Friday, July 24, 2015

Raptors Overhead, Watercolor Off the Easel

Adult and Two Juvenile Great-crested Flycatchesrs. Watercolor and Sumi Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

I think I mentioned recently that I've been hoping to do some more developed work for an international competition whose deadline is fast approaching. After all those sumi brush pen sketches I finally bit the bullet and started work on the 16x20 inch watercolor and sumi brush pen painting above. I've wanted to make a painting of a scene similar to this for the last 18 months or so ever since I saw one or two adult and two juvenile Great-crested Flycatchers all together at Morris Arboretum last spring. This is based on various photos from that day. We've seen another 3-4 Great-crested at the same location over the last few weeks so maybe that is what spurred me on to this subject.

I still have a bit of time before the competition so there may still be one more painting using this medium in the near future. In the past I've entered this competition twice and had my linocuts accepted twice. But I lost money on all the various costs involved. Even if I'd sold I would have lost money because prints are almost by definition less expensive than paintings. So this year I've decided to enter some paintings and perhaps a couple of woodcuts. We shall see.

Peregrine Falcon Flying Over Backyard. Photo by Ken Januski.

It was after a 12 hour day exhibiting at the Manayunk Arts Festival in 2012 that I hiked up hill to our house. As soon as I got a block away from Main St. and the festival I heard a shrill cry. When I looked up I saw at least one and maybe more raptors. Almost immediately I realized that they must be part of the peregrine family from the nearby church steeple. That was in fact the case and just a half block away were birders keeping track of the adults and the newly fledged young. Later that summer we often heard the same shrill cries overhead in our backyard and saw up to three peregrines at the same time flying high overhead.

We heard and saw them again in the summer of 2013 then not at all in 2014, though they had again bred at the church. They bred again this year, though I never saw them in my few trips to the church. But just this week Jerene heard their cries again. She heard and saw them briefly on Tuesday and Wednesday. So yesterday I sat out in the back with camera binoculars hoping to do the same. No luck. Then at the same time today we heard then saw two of them. I was ready with binoculars and camera but almost immediately they flew into the sun and were gone. I was only able to get the one grainy photo above, most likely a juvenile.

It's amazing to me to know that they breed near here. It's almost more amazing to see some, and I assume that they're the same ones, flying over our backyard!!

Osprey Flying Over Manayunk Canal. Photo by Ken Januski.

Not quite as surprising but just as welcome a sight was this Osprey seen about a half mile downhill along the Manayunk Canal yesterday.

Two Juvenile Killdeer at Manayunk Canal. Photo by Ken Januski.

This time of year can also bring shorebirds and sometimes Night Herons to the canal so I've been looking recently. I've often suspected that Killdeer breed there. Yesterday that was confirmed when I saw these two very young Killdeer with one of their parents at the canal. They always look like a ping pong ball on stilts. I did a couple of not quite successful sumi field sketches which I'm not going to show here. But I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually appear in a print or painting.

July is often considered a dull time for birding. But that certainly has not been my experience.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

May You Be Forever Sketching

Willow Flycatchers. Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

As I was completing the two pages above in a Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook yesterday I was thinking about how much I've been enjoying drawing recently, especially with the sumi brush pen. Then on the radio I heard a version of Bob Dylan's 'May You Stay Forever Young,' a song I've always very much liked. It seemed to parallel my feelings about sketching: may I and anyone else who likes to draw continue to do so. It is hugely rewarding.

Cedar Waxwing, Fish Crow, et al. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I mentioned on another post that many of these sumi sketches have been based on my own photos. I started somewhere near the beginning of my boxes of them, all alphabetically sorted. As you can see with the Willow Flycatchers above I'm reaching the end. There are no local birds whose names start with 'Z'. That just leaves 'Y', with all those Yellow Something-or-Other birds.

I've also tried to continue using the sumi brush pen when I'm out birding. It creates a line that is a little too large for the size of the sketchbook that I carry in my back pocket. But I'm getting better at being able to use finesse and sensitivity of touch to be able to work this small. Above a Cedar Waxwing and young Green Heron, both seen along the nearby Manayunk Canal, and a Fish Crow on telephone pole and as yet unidentified wasp on the flowers of our Mountain Mint, both seen while I sat in a chair in our backyard.

