Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Humming Along

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Flower. Woodcut proof by Ken Januski
Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Flower. Linocut/Woodcut proof by Ken Januski.

It's been the summer of hummers, 99% of them Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the backyard. The other 1% have been Ruby-throats out in the wild and just once, this Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. Only today did I take the time to pull out my moth guide and figure out exactly what species this moth was. An online search earlier seemed to be a but murky since it seems like a number of things are called Hummingbird Moths. In any case this is a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, and it was sipping nectar from deeply tubed flowers just as it was supposed to.

The top image above is stage two of the woodblock portion of this print. I first printed it in a greenish blue, then just now added a dark brown for part of the body and wings of the moth.

Below it is a proof with the black lino block printed on top of the first color attempted on the background woodblock. Though I liked it I decided that something a bit greener would be more appropriate. But I didn't want a blinding green either.

The top image is on good printmaking paper, in this case Rives Heavyweight. The total print is 7"x9" and the image itself 4"x6".

One thing I'm happy about here is that I did cleanup the flowers so that there is no color in there except the disk where I did want a hint of color. Tomorrow I'll try printing the black lino on top of this. If I like it I'm done. But I did notice that there's just a spot or two of yellow on the moth. It might be nice to try to add that. And then there is a slight lavender cast to the flowers........... Most likely I won't touch the flowers. But I'm a bit tempted to try to add a couple of yellow accents to the moth after I've printed the black. Time will tell. One last thing I'll need to do is decide on the hatched background in  the lino. I have the feeling that I might want to remove it but I won't know for sure until I proof with black ink.

It would be nice to include a hummingbird print. At least one has visited our backyard many times a day from late June on, staying primarily on the Monarda but also visiting the native Honeysuckle as well as Zinnias and other flowers. I actually used my old Lumix camera to take a short video of one, something I didn't even know I could do. But everyone has seen a million videos of hummingbirds. I'd instead like to spend my time getting good field sketches.

So far I've not been too successful on that front. They don't stay still long, unless they're perched. I fear that we'll have fewer sightings once the Monardas stop blooming, which will be any day. I guess I'd better get back outside....................

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Linos in the Fire

Hummingbird Moth at Flower. Copy of pen sketch by Ken Januski.

Hummingbird Moth at Flower. Two Lino Proofs by Ken Januski.

After not doing any linos for a week or two I've now started two in the last 24 hours. Too many linos in the fire you might say. That wasn't the plan. But after I started the combination linocut/reduction linocut below of a Rusty Blackbird and Carolina Wren I realized that I didn't have enough paper to proof and print an edition. So today I decided to do something simpler while I waited or the paper to arrive.

Unfortunately I seem to have become allergic to doing anything simple in linocuts. At top is a copy of the sketch I did today of Hummingbird Moth at flower, most likely a member of the mint family. As you can see it's pretty simple. It's been reversed on the computer so I can use it as a template for the linocut.

But after I'd done the first black proofs I decided that it would be good to make the background a different color. And then of course I could use a third color, brown on the moth. So things quickly got complex. Above are two test proofs. The first shows the black lino printed on top of the blue woodcut. Below it I've printed the blue woodcut on top of an earlier black lino just to see what it would look like.

As you can see there is a lot of blue where there shouldn't be in the flowers and moth. I've cut away additional lino so that when I next print the flower should just be black and white. Hopefully this will go quickly. But you just never know.
Rusty Blackbird and Carolina Wren. Watercolor sketches by Ken Januski.

In early 2013 we saw Rusty Blackbirds a number of times, once in the same location as a Carolina Wren. I always thought it would make a good painting or print. Above you can see the first watercolor attempt many months ago in the lower portion of photo. Above it is a new mixed media experiment using a new sketch of the Rusty Blackbird and combined with watercolor and pastel.

Rusty Blackbird and Carolina Wren. Sketches by Ken Januski.

I decided I should do a new Rusty Blackbird sketch before I attempted this print. It's above along with another version of a possible lino, this time with a copy of the sketch pasted on and then watercolor and pastel.
Rusty Blackbird and Carolina Wren. Lino Proof by Ken Januski.

