Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Drawing With a Brush

Solitary Sandpipers. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

While out enjoying the cool weather early this morning I ran across a Solitary Sandpiper. Every time I see one I realize that if I want to portray them believably, even if abstracted or stylized, I need to understand them better. In particular I need to understand where the head and neck are in relation to their slim elegant torso when they're bent over hunting for food.

I'd thought that I'd been pretty successful as I kept reworking the field sketch below to get the outline right. Only now that I see it online do I realize how many problems it has. But no matter. It convinced me to spend some time sketching them from the many photos that I've taken, mainly within 5 miles of home, over the years.

I took up a method of painting that I used to love in order to do these sketches: sketching with a brush using a wash. I used to use India ink and Chinese brushes. This time I used watered down watercolor and my normal watercolor brushes.

There is something exhilarating in working like this. Part of the exhilaration is that you can fail pretty quickly! Since you have to make big strokes that encompass much of the shape of whatever you're drawing it's easy to get it wrong, and see that it's wrong. Oddly this adds to the excitement and tends to keep you focused. There's really no room to be tentative.

Because it's a light wash it's also possible to make other darker corrective lines without the drawing looking too bad. So it's far more forgiving than it at first might seem.

Perhaps best of all it combines drawing and painting. This is really just about the main problem for most realistic artists I think: are you painting or are you drawing? Does line, often outline, matter most or does mass, and sometimes color, matter most? Skilled artists learn to get some lines from the edges of color masses without enclosing everything in an outline or within strict edges. A great example of this is Winslow Homer.

He started off wedded firmly to line and outline. By the end of his career most line was implicit not explicit. He added line in subtle ways. Wash drawings like this really do meld both line and mass, and can easily include color as well. Of course the masters of this method are Chinese and Japanese artists. Hokusai immediately comes to mind but I haven't really studied art of that part of the world well enough to know all of the other skilled artists.  If you look at Hokusai though you can see an incredible fluidity. He was a master!

So having stumbled accidentally upon this method of working today I'm quite pleased. I'm forced to simplify the shapes of things and in doing so to make a commitment to what I think they should be. It's a great way to work and I suspect I'll be doing a lot more of it.

Below is the field sketch of Solitary Sandpiper, as well as Green Heron on a log, that sent me off in this direction.

Green Heron on Log and Solitary Sandpiper. Ballpoint Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

No comments: