Thursday, July 2, 2009

'Wildlife Art' and Me

I began drawing and painting birds in late 2006. The inspiration, outside of years of birdwatching, was the book 'Drawing Birds' by John Busby. I loved the plein air versions of birds that I found in it. They crackled with life. My own artistic background, outside of 3-5 years drawing insects in pen and ink viewed under a microscope, was 20-25 years of mainly abstract or non-objective work.

But I'd become very disillusioned with the art world and had stopped doing abstract art. After reading 'Drawing Birds' I was so excited about what I saw that I decided to try my hand at naturalistic art, using birds as subjects. The small watercolor at top, of shorebirds at Nummy Island near Cape May, NJ was my first bird watercolor. It was done in late 2006.

But I soon ran into a problem. As I started looking at 'wildilfe art', includng 'bird art', I found that most of it just left me cold. I don't want to elaborate on that here. If I had to generalize I'd say that it felt overly-precise and lacking in life.

My purpose in this post is not to criticize though. It's actually to mention two sites that I've found recently that remind me of the possibility of exciting 'bird art.' Both sites are listed on the right side of this page. The first is Nick Derry's blog. Though Nick also has a web site with more finished work this blog shows his sketches from life. I think that they are really exciting. The second site is a publisher, The Langford Press. The site is a bit clunky and has some broken links. But it also lists a number of wildlife-related books, part of the Wildlife Art Series, that look very interesting. I notice that some of the artists who publish there are also artists whose work I admired in 'Drawing Birds.'

I also reviewed 'Lars Jonsonn's Birds' at Amazon earlier this year and it is a stunning example of someone who does work that is both naturalistic and artful. So this is turning out to be a good year for me and 'wildlife art.' I keep finding more and more that I really like.

There is of course a great tradition of European and American artists who have been great artists while still using naturalistic subject matter. Durer, Courbet and Homer spring instantly to mind. But that seems less true since the 1900s. This is a huge subject that I really don't want to tackle in any depth. It may be due to the decline in popularity of representational art in the 'high art' world during most of the 20th century. But for whatever reason it seems to me that the most accomplished art and naturalistic art have been two different genres for 100 years or more. I don't see any reason that this should be the case. And I'm very happy whenever I find naturalistic art which also seems to be in the tradition of the best and most accomplished art. That's been the case this year.


Pam Johnson Brickell said...

Love the shapes, colors and light in this early piece. Thanks for sharing the link to Nick Derry's blog... wonderful, lively birds! I'm stuck inside again and so long to be outside sketching! Too hot here though. We'll be back in western NY mid July. Outdoor weather once again :)

Ken Januski said...

Hi Pam,

You know I liked this very simple piece as well. My guess is that that is what convinced me I should pursue birds and watercolor, and of course light!

Aren't Nick Derry's sketches impressive? I liked them so much I wanted to let other people know about them. I believe he's fairly young, mid-20s or so.

It's funny that your weather is too warm. Ellen from The Spicebush Log was just saying how cool and wet it's been up there. Here it's been pretty cool and wet as well. So we're stuck inside because of the rain and you because of the heat.

But I bet western New York will be perfect!

Sid Frissell said...

Ken: I really like your latest shorebird piece too. The birds look like they will run out of the frame any second. Good work. Thanks for leading us all to Nick Derry's blog. That is very pleasing field work. It seems to me to be a combination of John Busby (pencil work) and Lars Jonnson (colored sketches). In any case, I enjoyed viewing it.

I am collecting topics and photos for my blog again! Will be back "alive" soon!

Sid Frissell

Ken Januski said...

Hi Sid,

Good to hear from you again!

I'm glad that you like the shorebirds and that you like the Nick Derry blog. I found his sketches really striking and am happy to be able to point others to him.

I look forward to reading your blog once again and seeing what you've been up to.

MadSilence said...

My household contains a number of paintings & prints of birds, some very realistic, some more abstract.

Sometimes a little can mean a lot, a simple work leaving room for the viewer to fill the gaps.

Ken Januski said...

Hi MadSilence,

You've said it well: Sometimes a little can mean a lot, a simple work leaving room for the viewer to fill the gaps.

I've often thought this but completely forget about it. It's part of what makes are enjoyable, the ability for the viewer themselves to fill in the gap. Thanks for reminding me.