Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Dragonfly a Day

Widow Skimmer. Watercolor sketch by Ken Januski
The woodcut/linocut/reduction linocut went a bit awry yesterday so I took a break and organized my collection of dragonfly photos, including some new ones from the last few weeks. As I looked at them I remembered part of what I found so fascinating about drawing insects when I did so quite a few years ago.

There is a complexity and elegance of structure that's just very desirable to put down on paper. Unlike birds or most animals there aren't any soft, furry, feathery areas that are indistinct and hide the structure. Insects have very visible structures.

It's hard to understand the appeal of this but it may just be something natural to drawing. i.e. drawing is more often about lines than anything else and insects are full of them. Of course with dragonflies there is something extra. They often have the most striking patterns in wings, body or both. Here it's the velvet blacks and blazing white of the wings of this Widow Skimmer that stand out.

I started paying attention to dragonflies and damselflies a year or two ago but it's only now that I can accurately (I think!) name more than ten of them. Naming twenty would be a great stretch. Above is a photo of the first Widow Skimmer I've ever seen. We saw it at Morris Arboretum over the past few weeks. It's a fairly common dragonfly I think and it's also a member of one of the most visible families, the Skimmers. So it's not rare. But it sure is a beauty.

About a month ago I was contorted in a somewhat odd position to take a photo of an unknown butterfly along the Wissahickon. Two runners went by and said "Weird!" as they did so. I suppose it can seem odd to some, to stop and pay attention to the beauty and complexity of nature. But then I have to ask just what is it that others find so much more interesting than nature? I'm sure there are plenty of things. At one point in my life I might have also found them quite interesting, far more so than birds, butterflies and dragonflies. But today I'd just say '"Weird!".

By the way I'm not really starting a  Dragonfly a Day project. These types of projects seem popular online, at least from what I can see. But it is something I could easily see someone more focused on dragonflies than myself taking up! They offer a lot to both viewers and artists.


Mike Woodcock said...

I also find damselflies and dragonflies fascinating. And I couldn't agree more about the beauty in nature, it's there for everyone to see every day if only they would take the time, not just to look, but to see.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Mike,

I seem to recall you saying something about dragonflies way back when on Birdforum in it's livelier days. Have you done any paintings? I don't recall seeing any there.

Oddly enough today I found out that I'm not the only one interested in dragonflies. I was at the side of a large river this morning trying to ID a dragonfly that kept cruising back and forth but just wouldn't settle down so I could get a good look at it. Then there was a squawk and a Common Grackle appeared from out of the nearby foliage with a dragonfly in his mouth. He must have been hiding there, just waiting for one of them to get close enough.

The fellow I was watching, a Prince Baskettail I think, managed to escape him though. The grackle didn't stick around long enough for me to ID his prey.

Ken Januski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Woodcock said...

Dragonflies have featured in three of my paintings to date and damselfly in one. Only once was the dragonfly prey. I wish my ID skills were up to scratch with dragons and damsels but they are just so confusing!