Grass Spider and Wasp, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, et al. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I spent about 10-15 minutes watching the scene above in our backyard, just a foot away from where I sat, through my Pentax Papilio Extreme Close-Focus Binoculars. (I'm not trying to name drop in this post but when a product works well, like Stillman and Birn sketchbooks, the Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen and the Pentax extreme close focus binoculars I'm happy to mention them in case others might want to use them. In fact I only know about the binoculars due to a talk by an accomplished local birder on Birding Beyond Birds, e.g. dragonflies, butterflies, etc. where he mentioned how good they were).

For the first time ever we've noticed a not of three-dimensional spider webs in our yard. They can be as deep as they are broad. As I watched the small wasp and the spider in the web I really couldn't figure out what was going on. Both were upside down. Was the wasp trapped and desperately trying to get out? If so why did he sometimes seem to approach the spider rather than vice versa? Was the web sticky, like most are? If so why did he seem to move so freely. As I watched it through the binoculars, mainly so I could see the spider better, I decided I might as well try to get it down on paper. That is the scene in upper left.

Later when I went inside I investigated and found that the spider is most likely a 'Grass Spider', one of many funnel spiders, whose webs are not sticky. This spider is also timid and will often run from whatever is in its web. Well that pretty well explains what I saw here. It is amazing how much there is to see in nature if you take the time to look.

Also on the page one of the visiting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, feeding on the Monarda in the yard, and a Willow Flycatcher at Morris Arboretum, the same bird portrayed from photos at the top.

Whimbrel and White Ibis. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

There is a big juried show coming up that I'm preparing to submit work for. No it is not Birds in Art. In any case as I continue to do sumi brush pen drawings from my photos I'm always thinking about which ones could be used for something more developed. Above are two pages of Whimbrel, seen in Cape May, NJ over the last few years, and an immature White Ibis seen at Heinz NWR in Philadelphia a number of years ago. I never know until I do the drawings which resulting drawing might convince me that it is the one to develop more. Time will tell. There are only a couple of weeks before submissions are due to I'll need to decide soon.

Common Whitetail., Killdeer, Great Blue Heron in Tree, et al.  Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

And finally a couple more small sketchbook pages of sumi brush pen sketches from life. Except for the Common Whitetail at top left, all of the images are from the Manayunk Canal a few days ago: another immature Green Heron, with nearby Killdeer, and three versions of a Great Blue Heron curled in various intriguing shapes up in a tree.

I realize that in switching from pen or pencil to sumi brush pen in my field sketches I'm losing a lot of detail. But I think I'm gaining life and/or animation as well as a greater concentration on the entire scene, all of which are helpful in doing a more developed painting or print. It's well worth it to me. And it probably has something to do with why I have a renewed excitement about the possibilities of drawing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gulls, Terns, Watercolor, Sumi Brush Pen

Forster's Terns, Laughing and Bonaparte's Gulls at "The Meadows.' Watercolor and Sumi Brush Pen by Ken Januski.

At least once a year, sometimes more, I try a more energetic, spontaneous type of watercolor. Though I'm excited with them as I start by the end of the day or maybe a day or two later I've become disappointed again. They haven't lived up to my expectations.

This year though I'm still happy with the Red Knots and other birds from Cooks Beach, NJ that I showed a week or two ago. Something seemed to work well in that combination of sumi brush pen and watercolor. Perhaps the larger size, at least for me, of 12x16 inches helped. In any case after weeks of sumi brush pen studies I wanted to get back to a larger work.

This is it above. I have long wanted to do something with a photo I took at 'The Meadows' in Cape May, NJ about three years ago. The combination of Laughing Gull with wings up in the air, smaller Bonaparte's Gull and even smaller Forster's Terns was appealing. I just couldn't figure out how to do it without it looking like a blatant copy of a photo.

Finally I decided that adding some other birds, including the Forster's Tern coming in for a landing might give it a bit more energy and depth and help prevent it from looking like a staged scene. I'm largely happy with it. The potential problem with this type of more spontaneous work is that in working quickly, you'll make a mistake, either in a bird itself or in the proportion or scale of birds in relation to one another. This type of thing can be worked out in studies for more finished work but it seems antithetical to the type of spontaneous work I'm trying to achieve here.

