Friday, September 20, 2013

Deer, Heron, Wood Ducks Combination Woodcut and Linocut Finished

White-tailed Deer, Green Heron and Wood Ducks at Morris Arboretum. Combination Reduction Linocut and Woodcut by Ken Januski.
Well this is finally done. No more cutting, no more tweaking. It's been through a lot of changes along the way, some hardly recognizable from the final result. Though it's lost some of the detail that I'd prefer in deer, heron and wood ducks it still captures the scene well:  a Wood Duck, ducklings in the water staring in dismay at a nearby White-tailed Deer. The Green Heron also looks that way but seems somewhat less perturbed.

In order to get all of these characters in I either had to use very horizontal blocks to carve or add a lot of background in a more traditional shape. I opted for the landscape, not really knowing how it would turn out. As it stands I'm happy with the landscape and my decision.

This is printed in an edition of 15: Gamblin oil-based ink on Rives Lightweight paper. The image itself is 6x8 inches and the entire print is 9x11.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wildlife Author Talks Not To Be Missed

Wild Turkey at Tinicum. Watercolor, from 2008, by Ken Januski.
Wouldn't you  know  that after operating in the darkness, or so it seemed, in regards to wildlife art for many years that now two, yes two, important authors are going to be speaking in  Philadelphia in  the next few months. I've gotten both of their most recent books for presents over the last few years and have read each at least twice.

The first is David J. Wagner who will be speaking on his book American Wildlife Art Thursday of next week at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Sad to say I won't be there. I deeply regret it. The one consolation is that a related exhibition will be at the Allentown Art Miseum, beginning the following Sunday, September 29, 2013. I hope to see that show.

If you're not interested in wildlife art, and in particular if you don't consider it to be real art, let me tell you a story. About 25 years ago I happened to notice an Audubon print in the office of one of the bigwigs at my place of work. I took a good look at it while I was in there and was left dumstruck.

Because of the beauty? No. The artistic design? No. The naturalistic accuracy? No. At that point I had two advanced degrees in Studio Art from well known schools. While there I'd also taken a great number of courses in Art History, not because I had to but because I was interested. They started back with Duccio in Siena in the 14th century and ended sometime in  the late 20th century. I'd learned just as much from time spent at museums, particularly the Art Institute of Chicago, but also the San Francisco Museum of Art and other museums in San Francisco and Chicago. I'd spent a lesser amount of time in the  museums of Philadelphia and New York. But all in all I'd seen a lot of art.

So what caused me to be dumbstruck by Audubon? I couldn't figure where to place him. He'd never been mentioned in a single course I'd ever taken, either in studio art or art history. And yet I knew he was famous for something. And as I looked at the large scale print it was striking. It looked like some sort of art. But why didn't it compute in my large intellectual universe of American and European art?

I didn't get an answer and I pretty much forgot about the experience as I carried on with my  large abstract paintings. But once I turned to naturalistic subject matter about 10  years ago, longer if you  include my  insect drawings, I started thinking about this. Above is one of my early forays into bird art from 2008. The really early forays I'm afraid to show!

In fact there was one overwhelming quesiton in my mind: what in the world  was wildlife art? Was it really art? Was it more than cute pet cats and dogs. Was it more than the ego boosting trophy portraits of game bagged by  those who could afford to go on a hunting safari? What in the world was it?

David Wagner's book does a good job of answering that, particularly in t he context of American history, and it's far more complicated than you might think. He does so mainly by focussing on a few major and influential artists. But because everything is firmly rooted in history,  both history with a capital H, and the history  of the ordinary person, or at least the ordinary middle-class person, you can begin to see all the various things wildlife art has been over the years.

He also focuses on the economic aspects of wildlife art, in particular how artists made a living at it and how what they  did, even the best of them, was often dictated to a large extent by  what the public would buy. Art history rarely talks about this: the commercial impact of an artist's production. But it's silly not to. Most artists don't, and never have,  worked in  a vacuum, just waiting for the world to beat a path to their door. In case you think I'm biased in this matter due to my own commerical tendencies I should  say that in fact I'm the  opposite. My work is largely done for myself as the primary patron, and the vague hope that someone else will also enjoy it and be willing to  pay  for it. But this is really a minor method of working throughout art history and wildlife art history.

