Sunday, February 15, 2015

GBBC 2015 Day Three - Playing It Safe

Carolina Wren and House Sparrows On Feeder. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

'Playing It Safe' is one of those titles that works on many levels: 1) with a temperature of 7 and winds of 30 mph when I woke it up I thought I might not get out birding today and might need to play it safe by sketching something I could see from the house; 2) I could also play it safe by staying in and not freezing to death on a day where a falling tree might be more likely than an unusual, or maybe even usual bird; and 3, the original reason for the title, the smaller Carolina Wren in this picture has learned to play it safe by actually getting into the feeder thus frustrating the efforts of the larger birds, like the House Sparrows pictured here, to bully him or her out of the way.

Quite a few years ago, when I did a lot more woodworking than I do today, almost all of it with handtools not power tools, I bought a multi-plane. I can't recall whether it was a Record or a Stanley. It was a beautiful plane with far more capabilities than a rank amateur like myself could ever use. Once I got it though I wanted to try out some of its cutters, specifically the ones for molding. I did so on a piece of pine I think though perhaps it was a harder wood. In any case I ended up with a nice fairly complicated piece of molding with no conceivable use. And then I thought I could make a little 3"x3" bird feeder.

That was 10-15 years ago and yet it remains one of the favorite feeders of backyard birds. I did coat it with varnish as I recall. Otherwise it could not have survived.  Carolina Wrens are often the first birds at our feeders in the morning and they often get the peanut pieces in the feeder all to themselves. But soon enough the hordes of bullying House Sparrows are there and drive them off. Finally at least one of the wrens got wise. It now sits itself down in the feeder where it is somewhat immovable. Finally enough belligerent House Sparrows may chase it off but it is able to eat a bit longer.

This pencil, watercolor and gouache sketch is done from memory and from photos I've taken of House Sparrows and Carolina Wrens and also field sketches I've done of them. I had to use white gouache because I realized I'd made the wren too large in relation to the House Sparrows. In fixing that I lost the white of the supercilium and throat. So out came the white gouache in the hopes of regaining it in its new smaller location. Once I add gouache I know that I'm on to a rougher type of watercolor. I'm no longer playing it safe. At this time only brute force, mainly of gouache and opaque colors have some chance of saving the day.

Such sketches almost always end up looking rough. But they also are among the sketches most likely to serve as the basis of a later painting or print.

If an unusual bird appears in the yard or I decide to brave the cold and windy weather later today I might post a bonus GBBC picture but most likely I'll play it safe and stick with this.

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