As I said I generally only do one or two more energetic watercolors like this each year. I'm generally so disappointed in the first one that I don't return to it. But that's not the case with these last two sumi and watercolor paintings. So this time I expect to do a few more and see if I can't come up with a semi-permanent way of working in watercolor.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Inspiration Is The Reward of Persistence

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

There is a fairly convoluted source of the title of this post. I have been listening to Robert Greenberg's course for The Teaching Company on composer Igor Stravinsky. As he was talking about how Stravinsky studied composition with the composer Rimsky-Korsakov he quoted Stephen Walsh, from his book Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934, on Rimsky-Korsakov's working methods. He was old school and regimented and believed that "inspiration was the reward of persistence."

The reason that I even noticed this I think is that I'm now on about the 50th sheet of sketches from my own photos of birds using the Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen. Why in the world am I doing this? It almost seems like penance, though there is no denying the pleasure in using the brush pen. But for all the pleasure there's a lot of pain. Almost every page has at least one mistake on it, where I wish that I'd made a different mark rather than the one I did. Some pages are all mistakes.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

My thought has been that I am learning something. By having to decide on just one unerasable line for the top of the head, or the chin, or the curve of the breast I'm making decisions and learning something. I think that the bulk of what anyone learns come from making decisions. They may be right or wrong but you don't really learn much until you invest in a decision.

There's also a bit of hope in this. I'm hoping that it will pay off, especially as I get to page 50 and it doesn't look significantly better than page 1. But still I think that at some point it will pay off, that at some point I'll spontaneously put to work all that I've learned and that the work will look spontaneous, not labored.

So I hope you can see where this quote regarding Rimsky-Korsakov was so striking to me. And it does ring true. Sometimes for me my most inspired, or at any rate the least labored work, will come after a long time doing studies of some sort. Below are two more pages from the recent spate of sketches with the sumi brush pen.

Purple Finch. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

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

I'm most likely going to kill off one of my web sites soon and replace it with pages right here. You can see some of the replacement pages in the links on the upper right under Gallery. It was easy to choose some woodcuts and linocuts to use as examples of my work. But due to moving from one computer to another over the last few years I've lost track of many of the photos of my own field sketches.

So today I went through the sketchbooks for the last 6-7 years, back to my very first incredibly feeble attempts at drawing birds from life, and scanned a number of them into the computer. Two of the most recent are below. In the first I added watercolor to the pencil sketches after I got back home. In the second I added wash using Caran d'Ache Neo-color II water soluble crayons in the field to the Black-crowned Night Heron and Yellow-breasted Chat.

Though there is still a lot of room for improvement I think you can see some improvement compared to the earlier sketches below them.

Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo. Field Sketch by Ken Januski with watercolor added later.

Black-crowned Night Heron and Yellow-breasted Chat. Field Sketch with Neo-color II Crayon wash by Ken Januski.

All in all I'm glad that I've pursued sketching birds from life. There is just one primary source for that: Drawing Birds by John Busby who just recently passed away. It was that book, later complemented by the artists who then frequented the Wildlife Art thread of Birdforum that convinced me that working from life was the primary method of making wildlife art alive. Even more it convinced me that wildlife art could be ART.

Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Cedar Waxwing... Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-headed Woodpecker... Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

There are some artists who can do field studies that are far more realistic and accurate than most wildlife artists can do spending hours in their studio. But I'm not one of them. Neither was John Busby as far as I can tell. .He was more interested in capturing the life of birds. In doing so he also turned them into art.

So my field sketches never look at all finished. But that's really unimportant. To me they are generally exciting. And eventually, after all that perseverance, they tend to inspire me to more finished work.  Thank you Mr. Rimsky-Korsakov!

Canada Geese, Common Grackle... Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

White Ibis, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Chipmunk... Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Seduced by Sum Brush Pen Studies

Osprey. Sumi Brush Pen Studies by Ken Januski.

Ovenbirds. Sumi Brush Pen Studies by Ken Januski.

This hasn't been much of a June so far. Either too hot and muggy to spend much time outside, or too wet to spend much time outside. So I've spent far more time, and ink, using the Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen than I ever would have anticipated. But it is addicting nonetheless.

I think that there are a couple of reasons for this: one has to do with the pen itself -- it makes very fluid strokes. But the other has nothing to do with the pen. It is instead the thrill I've always found in sketches that capture animation, from Rembrandt to some cartoons. I do think there is an almost primordial appeal to art that translates marks into an evocation of a lively, moving body, whether it belongs to humans or animals. Almost like a magic capturing of spirit.

