Wednesday, January 29, 2014

That Magic/Tragic Moment in Printmaking

Northern Mockingbird and Carolina Chickadee. Working Proof Linocut by Ken Januski.

It's been awhile since I've done a print that is strictly black and white, the 'black' of the ink and the 'white' of the paper. It's refreshing to do one because I have to stay simple. There is none of the complexity of color.

Most of my black and white prints have had what seemed to be a greater amount of black than white, so that the print never seemed too light. But every once in a while in a print there comes a moment when I cut away just enough to turn the print from a darkish print to a lightish print. As I thought this over after initially posting it I realize that the real problem is not just that it becomes a light print but that it becomes a print so overwhelmed by the white of the paper that there is no longer any tonal variety. Worse, there is little likelihood of getting it back because too much of the wood or lino has been cut away, much like cutting too much away from a sculpture or coering up too much white paper in a watercolor.

If the cutting that turns it into a largely light print works, i.e. doesn't lose all tonal richness it's magic.If not, it's tragic, in which case I might need to try all sorts of things to try to regain more tonal richness. Because too much of the wood or lino is gone and the print is dominated by the white background it's very difficult to fix. Often the only solution is to take the print off in a slightly different direction.

I foresee this moment and try not to reach it, unless I know from the start that I want a light print. In this case I didn't. But I also knew that I had to keep cutting away in order to keep the focus on the birds and not  on the background. Then poof! , the print went from darkish to lightish. In the end I decided that this was fine.

The scene really was the birds among many small limbs and twigs on a overcast day. So this is pretty true to what I'd orignally seen. The print is nearly done. I just need to clean up a few background marks, but not too many. Past experience has taught me that it's easy to remove too much. If I do the print will go dead  as a doornail. That tragic moment will arrive.

I'm sure some printmakers will be puzzled by this. You shouldn't have such a problem if you  plan out where the lights and darks will go before you start carving. I'm sure this is true, if that's the way you work. But for me much of the appeal of printmaking is its improvisatory aspect. I don't like things all planned out beforehad. If that was my goal I could just as well work in many other media. The nice thing to me about printmaking is that it lends itself to improvisation. As I've mentioned before I was greatly comforted reading Wildlife in Printmaking by Carry Akroyd to see how many of the printmakers featured there loved the improvisatory aspect of printmaking. It is a dialog, not a monolog.

I've now made the minor cleanup I've mentioned and the painting has not taken a tragic turn. So now it's on to a small edition on good paper.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Quick Mockingbird/Chickadee Lino Update

Northern Mockinbird with Carolina Chickadee. Linocut Proof State by Ken Januski.

I'm always a bit torn about putting up a print in such a raw state as the Mockingbird lino from yesterday. Perhaps I shouldn't. On the other hand perhaps someone is interested in seeing how my prints develop. In any case I myself wasn't too happy with it. So when 3-4 hours work today resulted in the proof above I decided to show it.

As usual this proof is with cheap ink on cheap paper. I tend to start that way. As I get closer to finishing I'll switch to good ink and good paper.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

200 Snowbirds Interrupt My New Print

Northern Mockingbird with Carolina Chickadee. First Proof of Linocut by Ken Januski.

During the last month I've accumulated some new printmaking equipment: a high quality Japanese cutting knife and a high quality Japanese brayer. But due to my recent infatuation with acrylic painting I haven't had the time to test them out.

Other distractions have included bird counts, and reading, including finally finishing sadly, the best art related book I've read in years, The Journal of Eugene Delacroix. Today I decided I was finally going to plunge ahead with a new linocut, before I forgot how to make one.

I've been out birding a lot so far in this cold January. It's often been too cold to sketch but I did finish one page that included a Northern Mockingbird, Carolina Chickadee and Carolina Wren,  not rare birds but some of the more enjoyable, predictable birds of winter in this area. The more I looked at the sketch the more I thought I should try something with both the mockingbird and the chickadee.

