Monday, April 18, 2011

The Year of Sketching Wood Warblers

I've been wanting to do successful field sketches of wood warblers for at least three and probably more years now. Wood warblers are my favorite birds and field sketching is my favorite type of art work, not that I'm accomplished at it.

But warblers move so quickly that so far I've found it next to impossible to sketch them from life. Of course I can do it from photos but it's just not the same. I thought of that again today when I deliberately left the house without a camera. Just my binoculars and a sketchbook.

And I'm happy I did. There's something frightening about trying to sketch them while they flit in front of you but also something exhilarating. I thought about my camera when I saw my first Common Yellowthroat of the season but was happy I didn't have it. With no such temptation I could try to really look at the bird and capture a mental image that I could then put down on paper.

Fortunately the male Common Yellowthroat was hanging out near a very small stream at Carpenter's Woods in Philadelphia along with one Swamp Sparrow, the first I've seen this year, a few White-throated Sparrows, many Ruby-crowned Kinglets and some Blue Jays and American Robins. So if I just stood still and kept my binoculars on the spot I could continue to get glimpses of the warblers and other birds.

At top is the second version of the male Common Yellowthroated Warbler. Beneath is a Swamp Sparrow, a Black-and-white Warbler, whose eye-patch I have a bit wrong, and two Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

For years I wrote about how impossible it was to sketch kinglets. But I'm finally getting the hang of it. Though I have to add that I only did these two sketches when I had at least 25 and possibly 50 different views today. But they move so quickly that they're gone by the time I get my binoculars up. Still I'm starting to at least get comfortable with them, and with wood warblers.

So far this year I've now sketched from life these wood warblers: Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white and Common Yellowthroat, along with numerous kinglets. The only one I saw but didn't sketch was a Pine. Hopefully I'll get another chance.

These sketches are not perfect by any means. But I think if I can at least get comfortable with sketching the general shapes that then I can start paying more attention to details, like all of the various markings on the Black-and-white warbler. I got the chest streaking correct today but completely botched the wings and face. I'm sure I'll get more opportunities.

All in all though I think that this might really become the Year of Sketching Wood Warblers. I'd be thrilled if I could add at least another 10 species. That's something to look forward to.

Next big question: Is it too early to consider a means of working with color in the field when sketching wood warblers? I don't want to get ahead of myself since I'm just starting to get comfortable with warbler shapes. On the other hand it seems criminal not to be able to include some sense of their striking color.

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