Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bloodroot in the Wild, Etc.

Bloodroot Along the Wissahickon. Photo by Ken Januski

So you might ask, where else would you find Bloodroot if not in the wild? After all they are a wild flower. The odd thing is that we used to see so many of them while at Shenandoah National Park and elsewhere that we wanted to get some for our own small yard. So over the years we've bought such wildflowers from local arboretums and nature centers. Most of my previous photos of Bloodroot on this blog have been of our yard wildflowers. It seems like quite a while since I've shown wildflowers in the wild.

Today though I happened upon this small group, just about ready to fully open so I took a photo. I'd like to have seen the Louisiana Waterthrush that was singing today and possibly would have included a photo of him. But it was not to be. Even on leafless trees I could not find him, though he sang for at least 15 minutes. Soon enough though. In our yard Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Trillium Luteum and most likely Goldenseal are all up as of this week. Soon wildflowers will be all over and just as soon they'll be gone.

Common Green Darners, Tree Swallow, Pied-billed Grebe and Canada Goose on Nest. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Speaking of wild above is a new watercolor on the same theme as the last post: spring flight with Common Green Darners and one Tree Swallow. I'm happier with this than with the first pencil and crayon sketch.

It would be easy to complain about the lack of detail in this. In wildlife art detail still seems to rule the roost. Comments like "I love your detail" are common. But I have no interest. When I first started with bird art, almost nine years ago I immediately saw one of the biggest problems: what world do you put the birds in? Do you avoid the problem completely by just doing a vignette, where the bird is the focus and the background just fades away to nothingness. Do you crop it drastically, somewhat as I've done with the Tree Swallow above, and hope that viewers will be happy with just a partial view of the bird, or any other wildlife subject? This seems to be the most common method, but it's also a glaringly obvious method.

Some artists do try to include the background, or really the environment, foreground, background and everything in between. They try to put the bird in a world. And if they've actually experienced birds in the world, rather than just copying them from photos, then the paintings/drawings/prints tend to work. The real problem is that it is so easy to care too much about the environment, to feel that every little leaf must be portrayed. But no one sees or experiences the world that way. The world moves too quickly. If you're focusing on some leaves then your eye can't possibly be also focusing on feathers of a bird or fur of an animal. That's not the way the eye works, at least not in real life. How do you capture the environment and still have something that has even the slightest hint of wildness.

When I do a painting like the one above I  willingly give up a lot of detail. I'd rather get details wrong but get the whole scene right. Every time I do a painting like the one above I soon realize that something is wrong, some detail, if not something larger, is off. But I really don't care. It has taken me a long time to realize that this is my voice in art and wildlife art: to somehow or other portray the whole scene, sometimes more abstractly than others, but still to try to capture the actual experience of being outside and seeing birds in their world. As a consequence I do my best to value spontaneity and the overall scene over actual detail.

A few rare artists I think manage to do both, but only those who see the value of portraying the entire world and have the experience of being out in it and who also have mastered the structure of birds. For them the spontaneity is there but the shorthand they use is so sure I think that no one even notices that the details might not be there, or even more miraculously they also are able to include the telling details while still remaining spontaneous. I won't name any names but that is wildlife art at its best.

No I don't care a whit for detail in wildlife art. Please show me wildlife art that is wild, rather than the tamest thing in the world.

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