So after numerous sketches I finally started this lino this afternoon. The new cutting knife was a pleasure to use, allowing me more control of my cuts than I'm used to. Once I'd finished the cutting it was time to head downstairs and ink up the block with the new brayer. The results are at top. The brayer seems to be eating all of the ink, or perhaps it's just the dryness of the air or of the ink itself that caused the splotchy printing. In any case I would have liked a nicer first proof. But I'm sure this will improve with time.

As I carefully cleaned up the expensive new brayer Jerene came flying down the stairs saying that at least 100 Snow Geese had just flown over the backyard. I would have loved to see them but they were probably gone and I couldn't afford to leave the new brayer with ink still on it. Five minutes later Jerene came flying down again. 100 more Snow Geese. The brayer was clean so I headed out into the snow, protective blue gloves still on my hands, and dressed perfectly for 65 degree weather, but not quite for 20 degree weather. Too bad; I didn't care! I just managed to see at least 60 of them in a wide flock, flying out of sight. What a lovely sight!

We have the regular snow birds here, juncos, but this is the first time we've ever seen Snow Geese fly over the yard. So I just couldn't resist referring to them as snow birds in the title of this post.

Gray Catbird in Brambles. Seen on Winter Bird Census at SCEE, Jan. 18, 2014.

We haven't seen any real rare birds in out various official and unofficial bird counts of 2014. But we have seen some birds that are fairly unusual this time of year. Above you see one of them: a Gray Catbird seen at the Winter Bird Census at The Schuylkill Center for Enviromental Education last Saturday.

Jerene and I have never been the type of birders who chase after rarities, though I can certainly understand the appeal. We'd prefer to know our local birds. And as we now have more than 20 years of experience we've finally gotten to where we have a fairly good idea of what is likely to be seen and where it is likely to be seen. It is hugely satisfying to go out for a walk, regardless of weather, and have a pretty good idea of what we might see.

That makes the more unusual birds, like this Catbird or the recent Eastern Phoebe, all the more enjoyable. They are no longer shocking to see because they're not as unusual as we would have once thought. But we're now experienced enough to realize what a nice surprise they are. And given our worst winter in years we also have to greatly admire their stamina. Who knows how birds survive?

 More about some of my recent reading in a new post. And of course an update on this linocut.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Phoebe, Pileateds, Buffleheads Star in Count

Eastern Phoebe at Gorgas Run in Wissahickon Park.

Yesterday was the Philadelphia Mid-winter Bird Census. We've taken part in it for many years. We ran into some people yesterday, with whom we watched a Pileated Woodpecker disappear into a hole. They mentioned seeing something about the World Series of Birding. This is similar but much less competitive. The idea is to census birds in Philadephia in winter, not see who can count the most species.

Still most participants I'd guess can't deny the thrill of a high count or unusual sightings. That is also part of it. So for us one of the pleasant surprises, found after almost 8 hours of birding and 7 miles of walking was the Eastern Phoebe pictured above, seen at our very last stop, the Wissahickon.

Oddly we were alerted to him by movement along the stream bed and some vocalizations. We were shocked to look up and see a phoebe. They should have left months ago. As we continued to hear the calling though it didn't at all sound like a phoebe. When we doubled back to end our hike we found the vocal culprit: our second Winter Wren of the day.

To add to the oddness just down from this area someone practiced Tai Chi, I think, on a small foot bridge while being filmed. Feet away a small mole skttered in and out of the streamside rocks. Much more entertaining than football all in all.

Belted  Kingfisher with Fish at Manayunk Canal.

We generally see Belted Kingfishers in winter along the Manayunk Canal, our first stop of the day. But 95% of the canal was frozen on Wednesday after our cold spell. Would fish eating birds survive? We were happy to see both Great Blue Herons and this one Belted Kingfisher on our count.

Bufflehead at Manayunk Canal.

The biggest surprise of the day for us were these Bufflehead near where the canal joins up with the Schuylkill River. Due more to our preference not to combine birding with much driving we don't often bird where ducks are present, outside of the Mallards which seem to be everywhere. We have nothing against ducks, just against driving. So it was a great surprise to see these Bufflehead swimming in the canal with some mallards yesterday. I'd have to say that was the high point of the count for us.

Golden-crowned Kinglet at Manayunk Canal.

