Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter/Spring/Whatever 2016

Cottontail Rabbit at 'The Meadows' of Cape May.Watercolor by Ken Januski.

It seems that rabbits have always, at least in my experience, been associated with Easter. They also play a big part in much wildlife art, especially British wildlife art from what I can tell. I've often wanted to use them as the subject for a painting or print but every time I see one in the wild they are gone before I've put down more than a few lines of a sketch or taken a largely out of focus photo.

Nonetheless I decided to try this one yesterday. I posted the result on my Ken Januski Artist Facebook page and then shared it elsewhere. One comment  on the share, well intended I'm sure, liked the drawing but suggested that watercolor was a difficult medium and perhaps I'd prefer colored pencils or pastel.

But I consider this one of my most successful watercolors. I'll let the viewer guess why. One thing I can say is that I've always hated color pencils. They seem to reinforce the idea of coloring between the lines and perhaps even worse mistaking the surface of a bird, animal or anything as somehow representative of that living, breathing thing. Though I wish my grasses and background had a bit more substance here, I love the rabbit. It looks like a rabbit, a nanosecond away from bolting, but made of patches and marks of color that don't at all look like the exterior of a rabbit and yet from a distance resolve into a believable representation. To me that is part of the magic of painting. And it's something you never ever see in the eminently safe method of colored pencils. I'm sure someone somewhere has made exciting lively art using colored pencils, but I surely can't recall seeing any.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Finished Woocut, 1000 Year Old Painting

Black-crowned Night Heron, Short-billed Dowitcher and Greater Yellowlegs. Woodcut by Ken Januski.

I finally finished the woodcut of a Black-crowned Night Heron, Short-billed Dowitcher and Greater Yellowlegs. It is 4x6 inches, printed with Daniel Smith water soluble ink on Shin Torinoko paper. The edition started at 12, but has dwindled to between 6 and 9 due to sloppy mistakes on my part.

As I was finishing this and also looking at other prints and wildlife art I realized that where many artists devote their energy to a finish of detail(wildlife art) or technique(printmaking) my energy instead goes into more formal aspects, composition, color, tone, etc. I think I also have a greater concern for how birds actually behave physically, i.e. where their weight is distributed, how they move, etc. than many wildlife artists who instead devote a lot of time and energy to detail.

Part of what got me thinking about the sense of movement and weight of animals was my skimming of the relatively new book on Bob Kuhn  Drawing on Instinct. He seems to actually feel the weight, balance and movement of the animals he portrays. This may be a bit easier with big animals like lions than with small ones like birds but I suspect he's just as successful with birds. One other artist who has at least one reproduction in the book is Karl Rungius. Again he is a master of understanding the weight, almost the presence of animals. Surprisingly a contemporary wildlife artist who I think also is very successful with this is Harriet Mead, currently President of the Society of Wildlife Artists. Her somewhat abstract found object metal sculptures of a variety of animals and birds always have a sense of connection with the living, moving subject, even though done with various bits of found metal objects. They are striking in their believability.

I'm of course not comparing myself to any of these. But I do think that I'd rather get at least some sense of the physical empathy they have for the subjects that they portray than waste my time on details. For many wildlife artists I'm sure this seems like sacrilege. But for me it's as necessary as air.

Along with the finished woodcut I wanted to show a photo of a Chinese painting that is nearly 1000 years old. It was painted by Cui Bai in 1061. It seems particularly fitting for Easter weekend:
Cui Bai - Magpies and Hare

It is amazing to see such strong wildlife art from almost 1000 years ago.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A New Woodcut, a New Bird or Two

Black-crowned Night Heron, Greater Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitcher. Woodcut proof by Ken Januski.

I can't remember how long it's been since I last printed but it must be six months or more. The oddest thing about this is that I got a new brayer and baren towards the end of 2015. You'd think I'd be eager to use them. Well I was but I just didn't have any ideas for prints.

I've been looking at photos and sketchbooks for 2-4 weeks now and finally decided on a small 4x6 inch woodcut of this grouping of birds, first seen at Forsythe NWR quite a few years ago. I always liked the lurking night heron and the oddball dowitcher amidst all of the yellowlegs.

