Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Birding Your Own Patch

Indigo Bunting on Cherry. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Quite a few years ago I also painted an Indigo Bunting about this time of year. It seemed like a strong antidote to the cold and gray of winter. But I made this painting today more as a reminder of the value of birding your own patch as they say.

We used to see our first Indigo Buntings of the year in Shenandoah National Park in early May, often with temperatures in the 40s. It was a thrill to see them, made all the more thrilling by the fact that we knew we probably wouldn't see them again until the following year. We knew we wouldn't find any in Philadelphia, our home.

Now, less than 10 years later I guess, it's more a question of just how many we'll see in Philadelphia. I'd guess we see them at least 10-25 times each year, and always within five miles of our house. I often look through photos I've taken in winter, when it's difficult to do much sketching outdoors due to the cold. As I did so this year I've been impressed by how many photos I have of birds I once thought rare: Least Sandpipers, Indigo Buntings, Black-throated Green Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, et al.

These were birds that we used to think that we needed to travel to see. But the vast majority of photos are from birds seen in Philadelphia. It is amazing how many birds are here. I'm not sure if that's true everywhere or if Philadelphia is slightly unusual. It really doesn't make much difference though. What's important to me is how rich the natural world is right in my own backyard.

The watercolor by the way is 9x12 inches on Arches 300# cold press paper. Though are a few things I'd like to change on it I think I've learned enough over the years to know it would be foolish to do any more work on it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trials and Rewards of Ink Drawing and Painting

Black Crowned Night Heron, Greater Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitcher. Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

I first saw the possibilities of working in ink when doing life drawing through adult education classes in San Francisco many years ago. I'm sure this was precipitated by examples from Matisse and Picasso as well as the more contemporary Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, the latter two more for their use of line and wash rather than just line as with Matisse and Picasso. In any case once I tried it myself I was thrilled, particularly in doing large, very quick drawings from live poses.

I really haven't been too successful in using ink with wildlife art, particularly bird art though I have done quite a bit of it. I think the main reason is that the pens I used didn't have as much fluidity as I would have liked. That has changed however ever since I started using the Kuretake Brush Pen and to a lesser extent pens from other manufacturers. Since they're made to mimic oriental brushes it's no surprise that they have a lot of expressive possibility.

Nonetheless ink is also fairly unforgiving. You can't erase mistakes. Either try to work around them or start a new drawing. I've done more than my share of bad drawings so far in 2016. But the ones on this page from today and yesterday are fairly successful in my estimation.

The one at top is based on a photo that is quite a few years old. It has always struck me as full of possibility: all those Greater Yellowlegs with one Short-billed Dowitcher and then the barely visible Black-crowned Night Heron looming over them. I think finally I've captured some of the possibilities of that photo.

If you look at much wildlife art, online or elsewhere, you can see a whole lot of big expressive eyes and a lot of fur and feather details. Someone must go for this because there is a never-ending torrent of it. I'll say no more than that the type of work I'm showing here is in deliberate contrast to it. It is very difficult to believe that the same subject can create such thoroughly different responses.

Great Blue Heron. Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

As I've mentioned before I'll sometimes work from a particular photo, or even take that photo in the first place, because I can see the entire bird, feet and all. That was the case with this Great Blue Heron seen at Maumee State Park a couple of years ago. I like to see the feet as well because they are very important in showing how the bird has distributed his weight. It adds to the sense of life, much more so than the glint in the big eye of some bird in a more 'realistic' painting or drawing.

Great Blue Heron. Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

I do think Great Blue Herons must have just about the most predictably interesting shapes of all birds in the eastern U.S. That was the motivation in the remaining sketches on this page. Their shapes are just too interesting to pass up. I only wish I'd had a better view of the feet!

Great Blue Heron. Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bald Eagles on Nest Brush Painting

Bald Eagles on Nest at Tinicum. Brush Painting by Ken Januski

I've fallen into a deep hole here with Chinese brush painting, or at least my version of it. The cold weather of January and February often finds me working from my photos, much as I dislike the practice. The same is true this year except that I'm using brush and ink or a brush pen. And, I'm processing the photos through my understanding of Chinese brush painting, limited though that may be.

It has proved very satisfying. Eventually all of this work will manifest itself in either woodcuts or linocuts. Most likely they won't look much like this. But winter for me is often a time for studying and practicing, trying to learn birds better and in this case also learn Chinese brush painting better. One day I hope it will all make sense.