I could go on and on but suffice it to say that this book covers many if not most of the types of art that the general public, both those appreciateive and those very critical, considers to be wildlife art. I think that as in most things it's incredibly valuable to know the historical context of something,  particulary if is done in  a way that brngs  the past to life and makes it seem relevant to today. In this sense I think the book is tremendously  successful and does a great service to both art and wildlife art.

One  surprising tidbit I picked up. I used to always enjoy the sculptures of lions outside of the Art Institute of Chicago. I never  had the slightest idea who did them. My guess is that this is because I liked them but didn't consider them art.  The book informs me that they are by Edward Kemeys, one of the most important American wildlife sculptors. I was happily surprised to find that his work can also be found in Fairmount Park. As I read further I realized that he summered for awhile in a town not far from  where I grew up, Dwiight, IL. And finally that one of his sculptures stands near the office of my brother in law, also in Illinois. That's the type of richness that I  found in the book on a strictly personal level.

All in all I think it should give everyone who reads it a true appreciation of just what wildlife art is and has been in America. In the end you'll find it has nothing to do with cute art and is just a much real art as anything else.

I'm sure the talk  will just barely touch on all of this given  the shortness of the talk and the length of  the book. But I'm sure it will be well worth your while to stop by.

Great Blue Herons. Composite of two field sketches by Ken Januski.

The second talk is at the Free Library of Philadelphi in November 7, 2013. Author Katrina van Grouw will talk about her book The Unfeathered Bird. This  is a bit more specialized but should be fascinating.

When I took my first foray into bird art in 2006 I knew that I knew nothing. I also knew, from past experience, that most work from photos was deadly. All sense of life seemed missing. For me this presented a problem. How in the world could I work from life? Surely people didn't do that with birds since they never sat still. Eventually I found out that people actually  do work from life but it took a while to discover this, primarily through John Busby's Drawing Birds.

In the meantime I decided that the best I could do was to work from  photos that I'd taken,  much as I disliked working from photos. But that was just the beginning of the problem. All photos almost inevitably have some vague, undelineated areas. If you don't understand the structure of what you're looking at any fudging you do with those vague areas will look just  like that: fudging. I knew this and  hated it in my work.

Even as I started to work from life though  I found that there was only so much I could truly see. I still didn't understand a great deal of the structure of birds. When my  view wasn't perfect my knowledge couldn't fill in  the gaps.

And that's where The Unfeathered Bird has been so valuable to me. Through the author's own artistic drawings we see the structure of a great vareity of birds. In addition she talks about the function of the structure and how it relates to evolution. It really is fascinating reading and I think would be so to anyone who's interested in nature, and  particular in birds. I think the audience really is far broader than just bird artists like myself.

By the way the link to the Free Library above includes a link to the New York Times review of the book. As I read it I was reminded of one of the many bits of knowledge that stood out in my readings. Herons have vertebrae that are kinked at the sixth vertebrae at right angles to the fifth vertebrae above. Sounds esoteric right? But look at my two different field sketches of Great Blue Herons above, both from early September. Yes they do seem to have a kink in the neck at about the same spot. The reason? It allows a hinge like mechanism that they use to shoot their neck out speedily in order to capture prey. Interestingly cormorants have the kink at their eight vertebrae. This is a great example of one of the most exciting things about the book: things that you may have noticed in nature, but that remain at an intuitive or subconscious level, are explained and brought into full  consciousness. All of a sudden you look at herons, in this instance, in a brand new way.

No, I'm not getting any free books or other perks from  either of the authors. I've never met either of them. But I've greatly  enjoyed both  books  and am quite grateful to the authors for writing them. I'd just like to share that excitement with others. And here is the chance to get a taste of each, for free!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Almost there...................

