Thursday, January 5, 2012

Learning from Sketching

It seems like every winter I spend a lot of time going through photos I've taken, looking for a subject for the next painting or print, but also seeing something new about a bird that I hadn't noticed before.

I don't advocate using photos in art. I think you learn so much more and get so much more engrossed when you're working from life or from sketches from life. But photos do have their use.

At this time of year I often find myself trying to do detailed sketches from photos. The purpose of the sketch isn't great art; it's to learn how the bird is put together, to just look at it more closely.

Recently I've noticed the difference in sparrow bills, more from photos than life since I don't really see a great variety of sparrows on a normal day. And Song Sparrows always surprise me with the large size of their bills. So I decided to do a number of sketches trying to concentrate on that.

Today's sketch is at top. After I'd done the pencil sketches I decided to try adding watercolor.

Yesterday's study is above. I originally intended to put another sketch on the right. But once I added watercolor to the sparrow on the left I found myself thinking that the only way to make it look halfway decent as a picture, even though a picture wasn't my original intent, was to continue the scene all the way across the page.

These might have looked better left as pencil sketches. But I also want to improve my realistic portrayal of birds in watercolor so it seemed worth trying to add watercolor to them.


Gabrielle said...

I really, really like these sketches Ken. The birds have such a sense of volume, similar to what I admire in many of the British watercolor bird sketches. I also like how abstract the background is, yet I still get an immediate sense of the habitat they are in. Terrific work!

Ken Januski said...

Thanks Gabrielle. I really don't like working from photos but sometimes that's the only way to really study some aspects of a bird. So I tried to do fairly detailed and accurate sketches from my collection of my own photos. I think that any sense of volume probably begins with looking closely at the photos and then trying to get it down in pencil. That made using watercolor a lot easier.

On the other hand I've often found that I need to work first in watercolor with almost no sketch at all. But that was more when I just needed to learn how to use it and not be inhibited by getting the details right.

These current sparrow sketches I guess are more like playing the scales: picayune work that isn't thrilling but can be very informative, and every once in a while actually turns up something that looks good!

I did my first field sketching of 2012 yesterday, a Great Blue Heron along the Manayunk Canal, and it certainly lacks all the detail and sense of volume that these sparrows have. But I'm confident that using the two methods can only lead to better work.