Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thoughts on Field Sketching

The small watercolor, about 7x10 inches, above is based on a very quick field sketch I did of a Whimbrel raising its wings on Nummy Island near Stone Harbor, NJ a couple of weeks ago. The field sketch is below.

One of the things about sketching, and not photographing birds, as you see them is that you can convince yourself to try difficult but striking poses. Often in nature you get these surprises that are just there for a split second. As an aside at about the same time I saw this bird I also saw the grisly spectacle of a Great Blue Heron finding and swallowing whole a Clapper Rail youngster. It was too far away for me to see clearly. Grisly as it is I might have been tempted to sketch it if I could have seen it better.

My point though is that I think it allows you the chance to try something that you might think is beyond your abilities. As with many things you often find that you can do better than you expect, if you just try.

Now I have a lengthy history of deep disappointment with my field sketching so I'm not being hopelessly optimistic about this. But time and experience has shown me that the biggest obstacle is just the fear of trying. If you keep at it the results are surprising.

In addition you can come home with the seed of a painting of a striking experience. It's possible that I might have been able to get a photo of this. Unlikely but possible. The problem for me as an artist is that I don't get much artistic inspiration from my photos. Not for all of them but for many. With field sketches though I really recall the entire experience. There's a real desire to put it into a painting.

In fact I also have some photos of whimbrels I saw a year or two ago. I've looked at them many times but never felt enough of a connection to start a painting. But once I decided to do a painting based on the field sketch it was much easier to use the photo as the source for the background birds here. But it took the field sketch for me to decide to do it.

The sketch took about a minute. The bird had its wings up for a split second. I had to trust that I had seen it well enough in that split second to put it down on paper. Over time I've gotten much more trusting about that. And I'm almost always pleased with the results. I think we always underestimate how sentient we are.

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