Above are two Bald Eagles, one of them on nest, seen at Heinz NWR a few days ago. Bald Eagles have nested there for many years now and it remains a thrill to see them there and at other places throughout Philadelphia.
Fall Female Yellow-rumped Warbler. Brush Painting by Ken Januski.

An observant reader will have noticed that the last three paintings use subjects whose name starts with 'Y'. That's because I'm working my way through my collection of photographs, seeing what strikes my fancy, and I've gotten to the end of the alphabetized collection. Above and below are fall and spring Yellow-rumped Warblers. also done as Chinese brush paintings.

Spring Male Yellow-rumped Warbler. Brush Painting by Ken Januski.

And last but not least one of the birds we most enjoyed seeing last year, the Yellow-breasted Chat. We saw quite a number of them at Cape May last spring. And accompanying them a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron, seen along the Manayunk Canal many years ago in the middle of summer. These drawings are done with a brush pen. It of course doesn't have the tonal richness of brush and ink but I do like the way it forces me to simplify birds into just a few lines.

Yellow-Breasted Chat at Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Brush Painting and Brush Pen Painting

Adult and Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Brush Painting by Ken Januski.

I continue on my seemingly never-ending digression into Chinese brush painting and painting with a Sumi brush pen. I had originally tried a brush pen last summer because I wanted to experiment with line weight and shape in my woodcuts and linocuts, a la ukiyo-e woodblocks.

I soon found though that to create variety in line weight and shape using a brush requires a mastery far beyond me. I had to just stumble along. In the process I got more and more interested in brush painting itself, though more in the Chinese tradition than in the Japanese surprisingly.

As I looked more at Chinese brush painting in particular I appreciated how often rich almost coloristic paintings could be made with just the black ink of an ink stick and various amounts of water. But this then becomes much more of a painting than a drawing, as much or more about areas of ink as lines of ink.

The two drawings at top, both done today, have Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers as their subject. The one on the left is an adult male. The one on the right is the far less colorful immature sapsucker. But the richness of color, especially the dirty dishwater 'yellow' belly, is what convinced me to use a brush, with its various values of black and gray, rather than just line. I almost certainly will never use what I've learned in a print, mainly because it is so painterly. But the beauty of ink washes was just too much to resist.

In the western tradition artists as varied as Rembrandt and Richard Diebenkorn were masters of wash drawings, and I've always loved them. It is amazing what you can do with black and white and gray!!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Bartram's Garden. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

Most of my work of the last week or more however has been done with a brush pen. Here line is king and it is very useful to force yourself to see birds or any other object strictly in terms of line. I do think this type of linear drawing is at the heart of most art of most cultures. Because ink is so unforgiving you either have to get the line right the first time or find some convincing way to either repair it or make it seem unimportant. This type of drawing can be a bit nerve-wracking since it is so easy to make mistakes. But it also forces you to take chances, to force yourself a bit further than you want to go. I've never been a big believer in the True Art Involves Taking Chances philosophy but in moderation it is often both useful and invigorating. Above the subject is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher seen at Bartram's Garden.

The rest of the brush pen drawings below are pretty well explained by their captions. Most are done in less than five minutes. This is almost inevitable when you're using a brush pen. The lines move incredibly quickly and if you let your pen rest on the paper you'll soon have a blob rather than a crisp line. So the drawings/paintings move very quickly.

Snowy Egret at Jake's Landing. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

Spotted Sandpiper. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

In the drawing above I've tried to capture something that I always notice when looking at Spotted Sandpipers, their relatively thick and blunt bill. That's really all I was trying to show here, along with the combined horizontal lines of the front leg and the back underside of the bird. Sometimes something as simple as that seems worthwhile trying to get down on paper.

Juvenile Tri-colored Herons at Heinz NWR. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

FOY Warbling Vireo in Paperbark Birch. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski

Above I was interested in showing how the first of year Warbling Vireo was making a very common bird movement, wiping the side of his bill on a branch. If you've seen many birds you'll realize how common this is. As well I like the visual element of all the catkins and tried to capture that.

In the drawing below my only real goal was to try to capture the oversized legs of the Willet. I think I was successful at that but I made the torso itself a bit short and out of proportion. Still it looks like a Willet and so I decided to show it.

Willet at Reed's Beech. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR. Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

Finally one of a number of Wilson's Snipe seen on some cold and wet days at Ottawa NWR a couple of falls ago right before thecongressional Republicans shut down the government and the nation's wildlife refuges. I do remember that Mr.'TrustTed' Cruz!