Friday, May 11, 2012

Bird Haiku

Regular readers may have noticed by now that I like to draw and paint birds.  What you may not know is that they task me, those birds.  They simply won't sit still to have their portrait painted.

Thus I use photos to paint from, but photos task me, too.  I may take 100 photos of the same bird and discover that every single photo is too dark, too overexposed, shows a weird angle or there are branches in the way or it's all completely out of focus.  Photoshop can only do so much. 

I thought I might learn a few tips from a wonderful book, Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists by William T. Cooper, whose work is stunning.  I did learn a few things, but he strongly stressed field studies, with photos a secondary aid.  Rats.  His field sketches were so detailed!  What was his secret?  No secret at all -- it was simply what every creative person already knows about how to improve -- PRACTICE.


Sigh.  So I took my sketchbook next time I went birding, and I ran across a Great Blue Heron down at Yesler Swamp, and thought, "OOh, perfect!  Herons often spend HOURS standing in the same position." 

Ha.  Not THIS pesky bird.  He walked a ways, paused for 5 seconds, walked a ways, stopped to look at the water for 5 seconds, ambled on again...he simply refused to stand still.  But you have to start somewhere, so I sketched what I could in those few seconds.  (You might remember these quick sketches from last week's blog post.)

I showed the results to a friend, who instantly dubbed them "Bird Haikus".  !!  What a lovely notion -- trying to capture the essence of the bird in as few strokes as possible. 

Armed with the poetic approach to field sketching, I went back out the next weekend and found two robins foraging.  I parked myself on the campstool, whipped out the sketchbook, and went to work.


The robins moved about a lot more than the pesky heron, quickly darting over the grass, grabbing a bite of whatever it was they were finding there, pausing ever so briefly to glance up and around for signs of danger...

They made fabulous bird haiku subjects. 


That bottom one is starting to veer away from haiku into a cartoon character, though. 

I'm not sure how well these sketches will help when it comes to painting, but it sure is fun, and challenging.  I'm normally a very detailed, analytical artist who overthinks and overdraws much of the time, and this forces me (in a really good way) to loosen up, to let the pencil fly lightly over the paper, and to pay attention to the overall character of the bird.  

Haiku...not just for poets any more!

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