Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Moku Hanga and 'The Natural Eye -2018'

Completed 8 block Moku Hanga print of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.


It was approximately 12 year ago that I made my first artworks using birds as subject matter. Perhaps some day I'll show them as proof of just how bad they were. But not today. Sufice it to say though that the transition from many years of abstract painting and drawing was not easy. I still cringe when I look at the watercolors from that time.

But as bad as the work was there was another problem. I had no guidelines, no one I was trying to emulate. I'm not quite sure how I stumbled upon 'Drawing Birds' by John Busby.  Perhaps it was through the Wildlife Art section of  Birdforum but I don't think so. To make a long story short it was through that book that I realized it was possible to make art based on birds that was lively,  exciting and not totally removed from the world of art as I knew it.

Eventually I realized that there was a particular group, with an annual exhibit that included some of the artists from that book but that included even more artists that I liked. The group was The Society of Wildlife Artists. As the years went on and as I realized that artists I admired from Birdforum, like Nick Derry and Tim Wootton, actually were members and exhibited there I decided to apply for the show. This was a blind leap on my part. It wasn't so much that I thought my work was good enough to get in. I just admired the work that was in it so much that I wanted to also be in.

So it was a great shock about 8 years or so ago to find out that two of my linocuts were chosen to be included in the annual show. There was a bit of a problem with Customs that made me fear that even though  I had shipped the works there that they still would not get in. By some miracle, still unexplained to me, they did make it through Customs  and into the show. The Mall Galleries were kind enough to send me a couple of photos  of  my work on  the wall.

Since then I've applied numerous times, only stopping when either the costs got too high, or I couldn't figure out the newly required need for a VAT number for English tax purposes. But eventually I figured the VAT problem out and have been thrilled to be in the show three additional times. As time went on much of the work in the show was made available online for both viewing and purchasing. I had to pinch myself when I saw my work in the same online gallery, reflective of course of the real gallery, with so many artists I  admired. They are in fact with rare exception the artists who I most admire in the world who also use wildlife as their subject.

But there has always been a nagging problem. It doesn't  quite seem real because I've never actually been to London to see the show. Since my wife's  best friend moved back to England a few years ago I've thought that the next time I get in, assuming I do, that we should make a real effort to go to London to see the show.

It seems the time has come. I'm happy to say that my three most recent moku hanga prints were all accepted to this year's show! that includes the newest one, an American Woodcock at Magee Marsh, as seen at the top of this post.

That work as well as my other works, and many of  the other works in the show can now be seen at What's On - The Natural Eye. I've long admired from across the Atlantic the work in the show. For a change I'll be able to see it in person.


Pencil field sketch of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Most of the time it's difficult for me to start a new print. This wasn't as true when I started off with my first linocuts. The best process seemed to be to just start with a vague idea, improvise as I went along and then stop  when I was happy. I still like those prints, though I'm happy to be done with the need for solvents for oil-based inks that I used in them.

But as I went on making prints, and as they got more complicated, I got more deliberative. This was especially true as I moved to multi-block prints, and even more true when I turned to moku hanga at  the beginning of 2017.

I also have had a hard time reconciling realism and abstraction. So on the most recent print of  the American Woodcock I started off with a field sketch of one from Magee Marsh(above), then started doing more simplified and abstracted versions.

Two pencil and Neocolor II studies of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

In the studies above I think you can see how I simplified the woodcock but still tried to keep its essential characteristics.

Watercolor of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.


Early on I realized that birds exist in an environment. For me they just don't look right when they seem to be portraits, as from a photographic studio. So over many years I've struggled with giving  them an environment that in some ways seems believable, but that also doesn't detract from the appearance of the painting. It all needs to add up. So that's what I was experimenting with in  the  watercolor above. The watercolor studies below helped me on my way to the simplifications I showed earlier.

Watercolor studies of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.


Below you see one of the final attempts to meld the abstracted bird with a more abstracted environment. It wasn't too many steps from there to the finished print.

