Sunday, May 26, 2013

Keep Sketching, and Painting

Ovenbird at Magee Marsh. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Great Egret at Morris Arboretum. Watercolor by Ken Januski

With the arrival of football season once again......... I know it's almost June but the weather has been reminiscent of early fall, with a real chill in the air. We started off birding on Friday morning, after dropping off one of our cats at the vet, in low 60 degree weather. As the rain continued the temperature plunged. Soon we were birding, none too successfully, in 49 degree weather.

When we returned from the vet I decided that I wasn't going to bird again until the wind died down and the weather warmed up. As I sat in my studio trying to decide what to do I looked through some photos and once again turned to sketching, again in my Stillman and Birn 5.5x8.5 Gamma sketchbook.

As Bob Kuhn, among many others, has said: you should always keep drawing. I think that's true. One loss I felt when I turned to completely abstract work was that of drawing. Though I still drew it wasn't from anything real. I always missed that. Now that I'm doing it again I remember just how satisfying it is.

At the same time though I'd add 'Keep Painting.' They really are two different methods of portraying the world, though often quite well merged in many successful artists. There's the desire for line and structure that drawing fulfills. And there's the desire for color, shape, texture that paint seems better at.

For some reason at least to me it seems that wildlife art relies more on the linear aspect of art, perhaps because of its desire for verisimilitude. But painting is about paint, whether oil, acrylic or something else. For me watercolor remains a difficult but rewarding medium. So after I'd done these two sketches I decided to continue on in watercolor. Particularly with the ovenbird it became much more a painting than a drawing with watercolor added. To me it's just as important to keep painting as it is to keep sketching. Do both, and eventually, you'll have something to show for it.

I'd much prefer if I could work from life like this, rather than rely on photos. But it is a learning experience, particularly in regard to learning watercolor. I'm sure it will eventually pay off in the field, the next time that ovenbird walks by.


Martha Knox said...

I'm trying to prioritize making time to attend figure drawing sessions and sessions drawing at the Wagner Free Institute of Science. (The Wagner offers time for artists to draw from its collections from 1-4 every Friday.) I, too, think color is an important part of practice. Usually if I draw to explore color, I use pastel pencils in my sketchbook.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Martha,

I know a number of people trying to do that, though none in Philadelphia I think. I did it for years when I lived in San Francisco and recommend it very highly. For me though birds are my current models, though far less well behaved than all the human models I've worked with. They think nothing of putting in a nanosecond appearance and then disappearing for days!

I've yet to find a successful way to use color when working from life. I'm hoping that maybe the water-soluble Neocolor II Crayons from Caran Dache will work if I ever try them in the field rather than just in my studio. If I were doing figure drawing I'd probably give them a try there. The fact that they're soluble means that you can very quickly go from line to area, and then back to line if you want again with the crayons.