After a couple of days of experimenting I decided it was time to get started on the lino. Above is the black portion of the lino printed on copier paper. Much of the black will probably disappear from the final print. I'm at a standstill here because of the lack of printing paper. Once I get some I'll start a second lino block onto which I'll copy a version of this print as a guideline. Then I'll add a straw yellow, deep maroon, probably some browns and maybe a dark blue/black as a reduction print. When that's done I'll go over it with the black lino, hoping I can pull it all together.

P.S. Yes that Carolina Wren looks completely wrong in the lino proof. Though it was fine in the drawing I completely messed it up in cutting it on the lino. Since it will be brown however, I still have the chance to redraw it on the second block, if that makes sense. In other words I know it's wrong but I'm not currently worried about it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Speaking of Pennants

Halloween Pennant. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski
There was a time in recent memory when you could say pennant in Philadelphia and people would think about the Phillies. But I'm afraid, barring a miracle, that those days are past. Today when I hear pennant, well at least after today, I think of dragonflies.

Anyone who has looked through field guides, bird, dragonfly or anything else has probably experienced the desire to see one or two particular species in the guide. That's been the case with me and the Halloween Pennant. Today I finally saw one at Morris Arboretum. It's the first pennant I've ever seen and my list of species has now gotten up to about 25 I'd guess. Nothing to brag about but at least enough for me to begin to feel like I know my way around a bit. I'm not totally flummoxed by every one I see.

Though I took numerous photos of dragonflies over the last few days I always hate to rely on them. I prefer always to show a sketch or painting. Above is a smallish 9x12 pencil and watercolor sketch on Stillman and Birn Zeta paper. It's the first time I've tried the Zeta paper for watercolor and it's worked very well.

I always avoid painting every feather when I paint birds. In fact I'd probably have a nervous breakdown if I even tried. It seems better to me to know enough about birds and their feathers to be able to use a shorthand to indicate them. But what do you do with the complex venation of dragonflies? Well I haven't found the answer yet. But the watercolor above includes one attempt. I added white gouache to also indicate many of the highlights in the veins.

Halloween Pennant at Morris Arboretum. Photo  by Ken Januski.

Though I'm fairly happy with the watercolor sketch you can see from the photo above just how much I've failed to capture. Since it is such a beautiful dragonfly I decided I just had to show one photo. The one I saw constantly landed on the top of some 2 foot high vegetation. When I got home and read about pennants I found that's typical, and in fact may be the origin of its name.
Slaty Skimmer at Manayunk Canal. Photo by Ken Januski.

Another truly beautiful dragonfly I saw for the first time in the last few days is the Slaty Skimmer above. There is a purple cast to its abdomen that makes it a very striking dragonfly. Though the body is completely black the abdomen is affected by what is called pruinosity , a type of bloom that lightens the color of many dragonflies. I think its soberly elegant slaty black/purple is the perfect complement to the colorful oranges of the Halloween Pennant.
Eastern Amberwing at Manayunk Canal. Photo by Ken Januski.

The second smallest dragonfly in the Eastern US, at least from what I've read, is the Eastern Amberwing. Above is one of the best photos I've ever gotten of it. About a year ago Jerene and I tried to see it as it landed in the water in front of us. But we just couldn't get a good view. And the photos were too small to be much help. The one thing I noticed is that it reminded me of the small planes you tend to see in early movies, biplanes I think. And there was an occasional glint of amber. Now that I have a better photo I see why it reminded me of a biplane. It has both short wings and torso, unlike most dragonflies.
Widow Skimmer at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski.
And speaking of elegance above is the Widow Skimmer. Who would have thought that black and white could be so striking?

I don't like to show photos as most readers know. But I've seen such a wealth of handsome dragonflies recently that I decided to succumb to the temptation. Back in the studio I'm still trying to figure out what the next linocut will be.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Narrative of Disappearing Magic

Semi-palmated Plover. Conte Sketch by  Ken Januski.