My background is as a formal, abstract artist. Among my many teachers was a famous woman artist in California whose somewhat diaristic art garnered her many avid female (mainly) students. Though I wasn't fond of the adoring followers or the diaristic aspect of the art it was honest as could be I think. I greatly liked her. But she did say one thing that stuck with me when she critiqued my work as a graduate student in art: it was very good formally she said but it didn't seem to be ABOUT anything.

This has never bothered me, the fact that my art was formal and not about anything in particular. But when I started to work from nature I suddenly found that it was ABOUT something. That in turn allowed me to indulge in my liking for art that captured animation, the sense of liveliness in subjects.

So once I started using the sumi brush pen I found that I liked many of my drawings, even though most were done from my photos, because they did seem co capture the animation of birds, the sense of the postures they take, the way the weight is distributed, etc., etc.

Palm Warblers. Sumi Brush Pen Studies by Ken Januski.

Least Sandpipers. Sumi Brush Pen Studies by Ken Januski.

And so with the weather keeping me inside more or less I've continued to do these 11x14 sketches of birds with the sumi brush pen. I'm up to about 40 pages in about 10 days I thnk. Besides the sense of animation there is something else that is very important I think that the pen forces me to do: SIMPLIFY.  I've actually not simplified that much in the sketches of Least Sandpipers immediately above and I think they suffer a bit from it. I got carried away I think trying to show too many of the beautiful feathers. Photography allows us to see the details in feathers and feather patterns that we don't really see with the naked eye. When they're right there in front of us in a photo it's tempting to try to put them all down. But it's far more productive I think to just suggest the feathers by simplifying. It certainly creates a more lively work by simplifying them.

So I may be able to make just two marks for the bill, one above and one below. Even the line separating the two may be too much. So I have to look closely at the photos and then decide which few lines I want to put down. Not all of these work. There are many mistakes and missteps. But there are others that I'm quite happy with. They simply capture the sense of the bird. And they look alive.

Northern Mockingbirds and Pintails Sumi Brush Pen Studies by Ken Januski.

As I said in another post I'm unhappy that I've been able to do so few field sketches with the new brush. Below you see my two newest attempts. Not much to write home about. I think part of the problem is that the sketchbook is too small for the brush, this being a much smaller Moleskine sketchbook. Also I don't have as solid a surface to paint on since I'm holding the sketchbook in one hand and that's not as stable as a table. And of course my subjects are quite uncooperative and move on me. But there are compensations with sketching from life: like the Great Crested Flycatcher eating a Red Admiral butterfly. I thought he had a dragonfly. Until I put the binoculars on him in his new location and saw the unmistakable outer wing edges of a beautiful Red Admiral.

I do like the very simple Gray Catbird at bottom right. And I'm confident that this brush pen will eventually come in very handy in the field.

Carolina Wren, Great Crested Flycatcher with Red Admiral and Gray Catbird. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

Picture-winged Fly, Veery and Common Grackle.  Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

After I'd posted this I decided to try to combine sumi brush pen and watercolor, in my years old quest to get a vigorous watercolor that still looked like something more than random marks. This still remains a goal of mine. With that said this is a 12x16 watercolor with underlying sumi brush pen sketch on Arches 140# paper. It's based on a number of shorebirds, mainly Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin seen at Cooks Beach, NJ in May.

Red Knot and Other Shorebirds at Cooks Beach. Sumi Brush Pen and Watercolor by Ken Januski.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Green Jewels of June

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Monarda. Sumi Brush Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Ebony Jewelwing on Leaf. Sumi Brush Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

June brings two green jewels to Philadelphia each year, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, whose back always has some green on it, and the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, where the male is a brilliant blue/green, though his wings are black(ebony) as could be.

As I've continued to experiment with the Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen, so much so in fact that the first ink cartridge is drying up, I've decided to try it with both of these green jewels as subject. Above both are done first with the brush pen. Then I added a bit of watercolor for color. Since the ink is water-soluble it runs a bit. Given my style that does no harm. But I am investigating how to use permanent ink in the pen.