White-tailed Deer, Green Heron, Wood Ducks. Reduction woodcut/linocut Proof by Ken Januski.

I hadn't planned to end this so soon, but once I added this green today, actually a yellow with the smallest amount of blue, I was tempted. From the moment I started this, way back when as a monocolor print, it has often read as a moonlit scene with strong reflections in the water.

I think part of the reason for  that is the strong contrast that often comes about in woodcuts and linocuts. It just seems to happen naturally. But all along I've been a bit suspicious of it because I knew I saw this scene, or at least the various segments of it, in broad daylight. The scene was bright not dark.

Today it finally looks bright again. Perhaps it's too bright. I'll have to see if I'm still happy with it tomorrow. Or instead feel like I need to tone it down a bit.

For anyone who's interested this has been the sequence in developing this print:
1.One color linocut, printed in both black and brown. These were intended as standalone prints and finished a few weeks ago.
2.A new print that will include the first linocut. First step is a yellowish red color on a woodblock. This is the first color printed.
3.A second color, somewhat ochreish, also on the woodblock, printed on top of the first woodblock color.
4.Back to the linocut. A brown, still evident on the deer, heron and ducks and in some parts of the background.
5.More carving of the linocut, for instance to carve out the deer, so it doesn't get overprinted in another color. Then printing in a dark, blue, almost black, for parts of heron, duck, log on which it stands and much of the background.
6.Back to the woodcut - this time printing a yellow green to cover over much of the background and show up in the reflection in the water and in small highlights elsewhere.

Since as I discovered too late, there was a small discrepancy in size between the nominally identical woodblock and linoblock there were some minor registration problems. But since I never worry about exact registration in my printing it hasn't had much of an effect. Still there are a couple of areas where I would be happier if the blocks had actually been the exact same size. That may require one or two final tweaks.

To a certain extent I think I handle my color prints as though they were paintings. I keep fussing with them until the colors and shapes look right, often at the expense of realistic detail. I read in the Roger Tory Peterson essay mentioned the other day about how it's common for young artists to want to get every single detail in. Eventually though this becomes of less importance. For me what is most important is the combination of shape, color, texture, light, pattern in a striking and pleasing way. I want the scene to also be readable as a realistic scene, but just readable nothing more. Detail should always be at the service of the entire painting.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On a Slippery Slope with a Solitary Sandpiper

I found two great surprises when I read Roger Tory Peterson's All Things Reconsidered a number of years ago. First he was far more than a bird man, and seemed to have just as much interest in mammals. Even more surprising was that he also had a great passion for still photography and for the movie camera. The latter may not be true but it certainly was my impression. Where I'd be excited about having the chance to sketch some birds he seemed to be utterly enthralled with the idea of getting them on film. There's nothing at all wrong with this. It was just a real surprise to me, especially for someone known for their bird art.

I confess I'm left bewildered though every time I see a commercial for some new phone that shows, and I assume shoots, video. Who in the world would want to watch anything on such a small screen? I can almost picture the owner's brain cells being siphoned off into the tiny phone, never to return. Personally I can't think of anything more perverse. When it comes to actual news I'd far rather read an intelligent article, assuming that they continue to be published, than to watch a video. I'm not at all a video person

Occasionally though I'll see someone's bird video, for instance of the Bahama Woodstar that was in Pennsylvania earlier this year, or other birds, and find myself fascinated. Recently I discovered that I can shoot video on my old Lumix FZ28 camera. So when I saw a Solitary Sandpiper at the Manayunk Canal this morning I had to try to capture it on film. That is was is above. I'm sure it is quite poor in terms of video technique. But I'm fascinated by watching this rendition of a Solitary Sandpiper. Still video to me is a very slippery slope. I assume I'll shoot very few such videos.
Green Herons, Gray Catbird and Solitary Sandpiper. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.
The home page for the  Pennsylvania portal to eBird has an article on Shorebirds in Pennsylvania right now. I quite enjoyed reading it as I see very few of these windbirds, as the article calls them. They are exciting in so many ways,  in their subtle beauty as well as their very lengthy migrations. When I saw the Solitary Sandpiper today I spent far more time than I intended to viewing it. As the article says you just don't get to see them that often in Pennsylvania. So I took advantage of the opportunity to do some field sketches, above on right hand page, as well as taking photos and a few short videos. Other birds above include two Green Herons and one Gray Catbird from memory.

