Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Birds and Butterflies at the Wissahickon

Bald Eagle, Scarlet Tanager and Zabulon Skipper at Wissahickon. Crayon Sketch by Ken Januski

Heat finally arrived in Philadelphia today. I used to love days in the 80s and 90s but now I much prefer, at least for my walks, birding and sketching temperatures in the high 50s or low 60s. To enjoy that cooler weather on a day with a predicted mid-80 high you need to get out fairly early.

So this morning Jerene and I were at the Wissahickon at 7:15 a.m. checking to see what might be around, hopefully some lingering migrant warblers and also some breeding ones, like a Louisiana Waterthrush.

I'm happy to say that we found both, hearing and seeing two Northern Parulas, which most likely will not stay though I wouldn't put money on it, and one Louisiana Waterthrush which is probably breeding.

The high point though was the mature Bald Eagle that sailed toward us from the upper parts of the Wissahickon, right over the Mt. Airy Bridge where we stood, and the further down the course of the Wissahickon. Only big birds like that make you think of the stream in terms of a geological feature, with accompanying twists and turns.

A few days ago we saw our first skipper of the year, probably the same one as the one we saw today: a Zabulon Skipper. True to the guidebooks he was perched high, waiting for approaching females.

At some other point, along with 30+ other species, we spotted a handsome Scarlet Tanager, really more of a crimson in my estimation, buried in the green foliage. It is always shocking to notice how easily they disappear, even with their brilliant red plumage.

I mentioned in my last post that I liked seeing flycatchers so that I could study them, and learn to see and put down on paper the subtle differences between the species. But far more than that type of analytical study I like to use my imagination, especially if it starts out from the real world.

When I was an abstract painter, my art almost never had its source in anything material or real. It was still imaginative but lacked a source grounded in the physical world. One of the things I love about doing art based on birds, butterflies, dragonflies, etc. is that it is based on something I've actually seen.

The works I most love doing start out often like this one, a loosely done sketch, taking great liberties with photographic realism, but still based on an actual experience. To me there is nothing more exciting that making striking art based on a real experience. It's a lofty goal and one that's often hard to reach. But when it is reached the artist and viewer I think have a feeling of great satisfaction.

This is a quick sketch in a Cachet sketchbook, about 14x11 I think. It's done in pencil and then colored with Caran d'Arche Neocolor II waters soluble crayons. I haven't used them in about a year I think. But they work extremely well in getting down areas of color. Once they are down I go over them with a wash, then go back in with crayon, the another wash, etc. They are more like painted sketches than drawn ones but serve the same purpose, an experimental study that may lead to something more developed.

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