I've mentioned many times that I never plan out my prints, unlike so many prints that I see. I can't say that this is good or bad. But I know such planning is beyond me. In any case once I get going with a print I remember how enjoyable it is to go through the process of carving, proofing, more carving, more proofing, etc. There's always a great anticipation of seeing how the print will develop.

Given that this print is only 4x6 inches I really can't do much in the way of detail. So it is probably nearing completion. I'll most likely print an edition just in black. But after that I may eventually do an edition that also includes some color on the reverse side of this block.

Eastern Phoebe. Photo by Ken Januski.

Along with my first print of 2016 I'm also seeing some first birds of 2016. Above is an Eastern Phoebe, a sure sign that breeding birds have returned. It's always a question of when we'll see the first one. The photo above is from one seen yesterday. But we've been seeing them for at least a week. This was the first that sat still for a minute, in good light, so that I could take a photo.

Savannah Sparrow. Photo by Ken Januski.

Dixon Meadows Preserve has turned out to be a great spot to see Savannah Sparrows. I can't remember whether or not I saw some in early 2016 there. But we got clear looks at this one last weekend. They're always a pleasure to see. We may have heard another Pine Warbler yesterday but we're still waiting to get our first look for 2016.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Brush Painting, a Field Sketch, a Watercolor from a Photo

American Robin in Silver Maple. Chinese Brush Painting by Ken Januski.

In my lengthy digression into Chinese brush painting all of my previous examples have been on paper made for sketching. But I did break down and buy some practice quality rice paper for brush painting a month or more ago. Because it came in a roll I had to cut pieces to size and then flatten them. I started that process at least a month ago soon after I got the paper.

But I've been dawdling on them just as I've been dawdling/procrastinating with a return to prints. Today I again spent time looking through my sketches trying to figure out what might make a good print. Then an American Robin landed right outside my studio window on the flowering Silver Maple.

Mourning Dove and American Robin in Silver Maple. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

I did the quick brush pen sketch above of it, right next to an earlier field sketch of a Mourning Dove in the same tree. Once I'd done it, in less than a minute, I decided it was time to try that flattening rice a paper. The result is at top. It is a very quick spontaneous process, at least for me. And it's foolish for me to even be trying it since I don't at all intend to devote myself to Chinese brush painting. But still I'd like to pursue it a bit more and I'll continue to do so. Who knows where it will lead.

Swamp Sparrow in Papermill Run. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

First of year birds are starting to make their appearance, this week both Eastern Phoebes and Swamp Sparrows. I didn't do any field sketches of the 1-2 Swamp Sparrows at Morris Arboretum this week nor did I get any decent photos. So the watercolor above is based on some photos I took at Morris a number of years ago. After I'd finished this I realized that I did another watercolor based on the same photo a couple of years ago. I must like the pose. I certainly think it is a handsome bird.

I've shown some very different styles today. I much prefer the former. But every once in a while, when I'm struck by the beauty of a bird, I like to try to get it down in a more 'realistic' manner. Though as you can see it will never fool anybody into thinking it's a photo. That type of likeness just scares me.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Unreasonable Pleasure of Sketching

Sora at Tinicum. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

It has been around 80 degrees the last two days, unseasonably warm to say the least for Philadelphia in early March. But at the moment I'm not complaining. I need a reminder that spring is on the way, though I hope it doesn't arrive for a few weeks, and at 60 degrees not 80.

Due to workmen at the house I've had to stick close by most of the last two days, not taking the opportunity to get out and see what migrants have arrived. But given the bright sun I can sit in my studio sketching from old photos and feeling almost as though I'm back at Tinicum last August watching and sketching these handsome Sora.

At times like these sketching almost seems like singing, a gift to those who are able to enjoy it and do it. Sketching can often be tough, more like work than fun, more failure than success. But at other times it can seem the most enjoyable thing in the world. That was true of sketching these Sora today.

Sora at Tinicum. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Sora at Tinicum. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Northern Flicker. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Goldenrod. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Goldenrod. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Female Orchard Orioles in Hercules' Club. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.