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of seeing another Solitary Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum, though he was far less cooperative than the one above. What was equally exciting though was an Osprey flying around with a fish, looking I think for a place to land so that he could enjoy his lunch. Migration season is here!
White-tailed Deer, Green Heron, Wood Ducks. Reduction Woodcut/Linocut Proof by Ken Januski.

And with migration being here it's difficult to find time for finishing my print. Well not really. I'm happy with its progress. But each day I'm torn with what to do first: go out and hope for some field sketches or explore the next step on the combination linocut/woodcut. Some days, like today, I'm lucky enough to get them both in. This print began, as best I can recall, with two different versions of a woodcut, i.e. a reduction woodcut. Then on top of that I've printed a reduction linocut in two colors. I like what I have. But I'd still like to get some yellow/greens into it, either with the linoleum block or more likely the woodcut, or even the other side of the woodcut, which hasn't been carved yet. I'd like to make it a bit more vibrant without having it start to scream, the way yellow often does when you, or at least I, add it.

Before ending this I went back to check the Peterson book referred to above. I was thinking it was there that he mentioned a bird artist should use subdued tones, something I don't agree with. It wasn't there and I think is instead in a version of Audubon's Birds of America that he edited. Sometime I'll find it and write about it. But as I read through the final essay of All Things Reconsidered, called "My Evolution as a Bird Artist" I was struck by a couple of quotes, both relevant to sketching, photography and film:

Although I frequently refer to my 35-millimeter transparencies as a memory jog, I enjoy wildlife photography for its own sake; it is action. Drawing by contrast is cerebral. Whereas a photograph is a record of a fleeting instant, a drawing is a composite of the artist's experience and selectivity.

I have found that when I am on a guided tour in the Antarctic or on safari in East Africa, there is little opportunity to sketch. Too many things are happening too fast. If a cruise director allows us only two hours ashore in a colony of 100,000 penguins, I am more likely to use my camera. Sketching takes time. I prefer, therefore, to travel by car or van, with plenty of time to dawdle if there is an opportunity to sketch.
Thankfully I had some time to dawdle this morning, though I used the camera as well because I didn't have all day. Good sketching does in fact take time though, and it often seems a luxury to have the time to indulge in it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to the Deer, Green Heron, Wood Ducks

Deer, Green Heron, Wood Ducks, Reduction Linocut/Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski

I've been planning to do another woodcut or linocut in time for a deadline next week. But I've had a hard time deciding on a subject. Finally today, with the deadline looming, I decided it made most sense to return to the White-tailed Deer, Green Heron and Wood Ducks linocut. I'd always thought I'd redo it in color, just not so soon.

Today I started carving a new woodblock the same size (more or less) as the lino. After cutting out just a few whites, as well as the three main figures of deer, ducks and heron, I printed it all in one color, the Raw Siena like color above. I then re-inked the old lino in sepia, a very dark sepia I might add, and printed on top of the woodcut proof. I like what I see, especially that the main subjects stand out again. But only time will tell just how much I'll develop it.

Carolina Saddlebags, Savannah Sparrow, Pumpkins. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Above is one of my favorite recent watercolors, done last fall after seeing something like this scene at Rea's Farm in Cape May, NJ. Of course there is a lot of liberty taken in the combination of Carolina Saddlebags, which just would not sit down, Savannah Sparrow in the shadows and pumpkins in the pumpkin field. I've always thought it could make a good, though very complex, linocut.

Savannah Sparrows, Pencil Sketches by Ken Januski.

