Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recent and Not-so Recent Sightings

Pileated Woodpecker Excavating Hole. Watercolor by Ken Januski

In spite of myself I seem wedded, at least for the time being, to these small 5.5x8.5 watercolor sketches in Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbooks. In the case of the Pileated Woodpecker above I think it was the strong pose that convinced me to try to draw it and then perhaps to use watercolor to add color.

In my mind certain birds are very hard to paint: Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager,  Cock of the Rock and others. This isn't because of complicated plumage, which might be the case for instance with a Ruffed Grouse. No it's the very simplicity of their colors. When painted it's very easy for them to look flat, like a graphic. I've yet to see a Cock of the Rock painting I like. I won't even try to paint Scarlet Tanagers though I do recall seeing a painting I liked over the last year or so.

We saw this Pileated four to six weeks ago at Carpenter's Woods throwing his head and bill into this dead tree for all he was worth. Every few minutes he'd lean deep into the tree, almost his entire body disappearing, and start tossing the chiseled wood over his head and out of the hole. It was fascinating to watch.

When I looked at some photos I'd taken I though that the pose just might be strong enough to overcome the problem of his simplistic black, white and red foliage. His head is thrown back ready for another thrust into the hole. His leg is planted solidly in almost a completely horizontal line. Hopefully a viewer can figure out that his massive head and bill will soon go flying into the hole in front of him.

I'm not big on painting trees and bark. But until I go much more abstract I need to deal with them in some way. So this is my attempt. I was a bit afraid that it might overwhelm the woodpecker. But I think it works as is. I've left the background sky and foliage very simple, perhaps too much so. But I wanted a stark contrast with the dark of the Pileated and his tree. Time will tell whether or not I try to do any more work on the foliage and sky.
Young Male Baltimore Oriole. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

This far less successful painting of a first year male Baltimore Oriole was based on a couple of photos taken yesterday at Houston Meadows. I've realized recently that I need to expand my yellow palette in watercolor. Once again I've lost the brilliant yellow I was looking for. The only real reason there is for showing this is as an apology to a person who will probably never read this. While looking at this bird, far too yellow to be a male Baltimore Oriole, two birders walked up to us. One of them argued that it was not a female Baltimore Oriole as we thought but instead a male. We knew it wasn't a mature male because of the yellow color. The head was in shadow and so could have been brown or black. The other birder was convinced it was black. To make a long story short I also took a couple of photos of it and when I looked at them they clearly showed the head to be black. So it is indeed a male Baltimore Oriole, but a first year bird.

Just as with tree bark I really need to do better with the foliage that so many birds hide in at this time of year. This is a start but only that. There's much left to be desired. And the bird lacks the brilliant yellow with just a hint of orange wash that he had in real life. I make go back into this but I think it's too late to salvage it. That will have to wait for a new work. And perhaps a new tube of a transparent yellow watercolor.

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