Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Young Green Herons and Peregrines

Three Young Green Herons. Woodcut by Ken Januski.

Three Young Green Herons. Woodcut by Ken Januski.

I've finished the woodcut of the three young Green Herons seen along the Manayunk Canal. Or perhaps I should say I've finished part of the edition. I'm not making any more changes to the print but I may print more prints than the 24 that I did yesterday. A few of them had minor problems so I'm debating printing some more so that I have an edition of at least 30.

The image itself is 6x8 inches and the print with border is 8x11. It is printed with water-soluble ink from Daniel Smith on Shin Torinoko paper. It was carved on Shina plywood.

This print moved along more easily and more predictably than most, I think because I spent a lot of time developing the drawing on which it is based. As I said earlier I might still do a color version of it, most likely with two or three colors printed on another block and then this black printed on top. But for now I wanted to stick with this simple image, something that's a bit unusual for me.

So that explains the 'herons' of the title but where are the peregrines? As  I was printing this edition in the basement yesterday Jerene yelled out from outside: "Ken, come here!" That's always a sign of rare birds, or at least something worth seeing. So out I came protective blue gloves and all to see three Peregrine Falcons circling high above. What a beautiful sight it was. Neither of us had binoculars, or really the time to go get them. The peregrines soared slowly and with great loft but given their height and the wide circles that they coursed they would have been gone long before either of us got back outside with binoculars. But we saw them in similar circumstances last year and I expect we'll be lucky enough to do so again. It's something to look forward to.

Perhaps eventually they'll end up in a print of some sort.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Peregrines, Pretzels, Halloweens and Herons

Young Peregrine Falcon Balancing on Power Tower near Pretzel Park. Ballpoint Sketch by Ken Januski.

For quite a few years Peregrine Falcons have been nesting just a half mile from us in the steeple of St. John the Baptist Church right across from Pretzel Park. We only learned about them two years ago I think and have been extremely remiss in not following them more closely. If you must blame it on the half mile steep uphill climb that must accompany every downhill visit.

The climb can always lessen our motivation. But a close follower of them called us to say that she'd be there last night and so we walked down for a look. As usual I'd prefer to sketch them from life. But I couldn't convince myself to carry down a heavy tripod and scope not knowing if we'd find any peregrines. As is was two of the youngsters arrived though the other two and the parents had not yet arrived by the time we left. I took two quick photos and the ballpoint pen sketch above is based on them. In seeing them one thing that strikes you are the very large feet. When looking at the photo the very long primaries stand out. I intended to accentuate them here but I think I need to do a few more studies and sketches to get them right.

One of them was the youngest bird and as he hopped and flopped high in the towers with busy traffic below your heart dropped every time he seemed to miss his footing. But he did fine. Soon we'll be able to see peregrine acrobatics as the birds occasionally fly over our back yard shrilling calling in advance to alert us.

I still can't believe that we have such birds so close to us, and that we don't pay much more attention to them. I hope to get down next week to sketch them from life.

Three Young Green Herons at Manayunk Canal. Third State of Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

Above is the third state of the proof of the young Green Herons woodcut. I've decided to do one edition in just one color, black. After I finish it I may go back and do an edition with multiple colors. But for now I want to keep the stark and simple contrast that the print has. I expect to make just a few more changes before I print this edition. I do like it. And I especially like the fact that it incorporates a scene that we actually saw, three very young Green Herons.

Halloween Pennant Dragonfly at Houston Meadows. Photo by Ken Januski.

Many people consider Peregrines to be the perfect aerial predator. But others would say the same of dragonflies. I think it's probably true. Dragonflies are constantly active not because they're bored but because they're looking for live prey. And they will eat other dragonflies.

But when you see dragonflies such as the Halloween Pennant above or the Unicorn Clubtail below you don't think of predators, of 'nature bloody in tooth and claw.' Instead you just can't believe the beauty in front of you. I think that's particularly true of Halloween Pennants. What amazing structure, color and markings. (A couple of months later and it's still true that Halloween Pennants are amazing. But as I recently looked through my photos and my dragonfly guides I realized that this is really a Painted Skimmer!!).

Unicorn Clubtail Dragonfly at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski.