Through stories such as these, the decline of migratory birds becomes personal to us: the first time we saw a new species, the last time we saw a rare species, the best warbler day. We accumulate these stories over a lifetime. It is a narrative of disappearing magic, fantastic memories now denied our children. Worse, for following generations, is the fact that you cannot really miss what you never knew.
George H. Fenwick, in the Summer 2013 issue of Bird Conservancy, the publication of The American Bird Conservancy,

I was struck by the above essay in my newest issue from American Bird Conservancy, an organization we joined more than 10 years ago I think when the lecturer at a Warbler Weekend at Pocono Center for Environmental Education said it was the best thing we could do to help protect wablers and other migrants.

Though it might sound as though it's a lament for lost birds, which it is, it's also something more hopeful,  as the essays full title, "Reverse Magic" for Migratory Birds indicates. The entire issue is dedicated to migratory bird decline in the U.S., what has been learned, and more importantly what might be done to help prevent it. I'd encourage everyone to read it and also to join ABC.

But what really struck me about the essay was the notion of moments and memories denied others because the birds have disappeared or are disappearing. I think it is the great pleasure of such moments and memories in my life that are a large motivation in both birds as subject matter for my art and in personal  support for conservation, particularly bird conservation. It is only those who truly appreciate what is here, birds or otherwise,  who can do something to try to share it with others, both because we think that they might also enjoy it if given the chance, and because they might also realize that it is something worth preserving. In an age where job creation is used as an excuse for anything it seems necessary to stand up for those things that can so easily be cast aside and thoughtlessly destroyed in the interest of jobs( I put the word in qoutes because it's doubtful just how many lasting jobs are really created).

I don't want to go on about jobs. It is always a very hard choice and I'm never in favor of anyone losing their jobs. It is a traumatic experience. But throughout history those who want to exploit nature have always used it or some other populist notion, for which they really couldn't care less, as an excuse for pillaging resources.
Short-billed Dowitcher. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

I really am only writing this post because of the essay quoted above and how it reminded me of why birding is such a powerful part of my life and that of my wife. Moments and memories explains it well. They are quite different from individual to individual I think but for those who spend their time in and with nature I think they are truly powerful experiences and ones that most people are willing to fight for it necessary.

With those thoughts in mind I thought it worthwhile to show some recent studies. At top is a Conte drawing of a Semi-palmated Plover seen at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ a few years ago. Immediately above is a watercolor sketch of a Short-billed Dowitcher seen at Nummy Island, just down the road from the Wetlands Institute.
Rusty Blackirds And Cardinal. Conte Sketch by Ken Januski.

Above are a number of Conte sketches of Rusty Blackbirds along with one Northern Cardinal for scale. We rarely see Rusty Blackbirds, a species that I believe is in decline, and so I wanted to do some sketches of it. When we first saw them in early 2012 I did a quick watercolor sketch of one along with a nearby Carolina Wren. It didn't really work out but it's still rolling around in my head as the possible subject for a color linocut.

All in all I've loved seeing all these species and the fact that I can remember where I saw each one(based on the photos I took) I think attests to that. The sights you see while birding, or any other nature oriented activity, can be both powerful and lasting.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dragonfly Distractions

Dragonfly Swarm at Dusk. Charcoal by Ken Januski.

We went to a meeting of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club last week to hear a talk on Is There Life After Birding? We knew the answer since we spend a lot of our time outside looking at things other than birds. Nonetheless it was interesting to see the speaker as well as a number of the audience indicate similar interests.

A few days later we were birding Houston Meadows and I had to recall the talk. We were seeing not only interesting birds and dragonflies, but also butterflies and wasps. I believe it was that same night, almost at dark, when Jerene saw huge dragonflies swarming about our backyard. That's what is illustrated at top. Between the dark and the mosquitoes we didn't stay out long. I'd just told someone how rare dragonflies were in our backyard then this to disprove what I'd just said!