In preparation for that linocut I did some pencil studies from my photos of various Savannah Sparrows. But when I was done I realized that the whole thing was just too much of an undertaking on deadline. It will have to wait for another day. I still think it has great promise, not just as a print, but also as a larger watercolor. One of these days!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Flycatchers, Dragonflies and Field Sketches

Eastern Wood Pewee with Dragonfly. Watercolor sketch by Ken Januski

For some perverse reason I have a desire to portray flycatchers that is almost as strong as that of my desire to portray the estimable wood warblers. And yet the flycatchers just don't hold a candle in terms of beauty. They are attractive, no doubt at all, but they don't quite excite people the way the warblers do.

My guess, and that's all it is, is that because the flycatchers are hard to differentiate you need to look at them closely. And if you're an artist you need to do so even more. You need to see elements that not only define the species but allow you to put them down on paper. I'm only talking about the few flycatchers that are seen in the east by the way. I might just give up if I had to contend with western flycatchers. It may be that this is a challenge that I find hard to pass up. Learing bird identification and improving my drawing skills at the same time.

I find it exciting each time that they're around, whether the common Acadian Flycatchers which are here all summer each year or the much rarer, at least here, Least Flycatcher.

Fall seems to be the most exciting but also the hardest time for flycatchers. I think that's because there are more migrants around and there are both adults and young. That's a lot to look closely at, particularly if they're not vocalizing.

Above is a common flycatcher of the area, the Eastern Wood Pewee. I saw a couple of them yesterday at Morris Arboretum. The one above was quite near me and I took numerous photos of him as he tried to digest a dragonfly. There were hundreds in flight yesterday during the four hours that I was out. I believe that the one he's captured above is a Common Green Darner.

When you see that number of dragonflies it's easy to see how they are a popular food for some birds. Since I've come to be fascinated by dragonflies recently I'm in no hurry to see them meet their end, to show their part in the 'nature red in tooth and claw' scenario. On the other hand the more you observe nature you do see this aspect to it. Recent researchers have also written on the cooperative aspect that can be found in nature as well but I don't want to digress too far. In any case I'm not bothered as I see the birds devouring the dragonflies. It is part of nature.

The watercolor above is a quick sketch in the 5.5x8.5 Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook. It's based on one of many photos I took yesterday. Though it doesn't really show in my photo I'm struck each fall when I see many pewees and see how bright orange their lower mandible is.

Least Flycatcher at Houston Meadows. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski

We used to wake up with the bird above outside our cabin at Shenandoah National Park where we vacationed annually for years. Though the bird checklist mentioned them as uncommon we would see them every year, chebekking away. So it was a great surprise when we stopped going there and also stopped seeing them. The one portayed above, one of two seen at Houston Meadows in Philadelphia today, may be the best look we've ever had at one in Philadelphia.

Often with this type of quick watercolor sketch, also done in the Gamma sketchbook, my goal is to crystalize what I've seen, to combine the knowledge gained from observations, photos and reading into a quick sketch that represents the experience in some way. Sometimes this will also end up being a complete artwork that I'm quite happy with. Other times I'll realize that there are small mistakes or things I'd like to change. But that will have to happen in another more developed work. For now I just want to portray the experience.
Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Least Flycatcher. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

It's been awhile since I've done many field sketches. I've been a bit more active with them over the last 7-10 days, perhaps because so many migrants are coming through. As with watercolor sketches they're never perfect and on each page I can see one image that I'd just as soon that no one saw. But I like the others and it does represent a day, or two or three, in the field.

Above is a mature Bald Eagle seen yesterday at Morris, a Belted Kingfisher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and an attempt from memory to draw one of the two Least Flycatchers seen today, done about a half hour after seeing it.
Great Blue Heron, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Green Heron and Belted Kingfisher. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

Finally some sketches from earlier in week of Great Blue Heron, another poorly drawn Northern Rough-winged Swallow, a Green Heron and another Belted Kingfisher. At one point the last two were in same tree. That may be the source of a more finished work at some point.

