Thursday, April 11, 2024

White-throated Sparrow Mokuhanga


Most of the printed edition of 'White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow' mokuhanga. Copyright 2024 by Ken Januski.

I have finally finished an edition of a new mokuhanga print, 'White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow.' After years of just showing a closely cropped view of just one print I've recently gotten in the habit of showing part of the printed edition of my moku hanga instead. I'm doing that because so much of the technical effort that goes into each print goes into printing an edition with all prints looking more or less identical. This is quite different than the creative energy that goes into creating a print whose visual appearance I'm happy with. It is completely against my nature and goes against all my artistic training, which was as a painter not a printmaker, to worry about the similarity of each print.  Because I spend a tremendous amount of time and effort coming up with a print I'm happy with it seems counterproductive, if not actually unenjoyable, to print an edition. But it does give me something tangible to show for all the effort and also allows me to sell more of them at lower prices. I also just take some pleasure in showing that I've become accomplished enough technically to actually print an edition. That wasn't always the case! And I think anyone who does want to see a larger view of just one print should be able to zoom in on this edition photo.

The new print is based on my looking at and sketching White-throated Sparrows over the last few years. I think I have some field sketches from 2023 but I didn't find them in a quick search so instead I'm showing this sumi brushpen this  sketch of a White-throated Sparrow from 2022.  It is nothing spectacular but I enjoy it and most of my quick sumi brushpen field sketches. Because they are done with live birds I have to concentrate on what I'm seeing since they can leave or move at any moment. And using the sumi brushpen forces me to simplify. Almost unconsciously I very quickly decide what to concentrate on and start there. So for me these sketches often have an electricity to them that I like. 

Sumi brush pen and wash field sketch of White-throated Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler, Copyright 2022 by Ken Januski.

Someone might ask why I bother to spend so much time looking at birds in the field and sketching them in the field and then don't worry too much about accuracy in the actual prints. To put it simply I don't think birds or anything needs to be put in a photographic straight jacket. I like to be able to understand birds, both their appearance and their behavior, but my goal as an artist is to interpret all of that through my own artistic sensibilities and artistic abilities.  If I were doing traditional wildlife art or illustration I might be more interested in more classic field sketching. But I'm not. When I look at my more classical sketches from when I first started, excepting the many that were complete failures, I may like them but they don't inspire me to make a painting or print based on them. In the end I think all the looking and the brushpen field sketches get me to see the artistic possibilities in a bird, the things that I think might make a striking painting or print.

Watercolor and sumi brushpen sketch of White-throated Sparrow. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

I also have done some watercolor sketches based on photos I've taken. My intent is to both  explore the bird further and, I hope, to end up with a sketch I'm happy with.  I often accomplish the first goal but rarely the second. So in the works from photos both above and below I'm really not happy with the finished work. But in both I explored something that I had noticed in much of my viewing of the bird in the field, perhaps the striping on the mantle, perhaps the underside coloring, etc., etc. There is so much to see in birds that is far more interesting than identification characteristics.

Sumi brushpen and watercolor sketch of White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.

Oddly enough the little watercolor sketch above led me to the digital painting below. That in turn served as the basis for the new print. I think that it is all the transmogrifications that take place, from field sketch, to watercolor sketch from photo, to digital painting and perhaps back again that makes me feel that I've gotten far enough away from the bird and especially from any photo of the bird that it is relatively easy to feel free to make any changes that I think make sense artistically. I do not want to be limited by the bird or any other subject, though I also want to make sure that I am still in some way true to it. That is where all the looking at birds in field comes in. I think it gives me a pretty good intuitive sense of what they should look like.

Digital sketch using Procreate on iPad of White-throated Sparrow at Houston Meadow. Copyright 2024 by Ken Januski.

The watercolor sketch below is a quick watercolor sketch from a photo of a White-throated Sparrow. Most of ny watercolor sketches are quick. I don't like labored watercolors. But as a consequence they are also often unsuccessful. Such is the case with this. Still it was one more step along the way to getting what to me is a successful mokuhanga. I am quite happy with it in the two fields which it inhabits: bird art and mokuhanga. I can't ask for more than that.
Watercolor sketch of White-throated Sparrow. Copyright 2023 by Ken Januski.