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.

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