Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Birds From Two Circles

Black-throated Green Warblers. Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

In my last post I mentioned the two-circle method of drawing birds mentioned in John Muir Laws' Laws Guide to Drawing Birds.I've always been skeptical of simplified methods and shortcuts such as this. And yet you do have to start somewhere. Since I spent many years greatly exaggerating the length of necks in many birds I decided to try the two-circle method. Maybe it would prove helpful.

All of the ballpoint pen sketches in this post were used with that method. All in all I was pleasantly surprised. I can only guess how well this might work for a beginning bird artist but based on the good reviews of the book I'd have to guess that it works well for many. The best part about it to me is that it forces you to connect the head to the body, not just placing it on top of the body but actually taking away part of the space of the body, which is what it really does. This tends to create a more organic shape.

Black and White Warbler and Belted Kingfisher. Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Each winter I seem to eventually break down and do some sketches based on photos(always my own), just like the ones on this page. I thought I might be able to avoid it this year but exploring the two-circle method of drawing birds gave me the excuse to take it up again. I just find it very melancholy to work from photos. What life is there in a photo? I'd rather be outside seeing the bird in real life. Still it is also a learning exercise and hopefully I've learned something in such sketches and will be able to apply it in more developed work or in field sketches.

You could say that the two pages of sketches above, in an 8.25x11.75 Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook are in the illustrative tradition of bird art, one that tries to portray birds accurately. I think that's correct, though for me it's not so much about portraying them accurately as internalizing what they  look like so that I can feel free to take artistic  liberties.

During the many years I was an abstract artist I often likened my work to music especially jazz. I wasn't interested in an literal interpretation but the more abstract one of music. This is partially what I was talking about when I mentioned the importance of theory in art. Perhaps I should have said formal consideration rather than theory.

I ran across a nice explanation of this recently in skimming The Enjoyment of Music by Joseph Machlis:

In expanding and manipulating his ideas the composer treats the tone material in the manner of a sculptor or goldsmith: he molds the material, deriving inspiration from the stuff in his hands, allowing it to dictate forms and shapes peculiar to itself. He is engaged in a kind of thinking possible only in music, one that has its own logic, its own procedures and meanings; a thinking that cannot be duplicated in any other medium. For this reason is it so repugnant to most musicians to have literary interpretations forced upon a piece of abstract music...
Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin. Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Just as music has its own language so does visual art. And that language is far more than realism. It is an abstract language of shape, color, composition, tone, texture, pattern, light, space, the actual feel of the material used. It is an interest in all of that language that I often find missing in illustration. I mention that here below the sketch of Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin because what attracted me to them was the formal elements: the shape of each bird, the patterns they formed, the relationship of one to another. I didn't really pursue that here but in the back of my mind is always the thought of using the subjects as inspiration for the formal language of art. As Machlis says about music it is a language unto itself and it is most expressive when it is not limited by setting photographic verisimilitude as the highest goal. My hope here is that in understanding the forms of birds better I'll be able to create art with them as the subjects.

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