Ebony Jewelwing and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I've always planned to use the pen primarily for field sketching. Finally today I did do with the 20-30 Ebony Jewelwings, the most I've ever seen at one time, at Morris Arboretum. This was a matter of looking through binoculars, trying to remember what I saw, then putting it down, at a very small scale in my sketchbook. Not great but at least recognizable. That's a good base to build from. When I got home I saw the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird in our yard for today. They or it has been here for 4 days straight, feeding primarily on trumpet honeysuckle. The sketch is done from memory later. At this time of year I rarely have drawing utensils with me when they appear so I stare until they leave, trying to memorize the bird and it's movements.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Sumi Brush Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Above are two more sumi brush pen sketches of hummingbirds from photos. In the bottom one I've added watercolor. It may seem hard to believe but one of my purposes in trying the pen was to find a way to sketch my subjects with lines of varying width. This works well in sumi and I'd also like to use the varying line width in my prints as so many have done before me. I haven't really done that much yet in my prints but I hope the sumi sketches will help in that transition.

Below is a woodcut of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird seen in our yard last year and a linocut of an Ebony Jewelwing and Louisiana Waterthrush from 2011. I'm sure more prints will eventually appear.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Yew Twig. Woodcut by Ken Januski.

Louisiana Waterthrush and Ebony Jewelwing.Linocut by Ken Januski.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some More Sumi Brush Pen Sketches

Hermit Thrush. Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

Many years ago I used to do three hours of figure drawing five nights a week in San Francisco, this immediately after leaving my full-time job. I ate supper when I got home at 9-10 pm with a stop in between for an espresso or cappuccino at one of San Francisco's many coffee houses.

It wasn't the healthiest life style but it was exciting, especially as I did almost all of my life drawings using felt tip pens, or reed pens dipped in ink on paper about 18x24 inches. In other words I did many quick, large sketches night after night. There was something both mesmerizing and fulfilling about working so quickly and at such a relatively large scale.

I'm including three new sheets of Kuratake Sumi Brush Pen sketches. They are also very quickly done. That it just inevitable with the drawing tool. If you don't move it quickly you get a blob. I suppose it is possible to contemplate your stroke for awhile before you actually put it down. This in fact might be the best way to use the brush pen. But for now I'm doing these quickly. Each time I put down one stroke I quickly move to the next stroke.

These are done in an 11x14 Cachet sketchbook so they are somewhat large. I think it is the quick fluidity of the brush pen rather than the size of the paper that is the main factor in the effect created. And it thoroughly reminds me of the excitement of those figure drawing classes.

Great Egrets. Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

As I've mentioned, ad nauseum I'm sure, I'm not at all interested in detail. I want to scream when I read compliments on 'the detail' in someone's work. For me the telling detail is important, the one that through suggestion indicates both a knowledge and a feel for the bird, or any other object for that matte, but that is quite different than millions of little details that work against one another so that there is no focus in the work.

This brush pen, or just a regular sumi brush, forces you I think to go for overall impression and just one or two details. That's the goal I seek and I think working with the sumi brush pen will be very helpful along those lines. Eventually I'm sure at least some of these sumi sketches will appear in a new woodcut or linocut.

Great-crested Flycatcher. Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.
Oh yes, these are all done from the many photos I've taken over the years. If the rain, and hot weather, ever stops I plan to try the pen drawing from life.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A New Toy

Sketches of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

I rarely look for new toys for my artmaking. I might add a carving tool or another watercolor brush but generally speaking they are just variations of tools I already use. I don't consider them toys. And really I don't have any use for a million distractions. I tend to only buy what I know I need. For many, many reasons though, some of them totally unconnected to one another I've been wanting to try sumi brush painting again.

I first took a course in it in San Francisco more that 40 years ago. Since we were studying the traditional Chinese method on a type of cheap paper that soaked up brush strokes and turned them into blobs I enjoyed it but was never successful. Still I've always had a lot of respect for the art.

I've also wanted to find a painterly way to sketch birds, particularly from life, but also from photos. I wanted a method that would deny an obsession with detail. Sumi seemed like a good idea but my old brushes and ink probably weren't the right media to use. When I investigated I found that there is a new type of brush, similar to waterbrushes. Given that I found only good reviews I decided to buy one. These pens have a reservoir similar to waterbrushes, filled with ink rather than water. They have the same, or hopefully better, fluidity of stroke that waterbrushes sometimes have.