A fairly common bird of winter is the Golden-crowned Kinglet. But they have a seemingly irresistible urge to not sit still. I'm sure it's really just the need to feed. In any case whenever I get a chance to photograph them I try to do so. I know that i'll get rid of 90% of the photos because the bird will either be gone or out of focus. Normally I'd try to sketch them but I decided that there just wasn't time to sketch yesterday.

Surprise Sighting in Schuylkill River near Manayunk Canal.

And finally this surprising mammal found in the Schuylkill River near the end of our Manayunk Canal hike. If only I'd gotten a photo of that tiny mole to go with it! In the end we saw a total of 40 species, including the Pileated Woodpeckers of the title, seen in two different locations. We both always love these winter counts because they give us a chance to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors, at a time when many people don't realize all that it has to offer at this time of year.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Marinating Snipe -- Black Vulture in Tuliptree

Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR. In-progress Acylic Painting by Ken Januski.

Perhaps marinating isn't the best word. Unlike food this painting will not get more flavorful by just sitting there. My intent is to indicate that I'm not doing much with it right now. It is just sitting there.

Actually I've done a lot of painting on it since last post but it really doesn't look that much different. At this point I think I just need to set it aside, i.e. let it marinate, and see if I eventually can figure out what needs to be done to finish it.

I am largely happy with it right now both in terms of art and in terms of what you see when birding. I like the composition, colors, etc. I also like the fact that it may take awhile to see all of the birds including the more distant Lesser Yellowlegs. That's just the way you see, or don't see, birds.

Black Vulture in Tuliptree at Schuykill Center for Environmental Education.

Today was scheduled to be the annual Philadelphia Mid-winter Bird Census. But predictions of all day rain forced a rescheduling until tomorrow. In preparation for it I did some scouting earlier this week at the Manayunk Canal and Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

Black Vultures have become somewhat common recently in SE Pennsylvania, even in winter. But I normally see them in flight, lazily gliding. Yesterday four of them  landed right above me in a Tulptree at the Schuylkill Center. I got a kick out of the juxtaposition of these large black birds with the delicate seedheads of the Tuliptree. Thus this photo. Eventually the subject may make its way into a painting or print.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wilson's Snipe Continued

Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR. Second State of Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

When I remember the scene of these Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR I recollect how my hands were so cold I had a very time doing field sketches. Even keeping the binoculars or spotting scope on them was a chilly experience.

But the temperature was probably above 50. Today we finally hit a high of 10. But with the windchill I doubt it feels like it's above zero. Good weather to stay inside and continue this small 9x12 inch acrylic painting. Though I've labeled this the second state I've worked on it three or four times since the first posting.

It's getting better but since I don't really know what I expect it's hard to say how close it is to being done. I was reading another book on Delacroix today, Delacroix: The Late Work , a catalog from a show a number of years ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sadly I didn't see it.

I mention it though for this quote from Delacroix's Journals:

It is really not until Rembrandt that you see the beginning of that harmony between the details and the principal subject which I consider to be one of the most important, if not the most important element in a picture.
 I have to say that rings true to me. And it may be a legitimate goal for this painting. I do know that describes pretty well the picture so far. Adding detail, removing it, etc., etc.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wilson's Snipe Acrylic Painting

Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR. Initial Stage of Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

This is the very first state of a 9x12 inch painting of some Wilson's Snipe, and one further Lesser Yellowlegs. They were seen at Ottawa NWR in late September, right before it closed due to the government shutdown.

As you can tell it's rough. But I think it will stay that way. I like to understand birds, to know their structure, their markings, their movements. But at least with me trying to capture that leads to a dead painting. So as more or less a 2014 New Year's resolution I'm going to try to stay away from detail this year, more than I normally do that is.

One thing about snipe, particularly if you try to draw them in the field without aid of photos, is the striking pattern on their back. It's almost more striking than their long bill. So I'm hoping that this pattern will stand out here and be enough to ID them. I hope it will also be a focus or foci of the painting.

I've been listening to a Great Courses course on music recently as well as reading my ancient Introduction to Music textbook. More than ever they convince me that painting is primarily abstract, like music. And though it can often have a subject it will end up quite dull if it's limited by that.