Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Male Pileated Woodpecker Along Wissahickon on Thanksgiving Day, 2015. Photo by Ken Januski

There's really not much to say other than: Happy Thanksgiving. With all that is wrong in the world it's good to have a day to remember what's right. Among today's reminders was this male Pileated Woodpecker, seen with a female. Recently we've also seen Northern Harriers at Dixon Meadow Preserve. There was a time when I would have greatly question the likelihood of seeing harriers just a few miles from home.

And I've been dabbling with more sumi brush pen sketches. The most recent ones are seen below.
Greater Yellowlegs and Green Heron on Log. Brush Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.

Northern Harrier at Dixon Meadow Preserve. Photo by Ken Januski.
Northern Harrier seen a week earlier at Dixon Meadow Preserve. Photo by Ken Januski.

Great Egret on Stump. Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Young Green Heron on Tree Along Manayunk Canal. Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Completed Print and Brush Pen Sketches

I think it's been a week since I finished the combined linocut/woodcut of Winter Wren in leaves. But it's been a busy time and I haven't gotten around to showing it here yet. One of the reasons for the delay is that I've been out walking and birding and taking some photos.

As the weather gets colder it's harder to convince myself to sketch from life outside. I inevitably start going through my photos and field sketches looking for a subject for a new painting or print. That was the case recently with most of these brush pen (either Kuretake or Pentel) sketches. All but the Cooper's Hawk are from photos taken earlier this year. The earliest, above is a Great Egret with Forster's Tern at Jake's Landing near Cape May, NJ. I liked the scene but made a mistake in bringing the dark reflections on the water down so low that the tern more or less disappeared.

More recently I've seen a number of Eastern Chipmunks. Though I'd like to sketch them live, and occasionally they do sit still, I'm so unfamiliar with them that working from photos seemed like good practice. And of course the unadulterated cuteness of chipmunk and acorn was hard to ignore.

The Eastern Towhee above was I think from early spring. As usual I like it when I can see the full bird, head to toe. That makes it easier and to me more worthwhile sketching. With the full bird in sight it's much easier to get a sense of movement, weight, balance.  As usual it is hard to exaggerate the size of the tail.

The only recent photo was the basis of the sketch above. It is a Cooper's Hawk. You may agree with me that the one on the far right, where I ignored the feathers to a large extent, is much more successful. One of the things that I most like about using a brush pen is that I'm forced to be both simple, quick and decisive. It doesn't lend itself to tentative strokes.  And so I think there is an immediacy and sense of spontaneity that is appealing. On the other hand if you make a mistake you have to live with it, as in one of the chipmunk sketches above where the arm is much too small and out of scale.

I continue to do these sketches because I learn from them. And I'd like to incorporate their simplicity in my prints. Time will tell.

And finally the completed print of a Winter Wren in leaves. It is a combination print of linocut and woodcut. I printed it a few years ago as a black linocut. But I always felt that it wasn't as colorful as it might be. Since I wanted to experiment with a new water-soluble ink I returned to it as the basis for a color print. I printed the original linocut in black using the new ink, Caligo Safe-wash. I then used my old Daniel Smith ink to print orange on a woodblock and overprint the black. I then went back to the linocut and printed a Daniel Smith brown after having cut away more of the block to that some of the color created by orange over black remained. My intent was to cut a little more of the linocut away and then print Caligo black on top of the entire print. But as I proofed I kept feeling that the black was too dominant. I also found that the Caligo was too glossy and out of keeping with the more matte Daniel Smith. So in the end I carved away most of the linoleum block and then printed what remained with the very little Daniel Smith black that I still have.

I am happy with this and it's fulfilled my goal to a large extent of making the original Winter Wren print much more colorful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

150 Birds, 2 Brush Pens, 1 Print

Pectoral Sandpiper at Morris Arboretum Wetlands. Brush Pen and Watercolor by Ken Januski.

There is one premier birding location in the Philadelphia area, John Heinz NWR, also know as Tinicum. But for us it's not the most enjoyable drive and almost always involves some rush hour traffic on busy highways. Perhaps the early morning traffic will be light but that won't be the case on the way home.

For that and other reasons we spend most of our time birding closer to home when we're in Philadelphia. We're very fortunate to have so many good birding areas, and just plain good natural areas, within a few miles of our house: the Wissahickon Valley, the Manayunk Canal and Schuylkill River, Andorra Natural Area, Houston Meadows, Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and Morris Arboretum to name the ones where we spend the most time.

We originally joined Morris many years ago for the vegetation. We're interested in flowers and herbs, but also in shrubs and trees, particularly native ones. But the more time we spent at Morris the more we realized that there were a lot of birds there, particularly near the natural wetlands near the entrance.

As our birding skills have improved, and as I've spent more time sketching the birds I see, our list of birds seen at Morris has grown. Recently we saw a Pectoral Sandpiper there, the 150th bird seen at Morris according to e-bird, and our 130th bird. The Facebook page for Morris recently howed a photo I took of the Pectoral along with my American Goldfinch Eating Thistle, based on a sketch from Morris. Above is a quick sketch using two different brush pens and watercolor of the Pectoral.

About a year ago Kenn Kaufmann wrote an article in Bird Watcher's Digest about all the birds that go unnoticed and unreported because birders tend to stick to known hotspots. I think that the 150th species seen at Morris shows how true this is. Birds are in many places, not just hotspots like Heinz NWR. It's really worthwhile to explore other areas, especially ones so close to home.

Morris has done a lot to develop/protect the natural wetlands area and I think it shows in all the birds that are now possibilities there. And it is a very beautiful place in every other aspect as well.

Winter Wren in Leaves. Third Stage of Combination Woodcut/Linocut by Ken Januski.

I haven't given up on the reworked Winter Wren print. But I have needed to let the ink dry between colors. This is a photo of one of the prints on good paper. It first was printed in black, from the original linoleum block. I then printed orange from a new woodblock. I then printed brown from the original linoleum block, but with some areas carved away so that the brown created by the orange on top of the black showed through. Now it is time to print just black I think, again after carving away more of the linoleum block. The ink is probably dry enough now on the prints. But I need to figure out what to carve away and how muck black to use, assuming that I don't decide against the black. Prints are always full of decisions, including abandoning a central part of the original plan.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Field Sketching Resumes, 'The Natural Eye' Begins

Male Wood Duck with Turtles on Log. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I wish I had been there but I was not and once again I missed the opening of 'The Natural Eye', the annual exhibit of the Society of Wildlife Artists in London. Examples of some of the work can be seen online at What's On at The Mall Galleries. If you go to page four you'll see my two works. I thought this year was finally going to be the year that I and Jerene were able to visit the exhibit and meet other artists but it just wasn't possible. As I've said previously it is the only wildlife art exhibit that I find exciting. The link above gives you a very good representation of the work on exhibit and a very good representation of the type of bird and wildlife art that I like.

Finally yesterday I was able to do some field sketching along the Manayunk Canal. I was hoping that a heavy storm the day before might have brought some unusual birds. But if they were there I didn't find them. I had however recently bought a sample pack of brush pens from because I've been so happy with the Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen that I bought there. I also wanted to try some of them out. A few are far too fine and stiff for my purposes. But others have a fluidity and flexibility that I like. An example of one of the pens is above. If I recall correctly it is a Pilot Brush pen. When I got home I added color with Caran d'Ache NeoColor II water-soluble crayons. I then used a waterbrush to make washes from the crayons. I know this sounds like an advertisement for these media, and you can certainly find plenty examples of such online. But that's not the case. I'd call it more objective reporting: these are the tools I used. In almost all cases here they are not the best tools but the best convenient tools. I could have used a sumi or watercolor brush along with watercolor. But that's less convenient, especially when out in the field, and unsure of whether or not I'll sketch. These tools allow me that possibility while carrying very little gear.

Great Blue Heron, European Starling, Northern Cardinal. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Above is another example of brush pen field sketches. On the right is a Great Blue Heron up in the trees also done yesterday along the Manayunk Canal. It's done with the Pilot Brush Pen. I also used that pen for the European Starling seen from my studio window. Above it a drawing mainly from memory of a Northern Cardinal that appeared momentarily in front of the same window. The Zebra brush pen was far too fine and stiff for my tastes, but others may love it. I guess it depends on how you plan to use it.

In any case it's nice to be doing field sketches again and I'm happy to be experimenting with these various brush pens.

Winter Wren in Leaves. Proof of Combination Woodcut/Linocut by Ken Januski.

Finally I'm continuing the combination woodcut/linocut of the Winter Wrens in Leaves. I've printed the black(Caligo Safewash Ink) on good paper(Shin  Torinoko Cream). The black is from the old linoleum block. I then printed an orange on a woodblock on top of that. This is a proof. I didn't rub the baren as hard as usual because I was afraid the black ink might not be completely dry. As a result you can see that the orange is spotty. It may also be a bit darker than I want. But I do like the brown that results from printing orange(Daniel Smith Water-soluble Ink) over the black. Once I've printed the orange for the edition I'll cut away some of the black and print what remains on top of the orange over black. Easy as Pie as they say.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The New, The Old, The Newly Rejuvenated

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture and Trumpet Honeysuckle. Completed Two-Block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

I'm happy to say, and happy for you to see, that I can once again import pictures into this blog. I'm not sure where the problem was but I'm happy to say that it's fixed. And I'm sure anyone who dislikes my digressions into politics, while I waited to be able to post pictures again, is too.

I finally finished the two-block reduction woodcut of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture and Trumpet Honeysuckle above. A combination of needing to allow ink to dry on earlier prints before adding new colors as well as the difficulty of making the final decisions on where to cut and where to add the black made it a lengthy print. All I can say by way of explanation is to paraphrase Matisse who said that every single part of a picture is important. You change one and the balance of all the others changes as well.  So when you finish a painting you're saying this is the best I can do. No more changes.

I  have to say that, at least at the moment, this is my favorite woodcut or linocut of all that I have done. Each day I look at it in the studio I'm pleased and it seems like it was worth all the work and all of the delay.

Winter Wren in Leaves. Proof of Black over Orange Over Black. Combination Woodblock and Linocut by Ken Januski.

But there is a problem that has been lurking on the horizon with my printmaking. That is the end of manufacturing of the water soluble ink I've been using for a couple of years, Daniel Smith. I'm not sure that other media have such basic problems, like even being able to buy the tools you need. Perhaps they do and I've just never run into them. I know I certainly haven't while painting in oil, acrylic or watercolor.

I began using oil-based inks. I liked the results but didn't like the need for petroleum based solvents, both for health and environmental reasons. So I experimented with water-soluble inks. But the two I tried, Caligo and Akua, just didn't seem to work the way I wanted, at least in m brief experiments. The only other water-soluble ink I know of is Graphic Chemical and I have heard no reviews of it.

So after I finished the print at top I asked on the Facebook page of Friends of Baren if they had any ideas. All three inks had their following. So I thought about trying the old Caligo ink I bought a few years ago.

My old linocut of a winter wren in leaves seemed a perfect candidate. I was happy with the edition when I printed it but I felt the wren disappeared a bit too easily. I also thought that an orange and/or brown could be added and really bring it to life.

So I decided to experiment. I proofed the  original lino using Caligo black ink, as seen below. Then I copied that onto a woodblock of the same size, cut the white areas away, and printed orange on top of the black. The results can be seen at the bottom. I did this just out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised at the brown that resulted from the orange overprinting the black.

So in the proof at top I've printed black on top once again. I like the results. I've lost that brown but my plans are to eventually cut some of the black lino away so that some of the brown shows through.

If it works as planned this will be a shockingly simple print, the complete opposite of the last one. Of course that is refreshing. And I like them both. There is a place for the simple, the complex and the ambitious. I tend to favor the latter but it's always refreshing to try the former.

Winter Wren in Leaves. Linocut Proof by Ken Januski.

Winter Wren in Leaves. Linocut and Woodcut Proof of Orange over Black by Ken Januski.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Unions, Newspapers, Brainless Republicans and Blogger

Well I'd like to show the finished print of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture but Blogger won't let me upload photos, though it does pretend that it is doing so. I'm not sure if this is a Blogger problem or perhaps instead a result of Windows updating to Version 10 without my permission yesterday.

In either case I can't upload photos, or more precisely I can't import them into my blog. So it seems an opportune time to mention something I've been thinking about.

Having been a member of a union during the many years that I worked at a newspaper I have some experience with them. And all in all I'd say that the average American is worse off due to their decline over the last 20 years or so. That's not to say that they didn't have their problems, including use of goons, violence with some of the more forceful unions, and most noticeable to me protecting members that really were only a burden on everyone else, both other union members and management. But all in all my experience was good. And I do have to wonder if there wouldn't be a healthier US middle class if they were stronger than they are.

The reason I'm even thinking about them is that in the case of most newspapers over the last 10-20 years both unions and management have actually, at least at times, had the good sense to drop the rhetoric and work together. The reason was simple: survival. Both sides knew that they were in trouble, with declining readers and more importantly declining advertising revenue. So, again within limits, they worked together for their own survival. They didn't try to blow themselves up.

And then there is The Freedom (From Intelligence) Caucus of the House Republican party. They don't seem to have common interest with anyone so nothing worries them, much as if newspapers and unions both held their ground and just stopped publishing. But they had the good sense to know that they'd die if they didn't publish. That good sense seems missing from The Freedom(From Intelligence) Caucus and its supporters. They make me think we must be the laughing stock of the world. I should add that I can't really say a whole lot for the Democrats either, but at least they are not trying to self-destruct.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ending the Proofing, Previewing 'The Natural Eye'

Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture. Late Stage Proof of Two-block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

I'm down to two proofs now. That is the number of test proofs I have left in order to continue to proof as I finish off this two-block reduction woodcut of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture along the Manayunk Canal, seen about a month ago.

For anyone unfamiliar with reduction prints the photo below might be illuminating. As I print each color I either carve it away so that it can't be printed or proofed again, or I cover it with another color. In any case once a color is done it is completely done. So above I printed the yellow first. But at this point there is no way to print it again. If you look below, at the left side since it prints in reverse, you can see that there is almost no wood left. It's all been carved away. You can see the few raised aras where I printed the newest rose color.

When I start such a print I begin by printing numerous proofs. So for instance I started off with between 16 and 24 proofs of the yellow. As I experimented with other colors I proofed them, When I printed a configuration I was happy with I proofed the remaining proofs in the new configuration. But each failed experiment, or experiment I decided against, is a proof that can't be continued since it no longer looks like the print. The number of proofs gets smaller and smaller as I go on. Now I'm down to just two!! That means that if I decide to keep the rose color above and print as is I'll still only have two proofs left to test the final black color and any other last minute changes I'd like to add. Those will be minimal at best because as you see below there's almost no wood left to print on the color block below.

Color Woodblock of Two-block Woodcut Blocks. Photo by Ken Januski.

Nonetheless I'm happy with this. It will change a bit from the proof at top in that I'll print black on top of the new rose color rather than the opposite as I did at top. I only did that because I'm so low on proofs and I knew that the rose area was so small that I could proof this way and still get a good idea of the final results.

In many ways the rose is the most important area of print. All along, ages ago when I started this I hoped that the rose of vulture's head and honeysuckle would unite the print. And yet I couldn't print them until near the end since they were such small areas. So all along I haven't been able to test what they might look like. I just had to hope they'd look okay when I finally got to this stage. And I think that they do.

Something else looks okay, maybe even better than okay. That is the online gallery of much of the work, including my own of the 52nd annual exhibit of the Society of Wildlife Artists, The Natural Eye -2015. If you scroll down to middle of page to the 'Featured Artwork' section you can see 10 pages worth of fantastic art that will be in the show. My own work is on the fourth page.

I'm sure any readers that continue to read this blog realize that I often spend time flogging the dead horse of much wildlife art, especially that based on photos. As a positive answer to those who disagree I always point to this show, a fine example of vibrant, lively wildlife art!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Continuing On, With Savannah Sparrow and Woodcut

Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture, Two-block Reduction Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

Continuing on with the Work In Progess theme above you see the latest proof of the two-block reduction woodcut. I've added a blue to the color side of block, then printed the black block on top. I'll most likely carve away the black that overprints the blue, except for the Turkey Vulture, and let the blue show through. I may also add a second smaller blue area.  At the moment the black still overprints most of the green in the lower middle and left. Most likely I'll carve away more of that too but that decision is on the back burner.

After that I need/plan to add some red/orange/pink for the trumpet honeysuckle and Turkey Vulture head. Then I'll print the black on top and see what it looks like. Based on past experience I'll still be tempted to do more tweaking after that. I want the black to look integral to print, not some outline that is just plopped down as the last step.

Savannah Sparrows at Dixon Meadow Preserve. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

I did finally wade in watercolor on the pencil sketch of Savannah Warblers. This is based on a photo, and as so often happens with photos, it's easy to let the photo dictate too many decisions. In this case I stuck with the rosefish color of the railing at the preserve. Because of that the reflected areas on birds are more rose-colored than anything else. This gives an odd overall color to the watercolor. And perhaps the background could use a bit more definition. After the fact there always seem to be a million things that could be done to improve a watercolor. But almost inevitably, except in the hand of a master, they'll just deaden the watercolor. So this one is done.

Brayers, Baren, Ink Knife, Ink, Inking Plate. Photo by Ken Januski.

I was asked on Facebook to explain the tools and methods I use in my woodcut prints. So I'm adding those photos here. The ink is rolled on with brayers. Three of my cheaper ones are at top. I use a better one for the real print. They, an inking knife, a barren for rubbing the paper onto the block to transfer ink to paper, some ink and a glass inking slab are pictured above.

Old Linoleum Blocks. Photo by Ken Januski.

I mistakenly took a photo of old linoleum blocks rather than old wood blocks, but the photo above still gives a general idea. The brushes are for acrylic painting and have nothing to do with printmaking. They were just there, with nowhere else to put them.

Carving Knives. Photo by Ken Januski.
And finally my carving knives. All of those pictured above are Japanese. They are more expensive than some other carving knives and chisels but often you do yourself a favor when buying good tools. They are easier to use and often last a lifetime. Oddly enough the first one I bought was centuries ago, I believe in Berkeley, when I wasn't even doing woodblock printing. So I'm not sure why I bought it, especially as the cost would have been very high to me then. But I'm glad I did.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Whippity, Whippity WIP

Savannah Sparrows. Pencil Sketch in Progress by Ken Januski.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture. Multi-block Reduction Woodcut in Progress.

Hmm. Is that the sound of some rare thrush, whippity, whippity, wip? No just a colorful, or perhaps just plain silly way of referring to two Works in Progess(WIPs). The more familiar work is the reduction woodcut the bottom image above. I've finished printing the yellow and brown on good printing paper. The green and the black are at the proofing stage. The black will print last but I need to proof it every once in awhile to see what it might look like at the end. As I do so I carve more of it away, as in the two arcs in lower left. There is more green than shows here because the black overprints it inside those two arcs. Right now I have to decide whether to include any other green areas. At the end I can decide whether or not I want the black to overprint or not.

