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.

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