Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reach for the Sky

That's what the Chestnut Oaks do, at the top of Shenandoah National Park, where we stay in a little cabin like the one pictured here each spring.

When you're under these lichen-covered trees in early spring they seem magnificent, tall and swaying in the wind, always attracting breeding and migrating songbirds: warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, flycatchers. They eat the tiny caterpillars that eat the newly emerging foliage as well as the moths that try to hide against the complexly colored bark.

Then I take a photo to capture this. Dullsville! Particularly the tallness of the trees seems to absolutely disappear. They look puny and uninteresting.

The watercolor, with white gouache, here is my first attempt to capture those trees in paint. I'm disappointed, I think particularly by the sense of scale. Putting the cabin smack dab in the middle of the painting wasn't smart either. The colors are disappointing though somewhat accurate.

But I do want to work more on trees, sky, foliage, because they're all an important part of the bird paintings that I do. This is a start in that direction.


Gabrielle said...

Trying to capture in 2 dimensions the feel of a place you love, that you've been, and breathed, and heard, and smelled can be quite challenging. I've always found it to be extremely frustrating. Just call it a watercolor "study" and then no one will care if the cabin is smack dab in the middle! Hee-hee.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Gabrielle,

That's a very interesting way of putting it! You're right that it is frustrating. But on the other hand I think it's one of the things that makes art so valuable when you're successful: you actually feel like you've gotten some of those many things into two dimensions. It doesn't happen very often but I do feel that way to a certain extent about the last Canada Warbler painting. It actually, at least to me, got some of what I recall of that bird and that day: mainly brilliant yellow and brilliant sunshine.

It didn't happen this time though so back to the drawing board and more 'studies.'

Gabrielle said...

The possibility of being successful in that way is probably one of the main things that drives artists to paint. I'm glad that your Canada warbler painting gave you that. I don't get that sense very often, but I keep trying!

(I forgot to mention how much I liked your quick watercolors of Samson and Sparrow. For their own merit, but also because I'm a cat person)

Ken Januski said...

Yes, Gabrielle I think that is one of the main motivations of art. And it was your mentioning how difficult it is that reminded me of it. Nicely put!

I'm glad you like the cats. I actually responded to your lengthy post that was a dialogue with yourself about starting a painting but it seemed to disappear in the ether and never actually make it to your blog. In any case while there I did see that you were a cat person. My wife is the real cat person here. But even though I'm allergic to them I've gotten fond of many a cat over the last 20+ years.

I've never been happy with the few drawings I tried though. I think pencil can look to hard and misses some of their softness and fluidity. But watercolor seems like the perfect medium for them.

Gabrielle said...

Yes, cats are so fluid that watercolor does seem the natural medium.

I'm sorry your comment to my post didn't work; it is interesting to hear other artist's experiences with the inner critic. Hopefully you don't have one, or if you do, it is pretty well behaved.

Interesting factoid about cats - my husband is allergic to them too, but we did a little research before deciding on our second cat and found that dark-furred, unneutered males produce the most protein that causes allergies and light-colored neutered females produce the least. So we got a light-colored female and unless my husband actually rubs his face directly in her fur, he has no reaction. But he could barely pet our first cat without his eyes starting to water, and that cat was a black & white male. Interesting.