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Old Tuesday 24th August 2010, 23:16   #1
JTMB
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JTMB's Bird Art

Hi everyone,

Although I signed up on this site almost a year ago, I hadn't been active before. Colleen suggested I come over here since I've just started to do birds from life. So here goes.

A quick intro - I 'retired' in March of 2008 and started doing 2-D art (for the first time ever except playing music and some serious photography) about two years ago, thinking I couldn't draw or paint. I'm now doing art as the main focus of my life, along with birding (I've got a 'master birder' certification through Seattle Audubon) and playing mandolin with an acoustic roots trio.

My focus in art is landscape and nature, and I'm going more and more in the direction of birds. I know there are some fabulous bird artists on this site, and I hope even a little bit of that rubs off on me.

I want to work toward getting more of the 'essence' of birds, since I am not interested in photorealism (I lack the patience ) while keeping enough info in the images for an ID in most cases anyway.

Here are a couple of water-media pieces I've done (not having uploaded on the site before, here's hoping it goes ok). Each of these is done from a photo I took while birding. The American Kestrel and Savannah Sparrow are watercolor, and about 9x12 inches. The Belted Kingfisher is gouache in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, about 5.5 x 8.5 inches. (I promise to learn metric measurements for future posts!)

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And these are two dry media (Polychromos colored pencil) sketches - again from photos that I took - of a female Red-winged Blackbird and a juvenile Green Heron. Both of these are done in a Moleskine sketchbook.

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All comments and critiques are welcome. I'm looking forward to participating in the forum!
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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 00:53   #2
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John,

A very warm welcome to your art thread! Congratulations on taking the plunge! I'm sure you will get lots of positive feedback here!
These are lovely little pieces! And show great promise. Your understanding of birds seems to be pretty well-tuned!
My favourite is the Red-Winged Blackbird. There is much life in that piece, and the American Kestrel has great colour tones in its composition.
Long may your thread live and you prosper from it!

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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 03:07   #3
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Some from-life sketches

Hi Phil, and thank you very much for the warm welcome! I am looking forward to participating in the forum.

Here are the first from-life pieces I've done, just this past weekend. They were done in a Moleskine sketchbook in graphite on location, then watercolor washes added later.

Thanks for looking.

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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 08:33   #4
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Hi John - welcome aboard.
I've seen (and commented on) your Am kestrel piece in another place, but I'll reiterate what a fine piece of colourwork it is. I really like the blackbird piece too - such a lot of life in this one, both in the pose and the paintwork.
Look forward to seeing more.
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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 15:52   #5
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Thanks for the welcome, Tim! It's a privilege to be on the forum where you hang out. Your bird work is inspiring and outstanding.
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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 16:27   #6
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Hi John and welcome! To me it seems very accomplished for someone who's just started on birds.

My favorite is probably the blackbird as well but I enjoyed seeing all of them. I just used an immature Green Heron as the subject of a number of paintings and drawings over the last month. Two days ago I was out and heard a loud 'ka-ka-ka....' in a tree above me. Another August immature Green Heron. Hopefully he'll eventually show up here.

I 'retired' also recently. Not exactly retired since I now spend most of my day painting and drawing, but retired in the sense of no longer having a 9-5 job. Of course the pay was a bit more regular there...........

Look forward to seeing more of your work.
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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 18:48   #7
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welcome to the flock John blackbird is a gem
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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 21:51   #8
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Thank you Ken, and Colleen for reminding me about this site!

Ken - I'm pleased with how far I've come along in a short period of time; it's most likely because I tend to be very focused (some would say obsessive!) on learning when I decide to pursue something. Also, I see you are from Philly. I was born and raised in PA (north-central, along the Susquehanna River) and got a master's degree at Drexel going to night school while working full time in Bristol. Many, many nights of taking the train to 30th Street Station, stopping at Cavanaugh's for a beer on the way to class, and then a late night train ride back. I won't say how many decades ago that was, though!
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Old Wednesday 25th August 2010, 22:55   #9
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Thank you Ken, and Colleen for reminding me about this site!

Ken - I'm pleased with how far I've come along in a short period of time; it's most likely because I tend to be very focused (some would say obsessive!) on learning when I decide to pursue something. Also, I see you are from Philly. I was born and raised in PA (north-central, along the Susquehanna River) and got a master's degree at Drexel going to night school while working full time in Bristol. Many, many nights of taking the train to 30th Street Station, stopping at Cavanaugh's for a beer on the way to class, and then a late night train ride back.
Reminds me of my days working fulltime at a dull, dull, dull job in San Francisco then stopping for a capuccino on the way to my 3-hour long figure drawing class five nights a week. Didn't even have supper until after the figure drawing. But I don't think I would have ever gotten to the class if I had substituted beer for coffee!
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Old Thursday 26th August 2010, 01:40   #10
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glad you found Ken's thread,

he and I started about the same time here, and my first live sketches were only a few weeks ahead of his....it's been fun to have someone to be a beginner with...tho I still feel like a beginner, it's getting easier and more fun as the first cranky bits have smoothed out.

