Friday, October 10, 2008

Artistic interests, part 2: Birds

Image: Blue Tit, Cyanistes caeruleus
The Blue Tit, Cyanistes caeruleus
(Blue Tit, 2007. Pencil on paper, 12" x 9".)

Part of the challenge that intrigues me with drawing birds is trying to catch them in a position that portrays them accurately and captures an essential part of their behavior -- whether that is a bird which is particularly curious, flighty, aggressive, or sure of itself. Artists since the development of high speed cameras have a distinct advantage over those before cameras in their ability to both work from still images taken of the birds when alive (as opposed to working from solely from memory or stuffed animals) and the ability, due to those still images, to see accurately how animals move. (Recall all those old paintings of horses and hounds in typical English hunting scenes where the horses' legs are all incorrectly splayed out because the mechanics of the movement of the legs of a running horse was not understood.)

The ubiquity of bird feeders in England provides ample opportunity to see the same birds day after day and to see the feeding behaviors of different birds. The small, flighty Blue Tit (the first image, above) spends more of its time looking around for predators than it does trying to dig out nuts from the feeder. When it does dig out nuts, it is fast and furious, its head hammering away madly before it is compelled to glance nervously over its shoulder for any approaching trouble. His constant readiness to spring back into flight was part of what I wanted to capture with the drawing.

The Great Tit, Parus major, is a larger bird and much less flighty. He can become accustomed to movement behind a window and feeds at a more leisurely pace. He also keeps a watchful eye out for predators like the magpie, who will sometimes feast on the unwary, but appears less concerned than the Blue Tit. I did two drawings of the Great Tit in 2007, a small sketch of a complete bird at the same feeder in London and then a larger, more detailed drawing of the head. The second drawing was a good experimentation with a 6B pencil, which was used for some of the black highlights in the small feathers of the head. It is funny - a 2B pencil looks pretty black when that is the only pencil that one has used on a page, but when you then add more shadows with the 6B pencil, the 2B pales in comparison. [sorry, couldn't resist]

Image: Great Tit
A small sketch of the Great Tit
(Great tit #1, 2007. Pencil on paper, 5" x 7".)

Image: Great Tit
A larger, detailed drawing of the Great Tit, Parus major
(Great tit, 2007. Pencil on paper, 12" x 9".)

One of the interesting things about drawing is trying to bring out an object's three dimensional nature and to try to lift the object off the paper towards the viewer. Birds are interesting to draw in this regard in that they have lots of curved surfaces - eyes, body, legs, talons - this gives you many areas to add three dimensionality and show that the areas are all illuminated from a constant direction (if, indeed, they are). One of my goals in my drawing is to portray three dimensionality accurately enough that the person looking at the drawing doesn't even notice. It seems to me that there are two approaches with this kind of thing -- either be obvious about not trying to show 3D, or do it well enough that people don't notice that you have done it correctly. The only time people will actively notice the 3D nature is if you have something that is out of place -- then the internal comparison-with-reality-checker will speak up. As said, I strive towards the latter approach. I have also enjoyed the challenge of reducing colored feathers down to shades of gray that are of (I hope) the correct tonal character. Perhaps at some point I will branch out into colored pencils for a drawing like this, but not yet.

More later; thanks for reading,

PS -- By the way, if you like either of the larger drawings and would like to send reprodutions of them as greeting cards, never fear, I liked them enough, too, to have them made into blank-inside greeting cards with interesting information on the back. You can buy them here (scroll down slightly). Your purchase will be supporting the artist, too, which would be great!

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