayflies live only for a day or so. Moreover everytime I used to catch them they would shrivel up into pale husks of their former beautiful selves. Their beauty was evident only when they were alive. You either had to draw them as they flitted about while alive or draw a shrunken corpse that seemed to have little relation to the live mayfly. Without getting too philosophical about this I do think that it is an apt analogy.

More detail can be seen/drawn/painted when a bird or insect is no longer alive and not being such a nuisance moving about at unexpected times. On the other hand the artist always knows the insect or bird might move and he needs to be extra alert to capture what he sees as he sees it. A second later the bird may have moved. I think that this relates to why I prefer works done from life.

The drawing at top is a portion of a larger drawing. It shows a Robber Fly drawn while viewed under a microscope. The watercolor is based on a photo taken of a Warbling Vireo at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge(Tinicum) in Philadelphia on Memorial Day weekend, 2008. As I mentioned last time I'm always more interested in creating a work of art when using birds as subjects than I am when drawing insects. That may be related to the fact that I can never see them with the same detail that I see insects. On the other hand it may also be that the lack of precision tells me that the drawing/painting lacks something. Maybe I can rescue it with 'art'.

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