Saturday, April 28, 2012

Still Sketching

Garden chores, carpentry chores related to our garden, and a lot of birding and field sketching have argued against any developed work during the last week or two. I don't mind this. During winter I long for warmer weather so that I can actually sketch from life. So that's what I like to do at this time of year. And of course there are always the new arrivals to sketch. That adds some excitement. Above is a field sketch of the first Wood Thrush of 2012. Below it is a poor sketch of an Eastern Screech Owl. In these two instances and almost all the others on pages below I didn't have my scope. So the sketches are done by looking at bird in binoculars and then sketching the bird. It's almost three years since I started field sketching seriously. It is a daunting task. The birds are so often gone before you can put pen or pencil to paper. It seems impossible. And yet when I see field sketches by talented artists I can feel the excitement that they must have had as they drew. Sketches from photos, including my own, leave me cold by comparison. There's just nothing like a good field sketch. I imagine this is related to why I've always preferred Rembrandt's sketches to his paintings. There's an electricity in them that is not found elsewhere.
But it has not been an easy road. The excitement is always there but the results don't always seem to indicate much improvement. This is less so with field sketches done with a spotting scope and birds that tend to sit for more than a split second. And I'm very happy with those. With the sketches done in the manner of this page though I sometimes feel disappointed in my progress. That is starting to change though. I've learned that such sketching requires both mental effort and experience. Once you've gotten certain parts of a bird wrong enough times you start drawing it differently even in field sketches. More I think you learn what you don't know. As I've learned all the things I don't know about constructing a bird on paper I've started to pay more and more attention to those aspects when looking at a bird to sketch it. So even a field sketch that is done in less than 10 seconds may include years of experience and knowledge. I'm starting to feel that with the way I draw woodpeckers, thrushes, wrens, even those troublesome warblers. On the page above are some recent attempts at a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker and Gray Catbird. They still leave much to be desired. But finally I feel that it won't be long before my field sketches show a full and convincing sketch of the birds I see. It is an exciting time.
Above some sketches of a Carolina Wren, all of whom seem to be perched in the open and singing at this time of year, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Hairy Woodpecker. I'm starting to feel at home with Carolina Wrens. Woodpeckers are more complicated but I'm starting to pay attention to the different shapes and sizes of their bills, the shapes of their heads, and the patterns on their face and wings. It's a lot to keep track of and generally I can only notice a few things before the bird has flown. But the knowledge is accumulating. I expect that soon my various woodpeckers will actually look like the species they are meant to portray. There is something tremendously exciting about being able to sketch birds as they appear, and disappear, right in front of you. By the way almost all of the credit for my improvement, outside of my actual practice, can be laid at the great examples of field sketching found at the Wildlife Art thread at

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