Thursday, May 16, 2013

Philadelphia Empidomax

Empidomax Flycatcher - Willow? Watercolor by Ken Januski

As we hurried out of the house yesterday to do our bluebird nest monitoring at Morris Arboretum before any rain started I was in such a rush that I forgot my sketchbook and drawing pens. So when this very active flycatcher kept dropping to the ground and back I had no drawing utensils other than the small notebook I use to list birds seen and one of my old Faber Castell Pitt Artists Pen, my previous pen of choice.

There was something puzzling about this flycatcher. It had what is called a teardrop shape eye, something not found in local flycatchers. He also flicked his tail occasionally but was obviously not an Eastern Phoebe, the best known local tail-flipping flycatcher. There was also a fairly obvious vest.

I noted all of this in the tiny sketch that I did. But when I got home I didn't refer to the sketch but instead tried a new sketch based on my memory. This is much progress for me - actually being able to retain a memory of a bird. I think this is due to hard looking and much practice.

Though I had brought along a number of Stillman and Birn sketchbooks on the trip to Magee Marsh I found that I only had time to use the one sketchbook that fit handily in my back pocket, a Moleskine. With more time and perseverance I would have gotten to the Stillman and Birn.

In any case yesterday I decided to inaugurate a 5.5x8.5 Delta hardbound sketchbook with this drawing from memory. This is the first page. But as I worked on it I realized I really needed some of the space on the inside book cover. Since it's made of the same paper it was easy enough to do. As usual the paper erased beautifully so that I could keep drawing and erasing until the bird seemed right. After that I added a small amount of watercolor. Given the overall gray color of the bird there really wasn't much color that I could add.

I often find that painting the bird like this soon after seeing it helps to confirm the ID, or at least suggest a likely possibility. This was most likely a Willow Flycatcher, a common bird at Morris, with a surprisingly large eye-ring. If he had called I'd know for sure but he was frustratingly quiet.

I'm happy with this watercolor sketch and especially with the paper. To me it works beautifully, and keeps a very clean quality in spite of strong erasures, for watercolor sketches such as these.

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