Saturday, September 5, 2009

Handsome Heron in Watercolor

I finally got around to trying a small watercolor of the striking first year Green Heron that Jerene and I saw at Tinicum last week(and the subject of the previous post). This watercolor is based on a combination of photos and the field sketches I did that day.

Since I always seem to have trouble with backgrounds in my watercolors I decided to put that in first. I also wanted to keep the striking colors of the light green vegetation and light blue water. That would be true to what I saw but I was hoping it also would set up a striking counterpoint to the dark, deep colors of the heron.

I soon realized though that, once again, I'd used values that were too dark. Both the water and vegetation should have been lighter, and possibly more of a wash. One other thing I wanted to do was make sure that the limb on which he sat didn't become too dark. This has been a problem I've seen after the fact in much of my recent work where birds sit on branches. I often tend to make them too dark in value, even if they are that dark in reality. The problem is that the dark value can just be too strong for the rest of the work, like a tuba blaring in the middle of a violin solo.

So I started this branch much lighter. But as you can see it didn't stay that way long. Soon I had two areas that were too dark.

The finished version, above, shows the results of my various attempts to bring back some lighter values as best I could, unify the values as best I could, and add some detail to the heron. I think the composition as a whole is satisfactory, as is the heron. But in the back of my mind I know the light, bright painting that I envisioned. And in front of my eyes I see that someone cruelly slipped in a darker version...........

Always more to learn about how to use watercolor!


Pam Johnson Brickell said...

Great pose! I sooo understand struggles with value. Despite your frustrations, though, I do like the strokes you used for the background vegetation and I love your treatment of the heron's feet!

Chatters said...


You have a lovely blog. Love your style and paintings & drawings in the field. They have energy and life. You can tell that you were working from life.

I too love painting birds. I mainly paint wildlife and animals. I found your blog very inspiring.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Pam,

I guess when I run for office it will be on the 'values' platform! Seriously it's such an important part of vibrant art, and though I know that well I still have the hardest time keeping on top of it.

You know the heron's pose came largely from a photo. But I also did the sketches from last post and I think that they are what gave me the confidence to put the feet in here. My guess is that if I hadn't previously drawn them from life I would have been much more tentative.

Today however I tried, and tried, and tried to draw a female Black-throated Blue warbler from life. It would not sit still. So it was extremely frustrating trying to draw it. Still it forced me to think about how a warbler is put together. I'm sure over time that this will pay off.

One more challenge: drawing from life. But slowly but surely it all adds up to better quality work!

Ken Januski said...

Hi Chatters,

Thank you for your compliments! I'm so happy that you like my blog and that you find energy and life in my work. It's something I really strive for.

For the last couple of years I worked from photos I took. But I knew that working from photos is nothing like working from life. So I kept telling myself I needed to get out and work from life, no matter how disappointing the work might be. Finally I started working from life this year.

I'm so happy I did. You see so much more and get to appreciate so much more in what you do see. Today, as I just told Pam, though I tried drawing a never still female Black-throated Blue warbler. It was an exercise in extreme frustration! But I'm sure that will change over time. You just need to keep at it. Being outside while you do it helps to make that a whole lot easier!