Every line is a good one in the sketch book, either hits the mark or shows you what you don't know yet. Big jump for me was getting a scope, even my cheap one was a huge help.
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Old Thursday 26th August 2010, 15:53   #11
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welcome to the best section of birdforum - I love the zinging colours on your belted kingfisher - looking forward to seeing more!
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 03:58   #12
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Thank you Nick and Colleen!

Well, under the theory that 'ya gotta start somewhere', here are some American Goldfinch sketches from life. There's so much great art here that is at the 'amazing' end of the bell-shaped curve that a data point at the 'not-so-amazing' end is perhaps needed.

I can sit at my kitchen nook table and there is a birdbath right outside the window, about four feet away. There is a drip water line over the birdbath and the goldfinches in particular love that birdbath. We also have a small recirculating stream just beyond the birdbath that is also popular in the summer months. Both of these water features provide sketching subjects, and scattering some seed on the gravel path in the yard brings a variety in as well.

Some of these sketches are pretty laughable, some I thought were ok given that this sketchbook page doubles my total from-life bird drawing experience. I tried to sketch a couple different orientations of the birds.

The pencil sketches at the bottom probably would look better if I had done a watercolor wash on them, but I opted not to. The photo was taken inside at night with a flash and the pencil sketches show up lighter here than IRL.

All comments and critiques are very welcome.

One birding note before the image...

I walked around our neighborhood this afternoon and as I got back from the walk and was in the backyard, I caught a blur out of the side of my eye and caught the unmistakable flight shape of a falcon missing a small bird by mere inches. The falcon then zoomed several houses down and did a miniature stoop on another bird, the outcome of which wasn't clear. It happened so fast, I wasn't sure whether it was a male Peregrine or a Merlin - it looked too small to be a female Peregrine. Five minutes later in a high dead snag tree near our house, I saw a raptor consuming a meal, got the scope out and found the answer - a Merlin, and a mostly-consumed meal of indeterminate species. Merlins are only a once or twice yearly sighting from our yard, so it was great to see.

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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 08:34   #13
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Hi JTMB! Welcome to the forum! I haven't been here for a very long time myself, but this place is really amazing, there is so much going on all around, and so much talent and inspiration everywhere... enjoy!
I love your kingfisher
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 08:39   #14
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John - these goldfinches are very engaging indeed - never anything easy about drawing from life, but it is good to get that marker down. Lots to like here - beautifully composed on the sheet and a real sense of character in the birds. If I may add a word of instruction? I don't know how many sheets of your sketchbooks you've devoed to drawing birds from life - it could be many hundred as far as I know - but, whatever; strive to make each drawing (or part of) a direct and immediate response to the living creature in front of you. Pay no heed to the final result in artistic terms (that can come later) and dismiss any idea that someone else matters in all of this (ie, don't try to make 'pretty' drawings. Of course they may end up pretty anyway, but they should evolve so). Drawing is about 'those aweful lines' as Ruskin said; not aweful as in rubbish, but those lines of action, direction, movement and interpretation. Scribble-away and watch the evolution occur.
Really looking forward to seeing more of this sort of work (as well as your more complete pieces, of course).
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 09:39   #15
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John - these goldfinches are very engaging indeed - never anything easy about drawing from life, but it is good to get that marker down. Lots to like here - beautifully composed on the sheet and a real sense of character in the birds. If I may add a word of instruction? I don't know how many sheets of your sketchbooks you've devoed to drawing birds from life - it could be many hundred as far as I know - but, whatever; strive to make each drawing (or part of) a direct and immediate response to the living creature in front of you. Pay no heed to the final result in artistic terms (that can come later) and dismiss any idea that someone else matters in all of this (ie, don't try to make 'pretty' drawings. Of course they may end up pretty anyway, but they should evolve so). Drawing is about 'those aweful lines' as Ruskin said; not aweful as in rubbish, but those lines of action, direction, movement and interpretation. Scribble-away and watch the evolution occur.
Really looking forward to seeing more of this sort of work (as well as your more complete pieces, of course).
top advice from a top artist! Keep enjoying the journey and let the journey take you along with it, the destination you want is wherever you end up. This is a really lovely page of goldfinches with gorgeous colours and an observant eye.
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 13:04   #16
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Tim and Nick say it well. Just scribble away and enjoy the journey. Before you know it you'll be seeing tremendous improvement. And at this early stage you're off to a very good start.

I got some photos back the other day that included Goldfinches at the water's edge at Morris Arboretum. I keep looking at it thinking, boy they sure are beautiful, especially against that unexpected background of blue and gray water. So far I've avoided a painting but your sketches have just pushed me a bit further toward doing something with them. We have them in our backyard too, and I always enjoy them. But there's something about their juxtaposition with the water that is calling out to me............
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 15:29   #17
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Another belated welcome from me too John. This is the best bit of BF and I'm sure you'll like it here.

I love a bird of prey and my favourite of the fine work you've posted so far is the little kessy. It's got a wonderful solidity to it without appearing too heavy and the thin perch gives a good indication of it's diminutive size. Nice!