Neo-color II crayon study of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.


Most if not all artists are products of their history, their likes and dislikes in art, etc. I doubt that it will be obvious but the final print does have an attempt by me to include a reference to one of my favorite contemporary painters, Richard Diebenkorn, especially his Ocean Park series. Most likely this will make sense only to me. But it is one of the many parts of the final moku hanga print.

Moku hanga is a type of printmaking with quite a tradition. I admire it and appreciate it but can't see myself making traditional Japanese woodblock prints. So in some ways my prints probably seem sacrilegious to that tradition. But that's not my intent. I'm just trying to take many of the admirable elements I see in that tradition and turn them to my own uses. I think I'm getting closer, at lest in my own eyes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cape May Field Sketches - Part Six

Each time I post on this blog it seems like a longer time since the last post. In this case I've been holding off until I had a little more progress on my latest moku hanga print. But then a vacation to Cape May, NJ interfered with that plan.
When we got there I discovered that I'd forgotten my camera. Nothing could have been better for me. I'm never all that satisfied with photos anyway and the lack of camera forced me to spend much more time sketching.
So I'm adding another episode of field sketches from Cape May, this the longest yet. Below are pencil field sketches of various shorebirds.

Field  Sketch of American Oystercatcher on Nest at 'The Meadows'

Field Sketch of Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitcher at Heislerville WMA.

Field Sketch of  Semi-palmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher and Greater Yellowlegs at  Heislerville WMA.

Field Sketch of Willet at The Wetlands Institute.

Field Sketch of  Wilson's Snipe at 'The Meadows.'

Field  Sketch of Least Sandpipers  at 'The Meadows.'

Field Sketch of Least Sandpiper at  'The Meadows.'

Field Sketch of Ruddy Turnstone  and Greater Yellowlegs at Heislerville WMA.

Field Sketch of Semi-palmated Plover at Heislerville WMA.

Field Sketch of Short-billed Dowitcher at The Wetlands Institute.

Field Sketch of Mating Willets at Cooks Beach.
Field Sketch of Short-billed Dowitcher at Heislerville WMA.



Just to give a bit of a break to all these undifferentiated photos of drawings I'm continuing to divide by species, more or less. The following are pencil field sketches of gulls, terns, waterfowl and wading birds.

Field Sketch of Black Skimmer  at Heislerville WMA.

Field Sketch of Bonaparte's Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull  at 'The Meadows.'

Field Sketch of Brant at The Wetlands Institute.

Field Sketch of Forsters Tern at The Wetlands Institute.

Field Sketch of  Glossy  Ibis  at Heislerville WMA.

Field  Sketch of  Immature Little Blue Heron at 'The Meadows.'

Field Sketch of Adult  Little Blue Heron at 'The Meadows.'


Field Sketch of Tri-colored Heron at The Wetlands Institute.

And finally some other birds, and of course the Diamondback Terrapin from The Wetlands Institute.

Field Sketch of Diamondback Terrapin Swimming in Tank at The Wetlands Institute.

Field Sketch of Eastern Meadowlark in Field on Sumner St.

Field Sketch of Marsh Wren at Jake's Landing.

Field Sketch  of Northern Parula at Cape May Point State Park.

Field Sketch of Osprey on Nest at Garrett Family Preserve.

Field Sketch of Prairie Warbler at Vine St. near Belleplain SF.

Field  Sketch of  Red-headed Woodpecker  at Garrett Family Preserve.

Field Sketch of Yellow-throated Warbler at Belleplain SF.

If you made it this far perhaps you like drawing or perhaps you like drawing of wildlife. I'm always torn between the desire to put down on paper what I see in the world in front of me and the creation of a work of art, something that can be related but that is often quite different. Now it's time to get back to creating a work of art in the form of a moku hanga print of an American Woodcock.

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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Moku Hanga Number 4 - American Robin in Crabapple


When I was a graduate student in Art Practice I used to feel sorry for a particular classmate of mine. He was very talented, primarily in a realistic manner, but he seemed always frozen in place because he thought too much about what he did. At least that was my view of the matter. I always  wanted to say to him: just paint, stop thinking!

