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.

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