I still haven't identified these large dragonflies. Based strictly on shape I might guess Common Green Darner. But there is the oddity of the night flight. I don't think they're known as a night flyer. Is it a crepuscular species, one that flies mainly at dusk? We saw a couple more last night but couldn't stay out. Tonight or tomorrow we'll try to be better prepared and see if we can identify them, assuming that they're still here. 
Female Blue Dasher. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski

The day after the night flight we were of  course keeping our eyes open for large dragonflies. We saw none but we did see this small beauty. I was able to get within a few inches to photograph it ( I've learned with dragonflies to shoot a picture first then try to sketch because they rarely sit still). Of course this one sat there for at least 15 minutes, then returned that same evening. What a beauty it was and obviously one we'd never seen before. Or so I thought. As I neared the end of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East I finally found it, a female Blue Dasher. The shape of the abdomen should have given me a clue. It's a distinctive shape as far as I can tell. But the colors were all wrong. As with birds the males and females of the same species sometimes differ greatly in appearance.

As I read about it I read that it is called a Dasher because of its quick movements. So what explains the fact that it sat in one place for at least 15 minutes? Does the dashing refer to quickness of movement not frequency of movment? Only more study will tell.

In any case this seems to have been the week of dragonflies. Every day it seems we've seen new ones or seen old ones anew. It's amazing to me how exciting this can be. And then of course there is the thrill of trying to portray them in art. The watercolor above is just a quick study in the wonderful Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook. As usual I'm amazed at how well I can draw, and erase, in these books. The paper is a bit thin for a finished watercolor, at least if you keep working on it as I do, but it's perfect for studies. As I've said before I think they are a great addition to the artist's toolkit. With my recent printmaking I've not used them. But it was nice to pull them out for all the sketches on this page. I'm sure you'll eventually seem some prints featuring dragonflies.
Piping Plover. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

I'm very happy with my recent Sapsucker print and I think that a large reason for that is the underlying sketch. I think it does really capture some of the poses of Sapsuckers. With that in mind I've looked through all of my photos recently, trying to find one where I might do a charcoal or pencil sketch that really captures the sense of a bird and its movements. That was my attempt here with the Piping Plover. I don't think it's successful enough to form the basis for a new print. But I thought it worth showing just as an indication of where my prints might be going............

And finally a belated birthday to one of the greatest draftsmen ever, Rembrandt van Rijn. Thanks to Google for pointing out that yesterday was his 407th birthday. I recently read a book on Ukiyo-e prints that suggested that Rembrandt and Hokusai were probably the two best draftsmen in all history. I suspect that the author is correct.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sapsuckers are Finished

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Lino/Woodcut/Reduction Lino by Ken Januski.

I'm happy to say that the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are done. There was a great temptation to get more complicated, especially in the background sky. But I decided to stay true to my original goal of a simple linocut after the complexity of the last one.

This one got more complicated than I intended once I added color, via a woodblock and block for reduction lino but I kept the woodblock to one color and the reduction lino to two. Well actually there is a slight lie in there. I started the reduction lino with an additional color, red for the head of one of the birds. But it really didn't work very well printing just that one small area of color.

In the end I tried something new: a stamp to add the red color. After I'd finished printing the black master lino block today I carved the end of a small maple dowel so that I could print a small roller of ink over it and place it manually on the otherwise finished print. All in all I think it worked out pretty well. And it reminded me that there is always more than one way to skin a cat.

This is printed in an edition of 10 on Hosho paper. The image is 4x6 inches and the entire print is 7x9. It is printed using Gamblin oil-based inks.

As I and Jerene have seen more woodpeckers over the years we've gotten to where we enjoy seeing their activities whether it's hanging upside down eating poison ivy berries, excavating a deep hole or feeding on trees. The complex and dirty plumage of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes them hard to see on trees. I debated showing that here but decided against it. I wanted viewers to see the birds right off. When you do the bold white stripe on the wing really stands out. Only then do you notice the dirty yellow on other parts of the bird, and sometimes the brilliant red.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Sapsucker Start

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Lino/Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Black Lino/Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Yellow Lino/Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

After the complexity and time involved in the last combination linocut/woodcut I decided to make the next print much simpler. My intention was to do a one-color, one block, print much like photo two above. I also wanted to concentrate on a linear linocut, a classic way of doing linos and woodblocks but one I'm largely unfamiliar with.

