Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Artist's Eye

I am not an artist, unfortunately. A few years ago (maybe 10) I registered for a 6 week nature drawing continuing education class. I am fairly sure the course description said beginners welcome. Within 5 minutes of the first class I realized that the instructor meant beginning nature artists welcome, not novice artists. I was at the stick figure stage, still perfecting my people so you could tell the difference between a boy and a girl. So, when the instructor produced various shells and asked us to begin drawing one and further asked us to work on our shading, I panicked. Looking around, everyone was busy drawing beautiful little shells. I drew a stick shell and never went back.

Since then I have tried some simple sketches of a sensitive fern fruiting stalk and a winterberry branch (you see, I am branching out from human stick figures to sticks of vegetation!). Maybe they will see the light of day in this blog someday. For now I admire the artist's eye, and their ability to capture mood, movement, posture, colors, and other minute details. I was thinking about why it is so enjoyable to view a sketch or painting of a bird or scene, even more than seeing the same in a photo.

Artists are patient, becoming familiar with their subject, and projecting their own impressions on to the canvas. With a camera, one is often more focused on the camera and taking the photograph than really observing the object of the picture. Photos are wonderful, especially with the advent of digital images, we can share our experiences easily. Drawings, water colors, sketches, however, pull you in, urging you to pause longer to study the artwork, and think about both the image and the artist.

Given my artist envy, I have found a few artist blogs that I enjoy following. Drawing the Motmot caught my eye, especially with its name -- I like motmots and can only offer a photo of the rufous motmot taken by a colleague in Panama, while I am holding the bird; what a beautiful bird. I learned from Drawing the Motmot that to draw a bird start with an egg -- "An egg with a round head and a couple of legs sticking out at the bottom. If you're frozen in fear of drawing, get the hand loosened up with some nice, easy ovals." Maybe I will break free of my fear and try adding eggs to my stick legs, the latter I can do.

Ken Januski draws and paints in Philadelphia. His drawings of a redstart are lovely. I have a fondness for this bird, having studied them at Hubbard Brook in New Hampshire. We followed males in the forest, mapping their territories and recording nest locations. The song of the redstart can be confusing, but the flashes of orange and black are unmistakeable. Ken's drawings take me back to those days of tracking the redstart, even sensing the clouds of mosquitoes buzzing around while craning my neck to the treetops.


  1. Hi Ellen,

    Thanks for your nice comments on my blog and artwork. I'm always happy to read about others who appreciate art, especially naturalistic art. I'm biased of course but I do think what you say is true. Artists do tend to really study what they portray. Often that comes out in their work.

    But I do wish that my redstart watercolor brought back better memories than of clouds of mosquitoes....... But that is the nature of nature study I think. We once took part in a study of birds in a forested landscape, I think it was called. It was mainly about thrush breeding. In any case all I remember is the heat, humidity, itchiness and bugginess. Of course we found few thrushes and none nesting. Maybe I'd have different memories if we did.

    Please continue your sketching. Debby's advice at Drawing the Motmot is excellent. I think almost everyone has far more artistic ability than they know. All it takes is a little practice and encouragement to develop it.

  2. Hi Ken,

    Your redstarts do bring back many fond memories of field work in Hubbard Brook and the lovely little redstart. I think a dirty little secret about field work, though, is that a lot of it involves swatting mosquitoes and black flies and getting a sore neck from lifting binoculars. But those still are all great memories!

    I will try some sketching soon....