Thursday, January 27, 2011

Learn from the Masters

Learning from the masters:
1. Just looking and noting who and what pleases your sensibilities gives you direction
2. Copying work teaches techniques
3. Borrowing palettes gives you a better understand color relationships
4. By studying a lifetime of painting you will be able to tolerate the ups and downs of development
5. Its free! We are able to benefit from everyone who went before us.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Relationships between birds just appeared, like rainbows.

     I didn’t use a grid but began somewhere in the center with the lead bird so to speak and then related next bird and so on and so on. The drawings seemed tedious up until a certain point.   I would turn a corner after a couple of days and the thing would fall into place. As I finished each piece, grids and mathematical relationships between the birds just appeared, like rainbows.

     Most scientific phenomenon are also art. Check out NASA”s hubble pictures for example.  So the bottom line was if I would put down the facts correctly, a decidedly clean composition would emerge. For example, after completing  the sandpiper watercolor…I went into my kitchen and got a large plate and laid it on my drawing.  It tied the eyes of each bird together, it created a repetitive circular motion within the flock and when I moved it around it just fit echoing the previous area. What had been a struggle got easy. I could not paint fast enough!  I felt like I was working with nature rather than from nature. 

     What I discovered is that each flock I painted adhered to one or more of John Ruskin’s” Laws of composition: Radiation, consistency, interchange, contrast, principality, continuity, curvature, harmony and repetition.”  They naturally choreograph themselves in these formations for profit. They ensure theoretical energy gains as high as forty percent and v shaped flock formations capitalize on lift generated by their flockmates.  But like all great ideas it simple.

     Now Ruskin used nature to illustrate his laws but always with stationary examples, like leaves that radiate etc.  He also used Turner paintings to show how the laws worked. But the birds are able to compose and recompose endlessly in magnificent compositions, yet they remain fresh and best of all useful. While they choreograph themselves in a certain way to insure a profitable flight, there are many secondary benefits. It seems what is good for all is also well composed and simply beautiful.  It teaches us that motivation and intention are part of art.  What lies underneath sometimes determines the success of the endeavor. 

     Each morning I walk along the lake soaking up the majesty. Today the Canada geese were flying in huge  linear flocks creating soft lines etched on the sky.  They appear to be writing. I’ve yet to decipher the text, but its probably something simple like “ Work together”.  Thanks Arlene  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Circumstance, Persistence and Luck.

This series of watercolors is the result of circumstance, persistence and luck. 

And as fortune would have I, I got an idea!  I say that with humility, because ideas come, you don’t go get them.   I’ve been painting around migration issues for the past five years.  I was quietly hoping something would shift and my bird-insect-habitat-seasonal-studies would click.

With hindsight, it was the movement inherent in the concept of migration that was missing.   But my decade long process working from dead specimens lacked any sort of movement.   What I needed was another method, one specifically designed to capture the subject.  I needed a new collaboration.  And fittingly, migrating birds are a performance about just that, “collaboration".

Every Wednesday the Field Museum third floor Prep lab is alive with activity.  A group of birders are preparing skins and skeletons which have come into the museum as a result of migration mishaps. Arlene K was part of this group.  And as circumstance would have it she is also wonderful wildlife photographer.  I asked about photos of big flocks moving and she began forwarding her complex photos of birds in fight.  At first I began piecing together various flight patterns on a page. 

The more I designed the less success I had.  Yet I couldn’t quite lose the notion that I was the composer.  It was a bit like the mother that is still telling her kid what to do when she has ceased to be the one in charge.  Finally I surrendered and took an artistic vacation and just measured out each bird in correct relation to its neighbor exactly as it appeared in the photo. 

More to come..