My linos are often more involved with art than nature. But they all have their source right here, in the sheer pleasure of being out and enjoying all that the natural world has to offer, as long as some thoughtless legislators don't destroy it. The last refers to some idiotic bills by Pennsylvania Republicans that I won't get into here. ( If you're a PA resident and unfamiliar with the latest antics of the Republican legislature see this coverage of PA HB1576. The older I get the more disgusted I get with politicians of both parties. But the recent activities of PA Republicans are doing wonders for my view of the PA Democrats.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Last Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush at Manayunk Canal. Watercolor sketch by Ken Januski.
No, this isn't The Last Hermit Thrush. Surprisingly though I think it's the last one I've seen in Philadelphia, back in November of 2012. For whatever reason we didn't see any in Philadelphia in 2013, at least not in the spring. Often they're a true harbinger of spring, appearing even in our backyard. But this year we just didn't see any. I believe the first one we saw in 2013 was in Ohio at Magee Marsh.

I've always been fond of this photo, the small bird centered in the middle of these three trees. I've often found that watercolors make good preliminary sketches for linocuts. So yesterday as I was looking through my collection of photos I decided to try a small watercolor sketch on Stillman and Birn Gamma paper (5.5x8.5 inches)

I always get scared off by trees so this made a good exercise in tree rendering, especially as they were all somewhat different. The watercolor in fact is as much about the trees as it is the bird. Nothing wrong with that in my book. This is where birds truly are, not nicely posed in the center of a canvas with nothing surrounding them.

I'm not sure if I'll end up doing a print based on this. But I am happy with it and wanted to show it.

Late August and early September bring the first southbound migrants to our small urban yard. Today it was a Common Yellowthroat, six days later than last year. Hopefully the Hermit Thrushes won't be far behind, though it is a bit early for them.
Three recent linocuts and carving tools.
I've never been completely happy with my photos of the Rusty Blackbird lino. So I decided to take this photo of the two recent White-tailed Deer linos as well as the Rusty Blackbird. I think this photo gives some sense of the richness of the color. Beneath it are most of the tools I used in carving it, the vast majority Japanese carving tools.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Running Out of Room

Deer, Green Heron, Wood Ducks. Linocut on Rives Heavyweight Paper by Ken Januski.

I used to run out of room a lot when I was painting large 6'x8' foot abstract paintings. In fact the old ones that I have still eat up a lot of room. When I turned to printmaking though I didn't really anticipate this sort of problem. However I forgot about drying prints. Once they're printed they need to dry. With a edition of 20 or so this can take up some room, especially if they're laid flat rather than hung.

Because of that I haven't been able to print an edition of the deer linocut above and below. I still had all the prints from the Rusty Blackbird and Carolina Wren laying around. They were probably dry but I still had the vague notion of adding a few tidbits of green to the print, just as the sparse vegetation indicated in the actual scene along the Manayunk Canal in Philadelphia last winter.

Finally yesterday I bit the bullet and tried some experimenting. I didn't think I could successfully print the three small areas on either of the original. So I improvised a screen out of a manila folder and cut out the three small areas. Then I printed through that onto the otherwise finished prints. The paper was a bit too thick to work as well as I would have like but basically it got the job done. It is shown at the bottom of this post. It has been very difficult to photograph this print, I think because of all the darks. In any case this photo is pretty close but still not as rich, or as coloristically unified as the actual print.

Deer, Green Heron, Wood Ducks. Linocut on Japanese Paper by Ken Januski.

Once it was finally printed I went back to work on the Deer, Green Heron and Wood Ducks lino. The first version printed in an edition of 8 is at top.  It's on Rives Heavyweight paper.

As I was going through my printmaking paper in preparation for it I found some old, unnamed Japanese paper. I have no idea what is is. In any case I decided to try it out in a small edition of 4 using a different color ink. All prints on this page are 9x11 inches with the image itself being 6x8.

I still have the thought of printing this as a color print, most likely reduction but possibly multi-block. I'd like to do more to make the main subjects stand out. But that's for the future. Today I wanted to make sure I had one edition in just one color. Thanks to that old paper I have two.

Rusty Blackbird and Carolina Wren at Manayunk Canal. Combination Linocut/Reduction Linocut by Ken Januski.