And yet I now find myself  a bit  in the same situation. When I got to work on the newly finished print above I remembered how much I enjoyed printing, well at least now that I have a better idea about how to get consistent color than when I first started. But I think because printmaking is  a commitment of time, effort, paper and other materials I always want to have a good idea before I start. Thus the time between prints  drag into months and months, all while I wait for a 'good idea.' When I actually start a print I often ask myself why I didn't start earlier.

I could go on and on about this but I won't. Suffice it to say that I'm quite happy with the 6.5x10.5 inch moku hanga print above. I'm still printing it so I'm not sure how large the edition will be. It would be nice to have an edition of 100  or so but my guess is that it will be 30 at most. Now that all the excitement of getting a print I like is done it's not as easy to commit  to  the work of printing a large edition. We shall see. It also seems to put all of the creative work into it without getting the reward of a large, sellable edition.

Below you see the final proof before I actually started the print. The last block printed was the keyblock, which had outlines  of most  of  the shapes. I intended to follow the same procedure in the actual print. First I would  clean up each of the three color blocks, print then in solid, consistent color  rather than the uneven color below, and then print at least part of the keyblock. I thought I would experiment  a bit  and keep cutting down the number of lines I included until I had just the essential ones, enough to define the robin and make the print sing.

But a surprise happened. By the time  I got  to what you see above I loved the print as is. I couldn't imagine how any  lines would be helpful. I expected that they would just make the print  seem cluttered rather than fresh. So it's done!  One block short of where I thought  it would be.



One final thought. I never liked all the solvents involved with oil-based printmaking. Eventually I  changed to water soluble oil-based inks. That was better. But due to limited studio space I had to carve the print on second floor in my studio, but print it two floors down, in the basement. There was still a lot of cleanup. And then in early 2017 I tried my first moku hanga print.

Now I do everything in my second floor studio, both carving and printing. Cleanup is almost non-existent because the paint is water-based. Though it's difficult to get reliable coverage of the colors I feel more confident about it  and this print is by far my most successful in that aspect. I'm starting to get the rich color that I've seen others get. And all in a very small studio space. You could almost say it's miraculous.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Recent Work - Moku Hanga, Watercolor, Field Sketch

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski.

It has been a very long time since I've posted anything here. One reason is an old one: I tend  to  write more  than make art on this blog. Though I  obviously  have an interest in thinking  about things, especially artistic things, I often feel that is to the detriment of  actually  making art. So a year ago or more I decided to limit my writing here.

A newer motivation is  both a seeming lack of  interest from readers and moreso a belief that most viewers are interested for the wrong reasons: hacking or some other motive not related to my art. This isn't just paranoia. It's based on reading the stats of who visits, who links, etc. The great majority are from countries known for their hacking, especially for the purpose of  identity theft, or from sites that aren't legit. This  didn't use to be the case but it  is now. So I have no reason to write posts for  hackers and others who just aren't interested  in anything I want them to be interested in.

Of course a lot of  this came about as social media became more popular. I finally relented and joined Facebook a few years ago, mainly to have access to some artists whose work was hidden without a Facebook logon and perhaps a friend request. I didn't like any of this but I finally decided to try it. All in all I'm not unhappy. But Facebook reminds me of what I used to call 'snippet journalism', journalism whether in print or online or television that was too breezy and short to be of much value.  There is something there but it certainly isn't the more developed, thoughtful discursive material that is available in something like a blog.

So perhaps blogs will return to popularity. But I used to think that eventually print, especially printed newspapers and magazines would make a comeback. It seems crazy to me that this has not happened but there's no doubt that is has not.

So.............I'm just going to show some recent work here, though without a lot of  theorizing.

