Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Worthwhile Way of Spending Time

And I don't think there could be any more worthwhile way of spending time than with nature and with art.
Tim Wootton, 'Drawing and Painting Birds'

When I first started using birds as subject matter in late 2006 there was really only one person, place, thing that inspired me: 'Drawing Birds', a book by John Busby. So thrilled was I by it that I wrote a review of it at Amazon. 'Inspiring is the Word' was the title of my review and I think it summarizes my feelings pretty well. It was, and still is, inspiring.

Most inspiring was the liveliness of the work, the sense that the illustrations of work by various artists was actually done by someone who had seen the actual bird and felt the excitement of seeing and portraying it. No lifeless photographic imitations that reminded me more of photos than of nature and birds.

There was just one problem. I loved the work I saw in the book, and I loved the philosophy of drawing from life espoused by the talented artist/author John Busby. But where could I go next? How could I follow this path of working from nature. Very few American artists that I could find did so: namely Barry Van Dusen, whose work was in the Busby book, and Debby Kaspari, especially in her various posts about drawing birds. These were a start but still I felt like I was operating alone in the wilderness. This was particularly true in my desire to meld art and nature, not just do illustrations of nature.

Then about two years ago I stumbled upon the work of Nick Derry. His seemed the best contemporary melding of both art and nature that I'd yet seen. I mentioned how much I liked his work to
Jocelyn Oudesluys on the Art section of The Nature Blog Network and she mentioned that he hung out at the Wildlife Art section of birdforum.

To make what's already a lengthy story a bit shorter I finally found a world in which I no longer felt myself an alien. Working from life, combining art and nature were all as natural as can be. And the most generous, thoughtful, constantly available person there was Tim Wootton, the artist and author whose book I've illustrated at top.

I'm sure I've mentioned before what a bunch of talented, helpful, interesting artists hang out there. Many of the most talented have their work showcased in his new book. Since I know many of them, at least as 'online' friends, I can't really give a very objective review of the took. I recieved it this weekend and have read it fully once and flipped through every illustration twice. I'm sure I'll be going through it many more times. That tells you something.

I do think Tim's book will join John Busby's as classics in the field of wildlife art and art based on nature. The one thing that I can quite honestly say is that if you are interested in being a serious bird artist you'll run into many questions: Should you work from life? If so how in the world can you draw something that moves so quickly, that may move as soon as you put your pen down to paper? What should you do about the background? Can you fake it with just some impressionistic foliage? Do you just leave it blank? Will amorphous colors running into one another fool anyone? Is there a more exciting composition than another warbler perched on a branch? How can you make your work look like art, have the dynamism of art? Should you use photographs as a help? What about video? How do you portray water? Do you also need bo learn to be a landscape painter. I could go on and on.

My point is that in my five years of doing work based on birds most of these questions have crossed my mind. Tim's book touches on almost all of them. I don't think Tim would say that there is a definitive answer to any of them, just as there aren't to most complex questions. But he gives you his thoughts and the thoughts of other artists. These will all help any bird artist I believe, particularly those who are just starting out and feel a bit like an alien in a strange world. This book makes working from life in nature, and making art based on it, seem like the most normal and exciting thing in the world.

I ordered Tim's book directly from his blog. This is the British edition and will cost extra for shipping and possibly dollar to pound currency conversion. Amazon has said it will be available in the states in July or August and I'm sure the shipping will be much less. I thought I'd hold off for the American version but eventually I just couldn't wait any longer. I'm thrilled that I made that decision. If you're not a bird artist but do enjoy art based on nature I think you'll also enjoy the book. It is full of lively and artful renderings of birds.

If you do come from a fine art background you soon find out how different it seems to be from that of wildlife art. And yet it shouldn't be. And here it's not. As Tim says it's hard to think of a better use of time than being in nature and making art.

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