Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hungry Goldfinches, Hummers and Others

American Goldfinch Eating Thistle. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski. 

Ever since I started that new Moleskine sketchbook I've been pretty busy with sketching. I hope that I'll be able to continue this pace. In ways it's like exercise. At first it is work, and then it becomes something that you miss if you don't do it with some regularity.

Below are numerous pages of field sketches. Immediately below are two pages from today, except for that hummingbird at top right. Just about the first bird I saw at Morris Arboretum today was the Eastern Phoebe at bottom left. It's been months since I've seen one there. The last bird I saw as an American Golfinch tearing apart a thistle for seed. He's at the bottom of page.

Goldfinches are so common, and so cute, that I generally avoid sketching or photographing them. But it's not their fault that they're cute, or common. In any case today I was struck by the vigorous pose he took, feet rooted to the plant so that he could go at the seeds. He was oblivious to me, standing just a few feet away. The watercolor sketch above, in a Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook, is base on the field sketch and some photos that I took. After I'd posted this I was a bothered a bit by the lemon yellow color I'd used. I liked the sense of light but the color was wrong. So I experimented with a deeper yellow. It's now more accurate but less lively I think. This reminds me once again that my watercolor palette is extremely deficient in yellows, more than in any other color. I notice this almost every time I paint a watercolor using yellows.

I've had a hankering to do a bit of watercolor again so this was a good excuse.

Eastern Phoebe, American Goldfinch, et al. Field Sketches by Ken Januski

A day or two ago I walked along the Manayunk Canal and did the sketches below: Gray Catbird, immature Green Heron with immature Great Blue Heron behind him, another Great Blue Heron up in a Sycamore, and one of our many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, done when I got home as he sat on our clothesline.

Trying to get at least some semblance of the Sycamore convinced me to start reading The Artistic Anatomy of Trees by Rex Vicat Cole, first published I believe 99 years ago. Many years ago I realized that I needed to portray trees, or at least understand the structure of trees, better if I was going to continue to work in a somewhat realistic vein. So I bought this book. But I really couldn't convince myself to read it.

Now that has changed and I'm about a third of the way through. The odd thing is that both I and Jerene love trees and can identify quite a few. We've actually taken weekend workshops on tree identification. But I just haven't pursued it artistically. I think that now is the time. Though of course you wouldn't know it from my sycamore below. I look forward to having the opportunity to do more sketches of them, eventually incorporating them in my paintings and prints. I would thoroughly recommend the Vicat Cole book by the way. It is old, written in an old style. But the author's love of both trees and art is evident throughout.

Gray Catbird, Herons and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Field Sketches by Ken Januski

Each year I say I'm going to do more sketches of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that visit our backyard each summer. We're lucky to have them and it seems criminal not to try to portray them. But each year I fail, getting just one or two tiny sketches or perhaps a number of photos. This year that has changed and I'm drawing them almost daily. Today one stayed in the same spot, and more or less same position, for at least 10 minutes. So I got out my extreme close focus binoculars and did the drawing below. As I said I feel quite fortunate to have this opportunity and I'm glad I'm finally taking advantage of it.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Clothesline. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Oh yes. I haven't given up on that two-block woodcut of the crouching Green Heron. I'm just ruminating on how to finish it.

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