Monday, July 12, 2010

Some Backgound, Or Not

Birds live in an environment, not in the idealized frame of a painting or drawing. So I've never been that fond of bodiless bird 'portraits' or bird 'vignettes', where they're centered on the page with a vague background that disappears into blank paper as it nears the edge of the frame. Consciously or not I think most artists who use birds as subjects, or even animals in general, make a decision about a background.

Should I use one? Should it be so detailed as to almost conflict with the primary subject but nonetheless be true to how the bird actually exists? Should it be something that's generalized from something real? Should instead the pattern of marks, patterns, colors, values in the painting become as important as the subject itself? Many questions and many individual answers.

Recently I've been trying harder to include a background that is representative of the one that my bird subjects live in. That was true in the Blue-winged Teals of my last post. But today, after I'd finished painting this American Oystercatcher, I just couldn't see how a background would do anything but detract from this. Sometimes you do a simple work, that seems to get the essence of what you're trying to portray. Then any addition seems extraneous and distracting. That was the case here.


Pam Johnson Brickell said...

Sorry, Ken, I've been swamped of late. Starting to crawl out of the hole.

I love this fellow as is. The pose captured speaks volumes.

Gabrielle said...

Yes, it is a beautiful painting of the oystercatcher just as is! I particularly like the shadow on its underbelly - it is very effective.

I have often been conflicted about backgrounds as well and have asked myself the questions you pose. Often I end up feeling as you did this time; that a background would only detract from the pure essence of the bird. Other times I was just plain clueless as to how to go about even trying to replicate the environment in 2 dimensions. I just need to practice backgrounds more - really get comfortable with painting the environment as much as the subject.

I always enjoy reading about your thought process, getting insight into how you hash things out in your mind, why you make the artistic decisions you make, which in turn inspires me to go ahead and give some of my ideas a try. Thanks!

Ken Januski said...

Hi Gabrielle. I'm happy you like it.

I think from the very start I've been conflicted about the background I use for birds. I think that I finally bit the bullet and realized that the only thing that seemed right for my own work was something that could pass for a recognizable environment. Unfortunately that meant I had to learn how to paint foliage, water, sky, etc. as well as birds. But for me after 4 years of doing this now it seemed to be the best way.

Not that I'm successful!! Just that I finally have a better idea as to where I ought to go. Because of that it was a surprise to not want a background for the Oystercatcher. But we artists need to stay flexible.

I'm glad that you enjoy reading about my thought process. I realize that my audience is small. But I'm happy to know that some people find it interesting or relevant.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Pam,

I figured you were lost in your house move. I'm sure that was daunting, even if it was only down the street.

I've been absent myself for a week due to the lack of an internet connection. That was frustrating but it did allow me to get a lot of painting done without distractions!