Saturday, June 13, 2015

A New Toy

Sketches of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

I rarely look for new toys for my artmaking. I might add a carving tool or another watercolor brush but generally speaking they are just variations of tools I already use. I don't consider them toys. And really I don't have any use for a million distractions. I tend to only buy what I know I need. For many, many reasons though, some of them totally unconnected to one another I've been wanting to try sumi brush painting again.

I first took a course in it in San Francisco more that 40 years ago. Since we were studying the traditional Chinese method on a type of cheap paper that soaked up brush strokes and turned them into blobs I enjoyed it but was never successful. Still I've always had a lot of respect for the art.

I've also wanted to find a painterly way to sketch birds, particularly from life, but also from photos. I wanted a method that would deny an obsession with detail. Sumi seemed like a good idea but my old brushes and ink probably weren't the right media to use. When I investigated I found that there is a new type of brush, similar to waterbrushes. Given that I found only good reviews I decided to buy one. These pens have a reservoir similar to waterbrushes, filled with ink rather than water. They have the same, or hopefully better, fluidity of stroke that waterbrushes sometimes have.

The sketches above, almost all of Northern Rough-winged Swallows, are my first attempts using the Kuretake Red Barrel Sumi Brush Pen. I haven't mastered it quite yet, oddly enough. But the possibilities do seem to leap out at me. I expect that I will be using this new 'toy' a lot in the future.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Gorgas Run. Pencil and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows aren't the most colorful of birds but they always hold my interest, I guess because they are so common here in summer. Yesterday I did a quick sketch from life of one at the Manayunk Canal. To try to consolidate what I learned it that sketch I did the pencil and watercolor sketch above from a photo I'd taken last year when I got home. For me watercolor remains a chore. But it is one that I think I keep getting better at. At some point I may be able to do watercolors with the freshness that makes them so special. My guess is that the finesse of touch required with the sumi brush pen will also show up in my watercolors, if in fact I develop any finesse. In any case it's a rare moment: a truly new toy!

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