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.

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