Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Recent Work - Moku Hanga, Watercolor, Field Sketch

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski.

It has been a very long time since I've posted anything here. One reason is an old one: I tend  to  write more  than make art on this blog. Though I  obviously  have an interest in thinking  about things, especially artistic things, I often feel that is to the detriment of  actually  making art. So a year ago or more I decided to limit my writing here.

A newer motivation is  both a seeming lack of  interest from readers and moreso a belief that most viewers are interested for the wrong reasons: hacking or some other motive not related to my art. This isn't just paranoia. It's based on reading the stats of who visits, who links, etc. The great majority are from countries known for their hacking, especially for the purpose of  identity theft, or from sites that aren't legit. This  didn't use to be the case but it  is now. So I have no reason to write posts for  hackers and others who just aren't interested  in anything I want them to be interested in.

Of course a lot of  this came about as social media became more popular. I finally relented and joined Facebook a few years ago, mainly to have access to some artists whose work was hidden without a Facebook logon and perhaps a friend request. I didn't like any of this but I finally decided to try it. All in all I'm not unhappy. But Facebook reminds me of what I used to call 'snippet journalism', journalism whether in print or online or television that was too breezy and short to be of much value.  There is something there but it certainly isn't the more developed, thoughtful discursive material that is available in something like a blog.

So perhaps blogs will return to popularity. But I used to think that eventually print, especially printed newspapers and magazines would make a comeback. It seems crazy to me that this has not happened but there's no doubt that is has not.

So.............I'm just going to show some recent work here, though without a lot of  theorizing.

At top  is the finished moku  hanga print of 'Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm.' Traditional moku hanga includes very finely painted,  carved and printed lines. Contemporary moku hanga has largely abandoned line for color fields. This makes sense for various reasons, but I  still miss line. So below you see a trial proof of the same print using lines just on the cuckoo. Another proof shows only color fields with no line  at all. The color  field proof was done much  earlier in the process and the linear one as I made the final edition.

My long history with abstract art has taught me that you really have to be careful about precious areas of  a painting, areas that can seduce the eye but that don't add much to  the entire painting or print.  There is  an aesthetic that says that this is just fine but it's not MY aesthetic. The proof without lines has a lot of areas I  like but they just don't fit with my idea of the  print. The proof below with minimal line was my attempt to keep the color fields and just use the most essential line. But in the end I decided that I needed all of the lines. It took a long time to come to this decision but I finally did. And I'm happy with it.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm. Trial moku hanga proof by Ken Januski.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm. Early state moku hanga proof by Ken Januski.

All of my work desires spontaneity in some form or another. And I rebel against too much detail and too much adherence to what something looks like. On the other hand, especially with wildlife art and particular species, I can't very well just ignore the specifics. So I try to do what I can to learn them but to let the actual prints and paintings look spontaneous, or at least not constipated.

Further down on this page are some field sketches I did  at Cape May a few weeks ago, mainly  of  Sora, Virginia Rail and Wilson's  Snipe. I wanted to capture the actual scene of Sora and Virginia Rail all together, constantly moving out of view and back into the reeds. The sumi brush pen and watercolor painting below is the result of  my attempt to capture the scene, be spontaneous but still be at least somewhat true to what the species actually looked like.

Inevitably this will not have the detail or the realism of more fastidious detailed work. But other than as a learning tool I have no interest in painting in such a manner. And I think my prints show that this is also true with them. In any case I'm happy with this  12x16 inch painting.

Juvenile and adult Sora and Virginia Rail. Brush Pen and Watercolor  painting  by Ken Januski.

Since the day I started wildlife art, specifically bird art, over 10 years ago I knew some things I didn't want. I didn't  want portraits, where cute animals were centered on the canvas or print as though posing in a photographers studio. I didn't want cameos either, where the bird is in focus and the background just fades out into mist. I also didn't want a totally flattened picture plane, with cropped subject and an interesting design. I used to admire this in Degas and in Japanese prints, including some moku hanga. But  today it seems easy and a bit too decorative.

I also knew, how could I forget, that I didn't want labored art. I'm always shocked at how artists, especially wildlife artists, will talk about how much time they spent on their work. Who cares?  That 's a bad sign not a good one. To me the best art looks effortless, regardless of how much work went into  it.

So I had a huge list of what I didn't want my art to look like. One thing I've realized is that I do want a sense of life, a sense of artistic knowledge and ambition, and more and more a sense of space and depth. The latter is not inherently good. It's gone in and out of artistic fashion over the centuries. But to me it seems to be a way to help the subject open up, to help it breathe. It seems to me that especially in wildlife art the subjects should breathe!

So that is what I attempted to  do in the 12x16 inch  watercolor below of a Black-bellied Plover and two Dunlin below. It's quite simple and has an extraordinarily  limited palette for me. It also leaves a lot of white space, something that is harder than anything else for  me to accomplish  in watercolor.

Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin. Watercolor painting by Ken Januski.

As I said above I still like to be able to portray my birds and other subjects with some sense of accuracy. The best method for  that bar none, is to work from life. I may not get the detail that I might if working from a photo but I get a sense of life and I also learn to make decisions about what is important in my subject in the brief seconds or nanoseconds before it moves. Because of that I always enjoy the chance to draw birds from life.

It is  still a bit difficult to do, especially with rarer birds, when my camera is hanging around my neck ready to use. And I do use it. But it never has the thrill of sketching from life!

Juvenile Sora. Field  Sketch by Ken Januski

Sora. Field Sketch by Ken Januski

Virginia Rail and Common Gallinule. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Virginia Rail Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Wilson's Snipe. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

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