Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Century of My Watercolors, or Perhaps Just Eleven Years

American Wigeon. Watercolor  by Ken Januski.

Well!!! It's been a long time since I've posted anything here. But not quite as long as the time between the two watercolors of Pine Warblers below, that being almost eleven years. As I said in 2017 I eventually found that there wasn't much of  an audience  for  the blog, if you ignored hackers or  other undesirables, and I also found that writing time took away from painting time.

Still art is a balance I think between work and thought and one should not be totally ignored for the other. So there are a couple of thoughts for this post.

One I was reminded of by Robert Greenberg in his Great Courses course on Concert Masterworks. I think  he was talking about Beethoven. He said that composing music is much more than just writing a  melody; it's also about rhetoric and logic, basically organizing a piece of music.  In terms of art it means that a representation of something is not enough, no matter how many details an artist might include. It's got  to hold together logically and also captivate an audience. That captivation is through expectation and surprise. We should all understand that from our own experience so I won't go into it.

Another thought: watercolor is  not my forte. But I keep going back to it. For one thing I've found  that it can be a way to quickly explore an idea or subject. But another is  that it is one of my favorite mediums, but only when done by a master like Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent. It can be such a bright, fresh, light-filled medium and it seems perfect for portraying birds and the outside. I did a maximum of three watercolors in all my years as an undegraduate and graduate(at 2 colleges) student in studio art. It was only when I decided to use birds as subjects in late 2006 that I turned to  it. And boy did I have a lot to learn. I guess that's why I'm showing  the brand new watercolor from today below as well as one of the same subject from eleven years  ago  in 2007. They show, along with the other watercolors here, my progress over the years.

A final thought: sometimes it can take a long while to figure out the right medium for a subject, for instance woodblock, watercolor, charcoal drawing, oil painting, etc. I spend much of my time looking at photos I've taken or sketches I've done from life, waiting for one of them to spark an idea, some possible way to create a piece of art that I'll be happy with. In other words I'm looking for inspiration. But inspiration is not easily found. Recently I decided that when a subject seemed interesting but where I still couldn't figure out the medium to use,  or the composition or some such thing, that it was best to just do something  at  that time, rather than let if  fade into my memory because inspiration wasn't there yet. Most of the watercolors here, outside of the old Pine Warbler watercolor, were done with that motivation.

Both the American Wigeon and the Prothonotary Warbler were based on photos that I'd taken and that struck me. But I still couldn't figure out either the medium or  the composition. So I decided to just do fairly large watercolors and see what happened. At 12x16 inches they were too small, at least for me, to just be studies. But there also wasn't the pressure to do a finished work of  art. I'm happy with them and with the method. It seems like a better way to get to more developed work than to just file away an idea for another time.

Pine Warbler. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Often in the past I've done quick pencil and watercolor  sketches  of birds that I've just seen. I often want to commemorate the sighting in some way. So  the first step is a sketch. That was the motivation for the Pine Warbler above. A very early one appeared very briefly outside my studio window two days  ago. But I also wanted to get away from small sketches. Such small sketches are nice in that they are too small to  create worry about failure. On the other hand they are also too small to motivate much ambition. So I'm  trying to work larger and on better paper when I want to commemorate experiences. Some will be failures. But I  also might get a more finished work of art. Right now I'm using watercolor  for this but the other day I  was a bit tempted to go back to  acrylic again. We'll see. In the meantime I'm relatively happy with this. And it is an improvement, though not  as much as  I'd like, over the watercolor from 11 years ago below.

Pine Warbler. Early Watercolor by Ken Januski

I've already talked a bit about the watercolor of a Prothonotary Warbler below. Since it is a rare bird for Philadelphia, and especially for anywhere  other than John Heinz NWR, I was really happy to see it. This is the second watercolor I've done of  it. The other is in sumi brush pen and watercolor  and is based on the same photo. So there is some similarity to  this. But neither of them fully portray the experience as I'd like to, even though I'm quite fond  of the watercolor below. That I think gets back to what Greenberg said about being more than a melody. Good art or music uses its language to create something much larger. So that will remain an ambition for my experience of a Prothonotary along the Wissahickon. It may very well be that only an abstraction, in one medium or another, will do the trick!!

Prothonotary Warbler. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

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