The sketches above, almost all of Northern Rough-winged Swallows, are my first attempts using the Kuretake Red Barrel Sumi Brush Pen. I haven't mastered it quite yet, oddly enough. But the possibilities do seem to leap out at me. I expect that I will be using this new 'toy' a lot in the future.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Gorgas Run. Pencil and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows aren't the most colorful of birds but they always hold my interest, I guess because they are so common here in summer. Yesterday I did a quick sketch from life of one at the Manayunk Canal. To try to consolidate what I learned it that sketch I did the pencil and watercolor sketch above from a photo I'd taken last year when I got home. For me watercolor remains a chore. But it is one that I think I keep getting better at. At some point I may be able to do watercolors with the freshness that makes them so special. My guess is that the finesse of touch required with the sumi brush pen will also show up in my watercolors, if in fact I develop any finesse. In any case it's a rare moment: a truly new toy!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Forgotten Warbler, Another Snake, Completed Woodcut and a Very Influential Artist

Louisiana Waterthrush and Snake. Pencil and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

As I wrote about the local breeding warblers in my last post I expected that I probably would forget to mention one or two. Sure enough I forgot the one that breeds within a mile of our house: the Louisiana Waterthrush. It's hard to believe I forgot that one. So above is a quick pencil and watercolor sketch of one, seen with an as yet unidentified snake, in a tributary of the Wissahickon at Morris Arboretum. I saw it and another one there this May. They've been somewhat sparse, at least for me, in the Wissahickon this year so I need to make a point of looking for them before they leave.

'Black' Squirrel, Palm Warbler and Mourning Cloak. Final Edition of Two Block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

More important news is that I've finally finished the 4x6 inch two block reduction woodcut of the 'Black' Squirrel, Palm Warbler and Mourning Cloak seen at the very beginning of migration season in early April 2015. This photo is a bit off in that the blue is not that bright. I sometimes use more than one dark color in my prints and when I do you can bet that they will not photograph well. In this instance my camera insisted in seeing a brighter blue than is actually on the print.

I'm happy with this print, though of course there are some things I'd prefer had worked a bit better. But with a complex print like this that sentiment is inevitable. For me the most exciting thing is that I have transmuted something actually experienced into art. That is one great differentiating factor between my work and much wildlife art, or even contemporary art in general. I'm not interested in making an imitation photo,  nor in portraying any existential angst against the state, the unfairness of life, etc., etc. There's much to enjoy in life, particularly outside in the natural world, and I'd like to capture that experience in some way. I don't care about the details of scientific illustration. I care about the thrill of being outside.

And speaking of that I was sad to learn, as were many others, that John Busby had died. I probably wouldn't have changed from an abstract artist to a bird artist if it weren't for him. Or I would have withered on the vine, in the dull and lifeless world of wildlife art as I knew it. It was only in reading and looking at his book Drawing Birds that I saw wildlife art that showed some sense of the excitement of outdoor experiences and also had some sense of art rather than illustration. If you've never read this book, and you have any interest at all in wildlife art or bird art, I'd recommend it. Though he's had an impact on me I think that his impact on artists in Europe and in England in particular is probably hard to overestimate.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Like A Day without Sun

American Redstart. Pencil and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski. seems like a Spring without Warblers. I've been out birding a number of times over the last few days, including about three hours today as part of the Breeding Bird Census and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. And almost all the warblers, and other neo-tropical migrants, are gone. The ones that remain are breeding birds.

The warblers that breed in Philadelphia that spring to mind are in order of  likelihood: Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, followed by American Redstart and Ovenbird. Perhaps there are others that might be found, a Northern Parula perhaps, but those first four are the most likely ones. And it seems, though I could be wrong that one of them, the Ovenbird is in decline. No one saw or heard any today during the bird census, in an area that should be fairly likely for them.

Of course the thrill of warblers is often the very many that don't breed here, that are moving onto other locales, even if they are only 100-200 miles from here. So in retrospect I'd have to say it's been one of the saddest years for local warblers that I can recall. There were very few warblers, at least in the places I birded.

As a tribute to them and to warblers in general I decided to do a quick watercolor based on a photo I'd taken last year of the handsome American Redstart. I chose this photo because I liked the way it showed the full bird, including the somewhat hefty undercarriage and the slightly curved bill.

I was mentioning to Jerene that though northern migration has ended southern migration could begin again by the end of the month, not warblers but shorebirds and perhaps others. Once you're attuned to nature the spectacle and excitement really is neverending. And of course dragonflies and butterflies are just starting to come into their own.

Milk Snake at SCEE. Photo by Ken Januski.
And of course snakes. No, not really. I'm not a great snake afficinado. But when I saw this unusual one, unusual at least to me, at the Schuylkill Center today I had to take a photo. As far as I recall it's the first Eastern Milk Snake I've ever seen.