At top  is the finished moku  hanga print of 'Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm.' Traditional moku hanga includes very finely painted,  carved and printed lines. Contemporary moku hanga has largely abandoned line for color fields. This makes sense for various reasons, but I  still miss line. So below you see a trial proof of the same print using lines just on the cuckoo. Another proof shows only color fields with no line  at all. The color  field proof was done much  earlier in the process and the linear one as I made the final edition.

My long history with abstract art has taught me that you really have to be careful about precious areas of  a painting, areas that can seduce the eye but that don't add much to  the entire painting or print.  There is  an aesthetic that says that this is just fine but it's not MY aesthetic. The proof without lines has a lot of areas I  like but they just don't fit with my idea of the  print. The proof below with minimal line was my attempt to keep the color fields and just use the most essential line. But in the end I decided that I needed all of the lines. It took a long time to come to this decision but I finally did. And I'm happy with it.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm. Trial moku hanga proof by Ken Januski.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Worm. Early state moku hanga proof by Ken Januski.

All of my work desires spontaneity in some form or another. And I rebel against too much detail and too much adherence to what something looks like. On the other hand, especially with wildlife art and particular species, I can't very well just ignore the specifics. So I try to do what I can to learn them but to let the actual prints and paintings look spontaneous, or at least not constipated.

Further down on this page are some field sketches I did  at Cape May a few weeks ago, mainly  of  Sora, Virginia Rail and Wilson's  Snipe. I wanted to capture the actual scene of Sora and Virginia Rail all together, constantly moving out of view and back into the reeds. The sumi brush pen and watercolor painting below is the result of  my attempt to capture the scene, be spontaneous but still be at least somewhat true to what the species actually looked like.

Inevitably this will not have the detail or the realism of more fastidious detailed work. But other than as a learning tool I have no interest in painting in such a manner. And I think my prints show that this is also true with them. In any case I'm happy with this  12x16 inch painting.

Juvenile and adult Sora and Virginia Rail. Brush Pen and Watercolor  painting  by Ken Januski.

Since the day I started wildlife art, specifically bird art, over 10 years ago I knew some things I didn't want. I didn't  want portraits, where cute animals were centered on the canvas or print as though posing in a photographers studio. I didn't want cameos either, where the bird is in focus and the background just fades out into mist. I also didn't want a totally flattened picture plane, with cropped subject and an interesting design. I used to admire this in Degas and in Japanese prints, including some moku hanga. But  today it seems easy and a bit too decorative.

I also knew, how could I forget, that I didn't want labored art. I'm always shocked at how artists, especially wildlife artists, will talk about how much time they spent on their work. Who cares?  That 's a bad sign not a good one. To me the best art looks effortless, regardless of how much work went into  it.

So I had a huge list of what I didn't want my art to look like. One thing I've realized is that I do want a sense of life, a sense of artistic knowledge and ambition, and more and more a sense of space and depth. The latter is not inherently good. It's gone in and out of artistic fashion over the centuries. But to me it seems to be a way to help the subject open up, to help it breathe. It seems to me that especially in wildlife art the subjects should breathe!

So that is what I attempted to  do in the 12x16 inch  watercolor below of a Black-bellied Plover and two Dunlin below. It's quite simple and has an extraordinarily  limited palette for me. It also leaves a lot of white space, something that is harder than anything else for  me to accomplish  in watercolor.

Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin. Watercolor painting by Ken Januski.

As I said above I still like to be able to portray my birds and other subjects with some sense of accuracy. The best method for  that bar none, is to work from life. I may not get the detail that I might if working from a photo but I get a sense of life and I also learn to make decisions about what is important in my subject in the brief seconds or nanoseconds before it moves. Because of that I always enjoy the chance to draw birds from life.

It is  still a bit difficult to do, especially with rarer birds, when my camera is hanging around my neck ready to use. And I do use it. But it never has the thrill of sketching from life!

Juvenile Sora. Field  Sketch by Ken Januski

Sora. Field Sketch by Ken Januski

Virginia Rail and Common Gallinule. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Virginia Rail Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Wilson's Snipe. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.