With regard to the field sketching, I'd say go for it as much as you can. It takes a while to relax and to realise that the lines you make don't have to be perfect every time and the end result is in lots of ways less important than the act of sketching. Not every sketch has to end up as a masterpiece, just let it flow and it will come on in leaps and bounds naturally.

Looking forward to sharing the process.

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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 17:15   #18
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Thanks Matteo, Tim, Nick, Ken and Mike for the welcome and the most welcomed advice! Advice from accomplished folks who have trod this road before is most highly valued. Having started doing this at a pretty late stage in life, I'm eager to jump in and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can - but mainly to experience the engaging journey.

Tim - I have so far a grand total of three pages (two of which are in this thread) of bird sketches, as a calibration point. I guess the good news about that is at this stage, each page adds a significant percentage to my experience level! Count me as a customer for your upcoming book - I am looking forward to it.

Thanks again, everyone, and I hope to be an active and supportive member of the group.
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 17:40   #19
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welcome aboard: treat the sub-forum like a skid pan- you can go round a corner on two wheels, everyone claps and no-one gets hurt..
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 17:53   #20
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great goldies John...and starting off well, big advantage is you already know birds...so progress will be quick...last year at this stage, I kept looking and reading over Busby's book, and tried not to cry over my results when I saw the fine work here...
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 18:16   #21
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welcome aboard: treat the sub-forum like a skid pan- you can go round a corner on two wheels, everyone claps and no-one gets hurt..
Class, mate!
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Old Friday 27th August 2010, 18:27   #22
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Good analogy, Ed!

Thanks, Colleen! You know, I've come to think of birding (and now art) as being like playing music (which I've done my whole life, including a couple of pretty good bands). In both pursuits, every time I thought I was getting to the point where I actually had some decent skills, I would meet someone who was occupying a much more advanced part of the universe. I came to view music as an open-ended scale with no real end in terms of potential ability for those who had the talent and the drive. Sketching birds from life makes me realize how little I really do know about them, which of course is one of the primary reasons for doing the sketching...! With the common birds especially, I find that once I know the jizz of the species, there's a tendency to just glance and 'get the ID' quickly, but you really don't truly look at the birds in detail anymore. Sketching forces the looking in detail, even though I'm not at all trying to do photorealistic stuff. I am just tremendously excited by the whole new world that this is going to open up.

An honest assessment of my birding knowledge is that I know western US birds quite well - excluding pelagic species (haven't done a big pelagic trip yet due to seasickness issues), and my shorebird skills are only average, not great. I've done a reasonable amount of eastern US birding, but mostly casually before I got serious about the sport, and I haven't birded internationally at all.

Thanks again everyone for the very friendly welcome!
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Old Saturday 28th August 2010, 02:59   #23
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Sketching birds from life makes me realize how little I really do know about them, which of course is one of the primary reasons for doing the sketching...! With the common birds especially, I find that once I know the jizz of the species, there's a tendency to just glance and 'get the ID' quickly, but you really don't truly look at the birds in detail anymore. Sketching forces the looking in detail, even though I'm not at all trying to do photorealistic stuff. I am just tremendously excited by the whole new world that this is going to open up.
That's been exactly my experience John, especially the part about IDing birds quickly based on the jizz and then not looking again. I don't know if you ever read Sibley's 'Birding Basics.' In it he shows an example about IDing a bird. First he shows a graphic of four letters. The rest of the series shows the letters a little bit more obstructed each time so that it gets harder and harder to say exactly what the letters say. He says this his how you go about IDing birds. And I think he's absolutely right. You use those few brief clues. But you never really look at birds. You just use the clues to ID.

Once you have to sketch them you feel like you're looking at birds for the very first time. I'm sure that's why I could ID the seven warbler species I saw today and don't have a hint of a sketch to show for it! I tried to look but each time they were gone before I'd focused almost.
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Old Sunday 29th August 2010, 01:58   #24
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More sketches - Cooper's Hawk and Great Blue Heron

Thanks, Ken, and I like your goldfinch piece - I'll comment in your thread here soon!

This morning I tagged along on an Audubon field trip that I wasn't signed up for, and wandered around the area separate from the birders to find some sketching material. As you more experienced folks know, there is lots of material out there - all you have to do is be in a good location, sit down and some of it comes right to you!

These are all done in sepia Pigma Micron ink, taking Busby's advice to sketch with pen to avoid the temptation of grabbing the eraser to 'fix' the sketch. I like using pen, but it was pretty intimidating in a from-life situation.

The first page (all these are in a 9x9" - 23x23cm - Aquabee sketchbook) consists of very quick (perhaps 10 seconds) gesture sketches of some House Finches and one starling in a distant tree. My purpose here was to simply try to get the body shape somewhat close.

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The next page was fun to create because of the subjects - a pair of hatch year Cooper's Hawks, who were cavorting about like two young teenage boys. They would perch for a bit, then one would chase the other off the perch and they would engage in a brief mock aerial chase and then perch again, before flying off to check out one thing or another.

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The next four pages (one of which will have to be in a separate post for the number of image limit) are of a Great Blue Heron that was hunting, and then preening, near where I was sitting.

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Old Sunday 29th August 2010, 02:19   #25
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And the final Great Blue Heron sketch page from today...

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