BUT the tiny bit of red as well as the dirty yellow, almost an off-white, on the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker did present the temptation of just a bit of color. I also found that if I left the tree largely black then it took away from the Sapsuckers. In carving that area away though I found the print just a bit lacking. So that convinced me to add color, again on a woodblock  as in the last print.

The top photo is a proof on copier paper of the black printed on top of the first color. I like it. Unfortunately the color I ended up mixing got a bit oranger than I intended. So the bottom photo above shows the new color on good Hosho paper. This is the real print only without the black overprinted. And it's without any other changes. I'm debating printing a dark brown for the tree, then overprinting in black.

Even if I do this will be a much simpler print than the last one.

I and Jerene have come to very much enjoy Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers when we see them. I'm not sure exactly why. About a month ago I did some Conte sketches that tried to capture their movements as they fed on a tree. That's the basis for this print.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Black-throated Green Warbler Lino/Woodcut/Reduction Lino

Black-throated Green Warbler. Linocut/Woodcut/Reduction Linocut by Ken Januski.

It always amazes me how long it takes from start to finish on a small color linocut. In this case it's been almost two weeks, and as with most art the end is the hardest. It's when a small mistake can seem to ruin all the previous work. At the same time the work starts to pull together and you can see the end in sight. That can make it exciting in a good way.

This is the final version of the combination linocut, reduction linocut and woodblock, three different blocks treated somewhat differently. It's a bit subdued for me and it will take awhile for me to decide if I like that.

The final edition is 20, printed by hand with Gamblin oil-based inks on Rives Heavyweight paper. The entire print is 7x9 inches and the image alone is 4x6. It is for sale at my Etsy store listed on the right side of this blog.

One thing I'm happy with is the use of line in the print. I wanted to use the final black block to pull the print together, as well as represent much of the warbler. But I didn't want it to look like an outline, almost like a cartoon. Some people use this well but I knew that I wouldn't. So this is a compromise and an experiment. It's the first time I've used a master block. I'm not sure I'll use it again but I think I will. It does offer some new possibilities.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Almost There, Maybe...........

Black-throated Green Warbler. Linocut/Woodcut/Reduction Linocut by Ken Januski

The combination linocut, reduction linocut and woodcut is moving slowly along. The woodcut portion is finished, unless I decide on a second woodblock to add some light highlights at the end. The first lino block, which is the reduction lino, is most likely done. Above you can see the result of printing the various colors on the reduction lino on top of the already printed woodblock.

Black-throated Green Warbler. Linocut/Woodcut/Reduction Linocut by Ken Januski

The last lino block, at least according to my initial plans, will print last in black. Since it is what will hold much of the final print together I can't resist printing it occasionally along the way, before the reduction lino with all its colors is finished. I do this to get a better idea of what the final print might look like and what changes I might still need to make.

I did that on the previous color of the reduction lino, a color barely visible now, except  in the head of the Black-throated Green. To see how the latest color, the slate gray, might look I've printed in on top of one of the test prints where I printed the black early. What this does is cover up some of the final black but leave enough to give me some idea as to how the final print might look.

For readers not familiar with lino and woodblocks I apologize. This probably seems needlessly complex. And you might well ask: Why Bother? The reason is COLOR. If you have much interest in color as I do, then you need to find some way to print multiple colors. You can only do one color per inking of a block, with some specialized exceptions. So that's it in a nutshell. I want color in my prints and I keep exploring ways to get it. None seem easy. But if a print does work out it is nice to know that I have more than one copy. And there also is a challenge, sometimes fun and sometimes not so much, in the complex interaction of myself and the printmaking process.

That process usually leads to imprecision and surprise. Since I'm not a big fan of precision, except when I'm trying to understand the structure of something, this generally is something I'm happy with. In some sense this type of printmaking demands improvisation. You, or at least I, can't plan it all out in advance. You make your plans and then start improvising!