In any case I'm happy with it so far. Soon I'll print the green. Then I'll have to decide whether to add any blue sky. Most likely I'll end with a red/pink for some of the honeysuckle and the vulture head. Followed by black of course.

The top image is something completely different: a fairly detailed pencil drawing based on a photo I took. Every once in a while I'll take a photo of a bird, especially one I'm not all that familiar with, and decide it would be good to make a study of it. That's the case with these recently seen Savannah Sparrows. Most likely I'll eventually add watercolor. But when I do the entire work may turn to mud. So just in case here it is in a fairly clear state. It does lack, some views might note, the fine stripes you expect to see on a Savannah Sparrow. I'll add them eventually but first I wanted to get the structure right.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thrilled to Be Back in the SWLA

American Goldfinch Eating Thistle. Multi-block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

Mergansers and Grebes on the Schuylkill River. Multi-block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

It's been two years since I applied to the Society of Wildlife Artist's annual exhibition, The Natural Eye. This was for financial reasons and nothing else. It had just cost too much money between entrance fees, shipping, courier fees and import tax in 2012 when I exhibited three works I believe.

So foolishly I didn't apply the next year, which just happened to be the 50th anniversary, though I didn't realize it. To make a long and oft repeated story short I applied again this year. And I'm happy to say that the two reduction woodcuts above will be shown in the The Natural Eye - 2015.

I believe it was also in 2013 that SWLA and Mall Galleries started showing many of the works in the show online. It's the type of wildlife art I really like and it made my absence all the more bothersome. I'm not sure if the works will be available online this year but I expect they probably will and I'll post something when I do.

I don't buy too many books on wildlife art, partially because there's so much of it I don't like. But I'd guess 50% of the books that I do have are by artists who are members of the SWLA. I always have to tell myself I'm not dreaming when I realize that I'm exhibiting with many of the wildlife artists I most admire.

This is particularly hard to believe when I happen to look back at my very first bird art, done in late 2006. It was startlingly bad, though that is probably true for most people when they start to learn anything. Still I have to feel, even if only briefly, a sense of accomplishment nine years later, most especially for exhibiting with SWLA.

Marbled Godwit and Lesser Yellowlegs. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

It should have come as no surprise to me that as soon as I posted the last post about not working from photos that I'd experience a bird that I wanted to take a photo of, and that I wanted to portray using the photo. Such was the case with the Marbled Godwit above, our first one seen in Philadelphia, seen at Heinz NWR about a week ago. There were numerous yellowlegs around him and I've included a Lesser Yellowlegs in the foreground.

I also started a sumi brush pen field sketch of the Marbled Godwit but no sooner had I started on it than some people stood in front of my scope in order to see the bird themselves. I'm sure that they didn't realize it so since we'd been there awhile taking up space that other observers might have wanted to us we moved on. But I was happy to get as much down as I did. Below him are some House Sparrows seen outside my studio window.

Marbled Godwit and House Sparrows. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I'm trying to be a bit better about field sketches in my new sketchbook. Below are two sumi brush pen field sketches from today and last weekend: a Gray Catbird eating berries from Hercules Club today, and the first Palm Warbler of the year, western race, seen at Dixon Meadow Preserve. I had to do the warbler from memory since he flew moments after I sat down and pulled out my sketchbook.

Palm Warbler(western race) and Gray Catbird Eating Berries of Hercules Club. Sumi Brush Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I have had a chance to use my new camera recently and so, in a very rare post, am showing some photos that I've taken. They should all be identified in the captions.

Upside down Northern Parula, seen along Wissahickon. Photo by Ken Januski.

Osprey with Fish at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski.

Palm Warbler(western race) at Dixon Meadow Preserve. Photo by Ken Januski.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski.
Eastern Bluebird Eating Berries of Hercules Club at Houston Meadows. Photo  by Ken Januski.