Saturday, July 19, 2014

Criminal Neglect of a Sketchbook

Red Admiral, White-tailed Deer, Common Whitetail and Great Blue Heron. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

Soon after I started doing artwork based on birds I bought a Moleskine large sketchbook, large being just 5x8.25 inches. It's actually smaller than I'd like but it also fits perfectly in the back pocket of my jeans, something that the Stillman and Birn sketchbooks that I like so much do not do.

The two pages above are the last two pages from sketchbook number five. The caption explains the sketches with the exception of an apology for the White-tailed Deer. I rarely draw mammals from life. But when I found this deer staring at me from about 10 feet away, debating I'm sure whether to run or not, I decided I had to get down what I could. Seconds later he was gone and all I had was a vague visual memory to put down on paper. Unlike birds most mammals, at least in the face, seem harder to get in a sketch. As with humans the softness of the face is hard to get down with lines.

In any case I'm glad I tried. I also tried one of my few butterflies from life, a Red Admiral that cooperated by staying still for a bit. The reason I show these pages though is not to show what I've seen recently but to note how bad I've been over the last year about field sketching.

Much as I try to do sketches when I'm out I'm generally shocked when I look through a sketchbook and see the dates of the drawings in them. There are 96 pages I think. How long should a sketchbook like that last for someone who sketches frequently? One month? Two? Three if there weren't any vacations where I tend to draw more? The answer, on average since I began over seven years ago is 11 months!!

That is always shocking to me and works out to only about 8 pages per month or 2 per week. What's worse though is that the drawings above are the last pages of a sketchbook that took over 15 months to finish!! I'm really not sure why. Perhaps I spent more time on photos? Perhaps I spent more time in the studio working on prints? I don't know.

By the time I finished this sketchbook the other day though it was falling apart, the binding in tatters.

Eastern Phoebe, Gray Catbird, Acadian Flycatcher and Tufted Titmouse. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

Yesterday I began a new sketchbook while walking along the Wissahickon in Philadelphia. Again the captions explain the drawings pretty well with the possible exception of that big, odd-looking Tufted Titmouse. It was harassing a White-breasted Nuthatch and I never got really good looks at it. So I put down what I could and then tried to finish up at home. Well that didn't work and that explains the white around the head and elsewhere. I used it to try to cover up mistakes in ink with white gouache. This happens almost every time I try to fix something once I get back in the studio. The only good part of it is that it generally forces me to go look at my photos or guidebooks afterwards to figure out what it was that I got so wrong.

Obviously neither of these pages exhibit the best field studies I've ever done. But they do remind me, and hopefully readers as well, of the virtues of having a sketchbook and using it quite often. It also makes what could be a relatively dull walk in the woods, at least in terms of seeing something new, a consuming adventure. Regardless of the fads and trends of contemporary art I think that there will always be a place for sketching.

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