Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Day Without Warblers

Bay-breasted Warbler. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Black and White Warbler. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Black-throated Green Warbler. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Black-throated Green Warbler. Watercolor by Ken Januski

Baltimore Oriole et al. Field Sketch by Ken Januski

After all the warblers of Magee Marsh, seen with very little obfuscating foliage, it's been quite a change to return to my local Philadelphia haunts and find that the few warblers that are here are often extremely high and/or hidden by extensive foliage. Each day out reminds me of the saying about a day without wine being like a day without sunshine. Or perhaps a day without jazz is like a day without sunshine as a public radio station in Kentucky used to say. I feel like I'm going through warbler withdrawal.

But there have been some warblers and also other first of season or first of year birds for Philadelphia. It's been a treat to see familiar thrushes, flycatchers and orioles again. Many of them will remain here and nest. The field sketch immediately above shows some of the local birds, a not quite local Chestnut-sided Warbler seen from more or less straight underneath, a House Finch at feeder, a mystery flycatcher that turned out to be an Acadian, and a Baltimore Oriole.

Each year I promise myself to be a bit more discriminating in the art I show on this blog and elsewhere. My intent it so show more finished work and less working sketches, often of not the best quality. But guess what? It's easier said than done, this producing finished quality work idea.

I've struggled for the last week with small watercolor sketches in my Stillman and Birn 5.5x8.5 Gamma sketchbook. These are all based on photos from Magee, the things I took after I'd done some field sketches. The sketchbooks themselves are fine.

But most of the sketches leave something if not a lot to be desired, especially when you consider the beauty of the birds when seen live.  And of course there is size. I had one Black-throated Green land within a hand's reach of me. At that close range you see how delicate and really tiny they are. All the more reason to pursue my ongoing goal of doing them justice in paint. I've seen thousands of illustrations of warblers. I've seen exceedingly few successful paintings of them.

I recently read a post elsewhere about watercolor not actually being hard. But it is. It is exceedingly hard. It's only easy if you really don't understand how great watercolor can be, for instance in the work of Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent, both of whose work is full of light and life. If you only use watercolor to fill in areas with color that is something else again. It still requires skill I think. But it completely ignores the sense of transparency and light which in my humble opinion is the only reason to even use watercolor.

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