Monday, September 8, 2014

Practicing the Warbler Scales

Black-throated Blue Warblers. Wash Drawing by Ken Januski.

Black-throated Green Warblers. Wash Drawing by Ken Januski.

Anyone who has followed this blog for awhile knows how I've struggled with portraying New World Wood Warblers, the ones most North Americans know as plain old warblers. I've been noting when the First of Season ones arrive in fall. As I did so I noticed that most of them first arrived about May 1st of this year. And a great number are now migrating back south starting about September 1st. A few arrive both earlier and later but as a general rule it seems to be May 1 and September 1.

Who cares? Well most birders do and I think that most people given the opportunity to actually see one of these birds before it flies out of sight would as well. They are among the most beautiful birds in the world as far as I can tell. Certainly they are among the most colorful. I think it is that color combined with the knowledge that they're hardly here before they're gone that makes them so appealing.

When I'm out birding most people have a hard time even getting a good look at migrating warblers. (This is less true for those who live where warblers breed. But still they don't normally stand still and pose for anyone). A few people will try to photograph them. But very, very few will try to draw or paint them from life.

And yet that's when they are most themselves, flitting from place to place, generally looking for an insect snack. To try to portray them without somehow portraying some of the excitement of seeing them seems almost contradictory. To paint them in the studio seems a bit like admiring the dead butterflies in a collection without ever actually going outside to see them.

To make a long story short I've tried to draw them from life for about 8 years now. I've gone from such abysmal failure that I gave up instantly and went for the camera to my current state of about 50% of the time sketching or looking and trying to memorize their structure and 50% or less taking photos. Today's first of season Black-throated Blue found me sketching and looking over 80% of the time I'd guess and taking photos about 20%. With all the photos that I already have there's no great reason to spend any time taking any more.

And yet my efforts today in sketching are quite disappointing. As were my experiences last week trying to use wash drawings for warblers from photos. But I did pursue it last week and got some halfway hopeful wash drawings of Black-throated Green Warblers. Today I decided to try the same method with Black-throated Blue Warblers. Both pages are sketchy and tentative, nowhere near or as sure-footed as my shorebird sketches of last week. Still I think that practicing the warbler scales is finally starting to pay off.

I'm beginning to get a feel for warblers I think, so that they actually seem like they might be alive regardless of how tentative the actual lines might be. That is what I keep aiming for so that at some time I'll feel like when I portray warblers I'm actually giving them their just due. They've been gone for four months. And now they're back for a few weeks. Then they'll be gone until next May, a time too long to contemplate!

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