Thursday, October 24, 2013

Recent Migrant and Resident Field Sketches

Great Blue Herons and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Field sketch by Ken Januski.

House Sparrows at Feeder. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I have to say it's been refreshing to get back to field sketches, to drawing birds that are alive as can be, right in front of me. A few days ago a flurry of migrants came through, including five different Great Blue Herons and one Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the Manayunk Canal, pictured at top.

When I got home our first Carolina Chickadees and Northern Mockingbird of the fall in our backyard made appearances. But by the next day they were gone.  I'd hope to sketch them as well but no such luck. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet lasted for four days but now seems gone as well.

Instead we have the resident House Sparrows, pictured above, feeding outside the window of my studio at my window feeder. American Robins are still here as well but they stick to the trees and bushes that have berries in our yard.

After missing photos of some fairly unusual birds, like a Magnolia Warbler seen at Andorra Meadows last December I've learned to normally carry my Lumix FZ28 camera with me in case I see something unusual. But there's always the temptation to get it out and take one more photo of a more common bird like a Great Blue Heron.

It's harder to convince myself to sketch. But once I do I'm always happy that I did. I realize each time I do that drawing is a skill that needs to me exercised every day. The more you draw the better you get. The other thing I realize is how much I hate working from photos. No news there, any regular reader of this blog can tell you.

Still it surprises me every time when I contrast the two. When I work from photos I always feel that I may see more detail but that somehow the source is impoverished, like I'm seeing the bird through a curtain or two. When I field sketch I know that I may miss much. I may make many mistakes. But it's also exciting, like I'm actually drawing, and interacting, with something that is alive.

Interestingly enough I was reading Alvaro Jamarillo's essay in the new edition of Bird Watcher's Digest today about how important sketching is both to become a better birder and to document rare birds. I couldn't agree more.  You learn most when sketching live I think. Perhaps because there is far more pressure. You know that the bird may leave before you've finished sketching or even finished forming a mental picture. That makes it far more engaging as you try to truly SEE the bird. I'm rarely engaged when I work from photos, even though they're always my own and remind me of the time, usually quite enjoyable, when I saw the bird.

In the sketches above one Great Blue Heron flew away but beneath my line of vision. This is an unusual perspective. He was there and gone in a split second and I tried to capture it even though I'm sure much of the pose is wrong. It was worth the effort and I'm glad I tried. Same thing with the flying House Sparrow in the sketch below.  I also enjoyed doing the Great Blue Heron with tilted neck, looking straight at me and walking slowly my way. Such things occur in a split second and it is a real thrill to try to capture them. I think I can safely say I have never, ever been thrilled when working from photos.

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