Monday, September 14, 2020

Finishing Damselflies, Returning to Warblers

I've finally finished the Stream Bluets acrylic painting, having let it sit for between 4 and 8 weeks. For me one of my great artistic fears is overworking a painting to the point that it seems lifeless. Sometimes it  can take years to sense the lifelessness, possibly because after all the work of the overworking I, and probably many others, hate to admit that it didn't work. So when I started up acrylic painting again early this spring I often left paintings temporarily finished in very early states. I didn't want to overwork them.

Finally I decided that I was willing to take the chance of overworking on this painting. It's always hard to say when a work of art is done, particularly ones done in such fluid media as oil or acrylic. It's just so easy to make a few more changes. Of course it's never quite that simple. One change leads to another, etc., etc. But in this  case I think I've frozen the fluidity at the best place.

To me it still looks like a painting, one concerned with shape, color, composition, etc. But it also looks like a plausible representation of a real event, damselflies in a frenzy over a stream, with many of them mating and  ovipositing. To me it is more realistic than many illustrations  that show much more detail. It's a very old debate between painting and illustration. But for me I think it's fairly simple. Illustration always values some sort of representational  detail over something both truer to experience and more satisfying artistically, not that there isn't artistically satisfying illustration. I'm going to leave it at that since I've written about this before. The last thing I'd say is that when most people actually see such a scene in front of them I think that they experience it more the way my painting portrays it than the way most illustrations do.



Stream Bluets at Papermill Run. Acrylic Painting. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski

Due to Covid and lockdowns we missed much of spring migration. But now that fall migration has begin and now that I've figured out where I can bird with a fair amount of safety and few crowds I've been doing a fair amount of birding. Fortunately that has resulted in my seeing many migrants including the colorful warblers, even if some of them are not as colorful as in spring.

As usual it is often quite hard to even SEE them long enough and well enough to identify them, let alone photograph them and in particular sketch  them. I think that probably the only way to successfully sketch migrating warblers from life is to find an area where you think that they might remain for more than a few minutes and then concentrate on just one or  two species. If you continually are trying to identify each little flurry of movement you see you'll never get any sketching done.

But for me, especially having missed most of spring migration, it's hard to make that sacrifice. And so I've tried to both identify and photograph them but not sketch them. BUT I don't at all like trying to make art from the photographs I've made of them. I've written about  this for years and so I hope  I won't  rehash too much of what I've already written.

But I think it is similar to what I just wrote about illustration and damselflies. There is a real danger  of  too much  information. When you know a great deal about insects, birds or whatever you may feel a great need to show all of this knowledge in each piece of  art that you make. Perhaps you feel that someone might say, oh he doesn't understand that bird because  he left out the dark at the base of the primaries. Many years ago there was an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about such art and its audience. Unfortunately it was in praise of it!!!

Art is a lively, fluid medium that I don't believe should be beholden to reality, not that anyone agrees on just what reality is. But art is one thing, science is  another, knowledge is another, etc., etc. To me it is a bit like the male athletes I used to see at the outdoor swimming pool when I was a student at Berkeley. Smaller females would fly by the young male athletes in the swimming lanes, seemingly without effort. The males were all effort, all that strength, but strength directed in the wrong direction, down rather than forward. It was a sight to  see. But it's also I think an example of  being not using your abilities in the best manner. The males had strength but they used it wrongly. They would have been better off, at least in the pool, forgetting all about it, or at least directing it forward. The  same thing happens I think with knowledge in art. It can weigh you down just as much as the strength of  those male floppers, I  mean swimmers.

So with all that in mind I wanted to somehow use the warblers I've seen recently as the subject of prints and/or paintings. But  I just didn't want to deal with the excess information of a photo. That's when I decided that if I just looked through the small viewfinder  of my camera at the photos I took the view would be small enough that I'd have to ignore details and just stick to the basics. So  that's what the next four photos are. After I'd sketched them in pencil I added a small bit  of watercolor. I particularly chose photos that had the birds in what to me were fairly active positions, i.e. not just sitting there as though posing.

Pencil and watercolor sketch of Blackburnian Warbler. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski

Pencil and watercolor sketch of Black-throated Green Warbler. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski

Pencil and watercolor sketch of Tennessee Warbler. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski

 
Pencil and watercolor sketch of Chestnut-sided Warbler. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski

After I'd done those sketches I started making compositional studies where I combined one, two or more of the warblers. At one point I decided I needed a larger warbler in the foreground. For some reason I decided to add a Canada Warbler. But since I haven't seen one recently I used a photo that is more than 10 years old, and one that also served as an early unsuccessful watercolor. After I'd done a few pencil and collage studies I added watercolor  to one.

Pencil compositional study for warblers. Copyright 2020  Ken Januski

Pencil and watercolor compositional study for warblers. Copyright 2020  Ken Januski

I will probably use the color study as the basis of a painting or print. But in the meantime I've continued to bird and so see birds. Yesterday I saw both male and female Black-throated Blue Warblers. After I'd been home for awhile I decided that I'd like to do a small study of the female. This is something I used to do with much more frequency. It's both a celebration of the bird and an educational exercise, trying to get me to look closer and imprint on my memory some of the details of the bird. I'm not sure if the educational goal ever gets achieved. I'm sure I forget much of what I think I'm learning as I make the sketch. Still there is always something rewarding in doing them, assuming that I can stand to look at them once I've done(i.e., they don't always work  out).

Ballpoint pen and watercolor study of  female Black-throated Blue Warbler. Copyright 2020 Ken Januski

(Well the new Blogger continues to create more expletives than blogs. But at this point I can't worry about it and I'm sure my readers don't care either. But I have to say it reminds me of Facebook and its recent changes, made by people who seem to have never used the product.)