Though we do get good views of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects with our birding binoculars we finally broke down and bought some Pentax Papilio close focus binoculars which are made especially for viewing things that are very close. They are fairly inexpensive (around $100) and seem to work extremely well for butterflies and dragonflies. Recently I've had to rely on my photos to ID some butterflies and dragonflies. I'll still take photos. But with these binoculars it's possible to see detail in the field, both for identification purposes and for doing field sketches. One of these days my first field sketches will appear here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Three Young Green Herons Woodcut, State One

Three Very Young Green Herons at Manayunk Canal. First State Proof of Woodcut by Ken Januski.

I've finally bitten the bullet and started something more developed on those fascinating young Green Herons seen a week or so ago along the Manayunk Canal. I did show a quick watercolor and pen sketch about that time. Since then I've done a fairly developed pencil sketch for a woodcut or linocut. This is based on that drawing.

I'm not yet sure whether I'll add a second woodblock with color. I'm tempted to due to the rich coloration of Green Herons. On the other hand I do like the stark contrast of this black and white print so far.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Drawing from Memory, and Photos

Unicorn Clubtail. Ballpoint Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

When I first started using birds as my primary subject, about eight years ago, I realized quickly that my wife Jerene, who doesn't consider herself an artist, was far better at drawing from memory. This was most evident in her drawing of our cats but also in her small sketches of birds. This wasn't  a great surprise to me. But it did remind me that I've always been more skilled at drawing what's in front of me, rather than drawing something from memory. I don't tend to internalize shape and structure.

But I have gotten better. I think that's mainly due to doing so many sketches from life, where you really have to pay attention to structure, but also to working from photos, especially when I use them to help understand structure that has not been clear in the field.

The sketches below are all from memory. The Carolina Chickadee was drawn five hours after seeing it at Morris Arboretum as it brought a caterpillar to a youngster. The Eastern Towhee and Common Yellowthroat on the right side of page are based on birds seen at Houston Meadows yesterday, before the rain arrived. The towhee was started a few minutes after seeing it, then amended from other views over the next five minutes. As I recall I didn't do the Common Yellowthroat until I got home. But I was struck by the shape of the bird as it moved around and that's what stuck in my memory.

Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, et al. Pen sketch from memory by Ken Januski.

All well and good you might say, but So What!? I'm writing about this just because I continue to find the subject of drawing fascinating. And also because I think field sketching and memory sketching is a healthy antidote to the deadly work that is so often based on photos, and nothing else. So often there is no sense of a living thing underneath.

Working from memory I think helps to internalize the bird, or any other subject. The drawings above look a bit clunky. The proportions are off on the two Carolina Chickadee sketches. But next time I see one I'll look a bit more closely. Eventually I'll have an encyclopedia of birds in my memory. I can draw from that encyclopedia any time I wish to do a more developed drawing or painting.

The drawing at top, by contrast, is from a photo. It's based on a dragonfly I'd never seen before a few days ago. We saw very many of them at the Manayunk Canal a few days ago. This was the only one that ever sat still. So I was able to look at it and take some photos. At the moment for almost all dragonflies I need to take photos in order to ID them, though experts will tell you that even this is enough. For most you actually need to catch them and examine some details under magnification.

I'm not sure that we'll ever get that far. But they are fascinating creatures in appearance, history and biology. I won't go into all that here. My main concern is being able to use them as artistic subject.

But they seem to be even more susceptible to the constraints of photography than birds. How can you possibly see the detail without photos? Once you do how do you avoid putting down every single vein of the complex venation in their wings? As with birds I think the answer is to understand them well enough that you can internalize them in your memory, then use that to create a shorthand for rendering them.

I still haven't drawn one from either memory or from life. But I plan to change that this summer. In the meantime I've tried to keep a looser style in the ballpoint pen and watercolor sketch above.

As I was out yesterday I noticed many oak and sassafras leaves, particularly on young saplings. Especially with the sassafras I was tempted to sit right down and draw the leaf. They have a magnificent shape. That is another aspect of drawing that I can only touch on here but one that I think is very important, at least to me. Shape! It often seems to me that more than anything else drawing is connected to shape. And yet that is really not true for all art. Look at the more or less shapeless sketches of Seurat. So for some tone and mass are just as important. I value them. But I have to confess that for me drawing is primarily about shape.

