Friday, June 19, 2009

Shorebirds in Flight

Even John Busby in his wonderful book about drawing birds from life, 'Drawing Birds', concedes that photography has allowed artists to see things that they haven't seen so well before. I think birds in flight is one of these. Though even there you can find examples, and he does in his book on Eric Ennion, of how an accomplished artists can still do a better job with his naked eye. There is a thrill in capturing movement actually seen firsthand that is not matched in working from photos.

All of which just leads up to the obvious: the watercolor pencil and watercolor sketch above is based on a photo I took at Heislerville WMA in April, 2009. Shorebirds are just not that familiar to my wife and myself, though they could be if we'd drag ourselves out of Philadelphia and the fewer than 100 miles over to Cape May more often. Nonetheless when we do get to see shorebirds it is a great experience. They are subtly beautiful birds in themselves but their story of lengthy migrations and the movements of whole flocks at a time all add up to make them one of our favorite bird types.

So when I got some decent photos I couldn't resist trying to make some sort of art from them. I'm recovering from a truly horrible virus of some sort and so this is the first new work in a week or so. I thought I'd use watercolor pencils for my first attempt. I think this was a combination of just wanting to continue to explore watercolor pencils and the added detail that they can bring to a painting. Because they begin as lines they are much easier to control than a brush, at least for anyone not accomplished in watercolor.

Knowing that I was going to try to be drawing birds in very confusing postures due to being caught at a moment in time by the camera I wanted all the help I could get. So drawing seemed a good idea. And I think it worked for getting some of the shapes.

BUT the still water has again defeated me. I tried to render it in watercolor pencil, then wash. When that looked bad I abandoned my vow not to go back into watercolor pencil when it was still wet and eventually went into it with abandon. Not much help. Finally, as a last ditch attempt, I went to straight watercolor. I didn't totally kill the surface as I did in the Greater Yellowlegs skecth of a week or two ago. But that's about it.

So there's still this dilemma with me and watercolor pencils. How in the world do you make a convincing area of large still water? I'm sure I'll continue to experiment. I'm obviously disappointed with the background and so I thought about just not posting this. But I am happy with getting some sense of the Short-billed Dowtchers and Dunlins in flight though, so I decided to post it for that reason. Shorebirds in flight are mighty impressive.

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