Sunday, January 4, 2015

First Art and Flowers of 2015

March Eastern Phoebe. Pen, Watercolor and Waterbrush Sketch by Ken Januski.

First Bloom of 2015 - Winter Jasmine. Photo by Ken Januski.

OK, the first art of 2015 is no surprise. This blog is mainly about art. And the first flower of 2015 also makes sense. It's not the first time I've shown a photo of Winter Jasmine. But why no first bird of 2015? Well the main reason is that the only birds I've photographed so far this year are either dead, a Canada Goose and a Great Horned Owl, and have been pretty thoroughly devoured, or they are birds in the process of eating other dead animals, in this case Turkey Vultures and dead White-tailed Deer.

Some would probably find these photos fascinating but I'll spare other readers and just mention them verbally. I did notice today that our Winter Jasmine has started to bloom. This plant can be a bit of a nuisance because it drapes to the ground where it immediately roots and pretty soon you can have an impenetrable mess. As ours is in the front yard we have to try to keep it pruned back so that it doesn't entangle postmen, deliverymen or ourselves. Nonetheless when the cold, gray, seemingly lifeless days of winter are here there's nothing like being knocked out of the gray doldrums by these bright and hardy plants.

The top photo is of a small watercolor sketch of an Eastern Phoebe photographed a year or two ago. It's an avian harbinger of the arrival of spring and the departure of winter. Phoebes always arrive in March or so, assuming they haven't overwintered as one did last year. Though they're a bit drab, not unlike their surroundings in March they still lend a sense of brightness and optimism in early March.

As I looked through my photos today trying to figure out what my next painting or print might be I was struck by the photo that this is based on. The reason I was struck is that is gives a good idea of what an Eastern Phoebe actually looks like, a long fairly thin bird, but one with a thick head and neck. The photo seemed to be a prototypical Eastern Phoebe.

I liked that because I'd like to be able to capture birds based on something as simple as their silhouette. The American Wigeon that I sketched in last post exhibits the incredible beauty of bird feathers ( the bird itself, not my sketch). But I have little or no interest in painting or sketching those feathers. I understand why many do. But it's just not of artistic interest to me. I was reading Kenneth Clark's Landscape into Art  recently and in the section on the Impressionists he said that he thought all artists who relied solely on the portrayal of nature as seen, as nothing more than visual sensation, eventually became disappointed and either devolved or moved to something new, nature-based but not just a copy of nature. This is a bad paraphrase but the point is: eventually art has to enter the equation. It is never just a matter of portraying what you see.

Clark was speaking of landscape but it applies equally to birds and wildlife I think. At some point you have to have something more. He says, and I think it's true, that this is determined by the artist. It's not some law imposed from outside. Eventually artists get tired of just 'copying' nature. They try to bring something more to it. In many artists it is artistic order. But not always. There are other methods.

In any case that's the way I approach art with birds as subject. I know that I can always keep practicing and studying and get more accurate in my portrayal of birds. I could get better, probably much better, with complex plumage. But I see it as a dead end so I don't even pursue it. I'm interested in still being true to birds in some way but not as an exact copy, especially in terms of their plumage.

That is why I often do sketches like the pen, watercolor and watercolor brush sketch at top. My first idea was to capture the prototypical silhouette of an Eastern Phoebe. But I was equally interested in making a painting by combining light, color and texture to place it in a setting. When using a waterbrush and this type of pen the ink from the pen runs. That's fine. In fact I want it. It keeps these away from realism and allows me to continue to explore an artistic way, or at least my artistic way, to portray birds. That is far more interesting and rewarding to me than the portrayal of feathers.


Ellen Snyder said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for this post as it gives me inspiration to try my hand at sketching again. I always felt pressure to be accurate or precise in drawing animals--their features, features, details. But that is not my skill.

I like your art of birds in their habitat, setting, landscape. That portrays so much more to me than a detail of a bird's feather.

Thanks also for the burst of yellow color.

Yesterday birds flocked to our feeders, maybe in anticipation of the cold week ahead: 50+ goldfinches, a purple finch pair, one each hairy and downy woodpecker, titmice, and one male bluebird.

Regards, Ellen

Ken Januski said...

Hi Ellen,

The worst thing that can happen to potential artists is to be scared off by the pressure to perform to a certain level. In that respect I think art should be more like music in that all sorts of people play and sing it without being professionals. It's just a basic human impulse I think. But with art unfortunately people are more inhibited. They really shouldn't be, though I understand why they are.

In any case I hope that you'll just give it a try, even if you don't show the results to anyone, if that makes it easier. I'd suggest some medium where you can't get too detailed, or worry too much about 'messing up' as they say. I'm not going to suggest anything in particular but just whatever seems comfortable to you. Good luck!!

I always get the biggest kick out of the bright yellow of our winter jasmine.