I'll stop now but I do think I could write forever about drawing. And also, though so much of my work is abstract or quasi-abstract I do think that shape is at the heart of most of it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Three Very, Young Green Herons, Downy Head and All

Three downy-headed Green Herons. Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

...made a well hidden appearance along the Manayunk Canal today. Later we saw their parents, nearby but not all that near. Perhaps they were finding food for the young. I believe these are the youngest Green Herons we've ever seen.

Other highlights included a new dragonfly for us: the Unicorn Clubtail. We saw quite a lot along the canal. Perhaps I'll eventually include one of them in some artwork.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Seaside Sparrow and Marsh Wren at Jake's Landing

Seaside Sparrow and Marsh Wren. Ballpoint Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

We've stuck around Philadelphia for all our birding this year but finally made a day trip to the Cape May area recently. Unfortunately most of the migrating shorebirds have moved on, though there are always some around. Probably the high point of our day though was very good looks at the very dark, and often well-hidden, Seaside Sparrow as well as the Marsh Wren.

Both were active at Jake's Landing, singing and remaining in sight for a fair period. Above is a quick ballpoint pen sketch, touched up with water from a waterbrush to create some dark tones and then  touched up again with the waterbrush and watercolor.

I never saw the birds together like this though they were within 10 yards of one another. Obviously this is a quick sketch but I never tire of them.

Green Heron and Eastern Pondhawk. Hand-colored Linocut by Ken Januski.

After our return I put the finishing touches on the hand-colored linocut of a Marsh Wren and Eastern Pondhawk seen at Morris Arboretum last year. It is not a style I normally work in. But every once in awhile it's refreshing to try something different, and refreshingly simple. The entire print is 7x9 inches printed on Rives Heavyweight paper.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Winding Up the Hand-colored Linocut

Green Heron and Eastern Pondhawk. Working State of Hand-colored Linocut by Ken Januski.

Green Heron and Eastern Pondhawk. Working State of Hand-colored Linocut by Ken Januski.

I'm winding up, or perhaps down, the hand-colored (with watercolor) linocut of a Green Heron and an Eastern Pondhawk. It's possible I'll make a few small changes, for instance adding color to the leaves in upper left, but I'm nearly done. I have firmly decided not to put any color I the large section of water.

I only noticed when I put these online that the cropped photo on the bottom is completely wrong in terms of paper color. The background color of the water is cream, not white. The full print at top shows the true colors.

I'm not really sure what prompted me to go in this direction. But the more I print the more I realize that there are many directions that one can go. I'll most likely go back to my more abstract style but this is a refreshing break in what is really much more like an illustration than my normal work.

Most likely this will be an edition of 10, or perhaps 11.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Simplicity Wins

Green Heron and Eastern Pondhawk. Working Proof of Lincout with Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Well at least on this print, simplicity has won. In my many, many years of doing art I'd have to say that a good principle to follow is that simplicity should win. And yet I constantly feel the need to complicate things, or more generously to modify the predictable in the interest of something fresher and more interesting.

I printed the first state of this 4x6 print on Rives Heavyweight paper today, using Daniel Smith water-soluble inks. It is simple in the sense that I will not be adding any color through more cutting on the linoleum block or through the use of a new wood block. Instead I will paint with watercolor  in some areas, as I have in the working proof above.

Still things are never quite so simple. For instance the first problem that arose when I started adding watercolor was whether or not to leave the large expanse of water blank, just the color of the paper. I thought about it then added a yellow. But then I wondered if I should break up the yellow with brushstrokes in various colors. Should the print be more like a coloring book where black outlines are filled in with just one color, or more like a painting, where various colors and brushstrokes make up each area? As I said things are never all that simple.

There is a smudge of black ink at the top of this print so it will not be in the final edition. That's why I felt like I could experiment on it and then use what I learned in the final edition. Currently there are 11 left but the more I need to experiment the smaller the edition will be.

The master of this type of print by the way, the hand-colored linocut, is Andrew Haslen. His book, The Winter Hare, shows all the preparatory work that goes into his prints. But I'd better not pull it out and look at the prints myself though. They might just make me decide to give up and not finish this print! Not really. They are an inspiration, not just in technique, but also in subject matter, the real life of the natural world.