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.


anna malcom said...

In Austin, Halloween Pennants are fairly common, but I never get tired of seeing them. I love their striking pattern, and I just love the name. I don't care what they say a good name does make things more fun! Dragonflies are such a fun insect to see and there are never too many. Thanks for the painting and photos.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Anna,

That's interesting to know that they're common in Austin. They could even be common here I suppose for someone more experienced than I am. Either way they really are a pleasure to see.

I have a British artist friend who seems to think that the way we've named our dragonflies is much more interesting than the way they've named theirs. There is something about an interesting name that makes seeing them all the more exciting to see.

Glad you liked the paintings and photos. It is amazing to me how exciting it can be to watch dragonflies.