Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Chipping Sparrows

Chipping Sparrow. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

After seeing the Lincoln's Sparrow a week or so ago it's of course tempting to turn every slightly unusual sparrow into something rare. The last few days Jerene and I have seen first winter and non-breeding Chipping Sparrows at Andorra Natural Area and Houston Meadows.

Their big eye ring and other facial markings made us want to turn them into something else. But the small size was right for Chipping Sparrows and they're common at those locations. I took a few photos for confirmation.

As usual the more I look at sparrows the more I'm taken with them. They really do have very complex patterns in their plumage, if you can see them of course. The first thing we remembered about sparrows as we've run into them the last few weeks is how quickly they dip back into cover, a few feet below and beyond what your eyes can see.

I think it's the brief view that pushes me to keep drawing and painting them, sometimes from life and other times from photos. I'd like to really understand their structure.

Today I learned something new about their structure and that of most birds while rereading The Unfeathered Bird  by Katrina van Grouw, who will be speaking the Free Library of Philadelphia on November 7, 2013. For more information check here.

What I learned is that the coverts, which cover the flight feathers, lie at an angle to them. This is somewhat obvious once you know it but it's something I'd never really articulated. So in the watercolor above of one of the recent Chipping Sparrows you can see how the coverts are not parallel to the primaries and secondaries but at an angle. It's the articulation and  explanation of such things that I find so valuable in the book.

In fact it reminds me of why I don't find arts, crafts and computer programming, my old job, too different. All of them require knowing how something works, perhaps the PERL programming language, perhaps watercolor or the glazes of ceramics, perhaps the structure of birds. That knowledge can be a springboard for creativity. That's in fact what it should be though it's easy to see people in all fields who think that rules are to be followed absolutely and never thoughtfully.

When I started in art I couldn't think of anything more stifling than perspective or anatomy. Rules, rules, rules. Who needs them? Who wants them? But if they are not taken as absolute they can be quite helpful to anyone in any field.

Some people of course never want to know how anything works and do just fine without this knowledge. But I realized a long time ago that I'm someone who likes to understand things. I just hope the understanding doesn't inhibit creativity.

And speaking of understanding as in the last watercolor I don't quite understand the background well enough in the watercolor above. It began as a detailed pencil drawing in a 7x10 Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook. I've found this sketchbook great for this type of drawing because it allows multiple erasures without the paper degrading.

However I then thought I'd add just a bit of watercolor to the bird, then just a bit of the same to the background. If only I could learn to use a deft and sparing hand with the background. Look for more sparrows to come over the next few months. Most likely I'm going to stick with watercolor for a few more weeks. Then I think it will be time to return to a print or two.

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