Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nature journal

Even if it takes time to figure out watercolours, I still can work out ways to bring in birds and paints into my life.

The little boy was gifted a camera for his birthday yesterday, and I thought that this was a great time to start him on a nature journal. Birding trips always result in us writing lists on random sheets of paper, that's how much we rely on photography as documentation. But there is so much more to see than just birds, there's seeds, seed pods, spiders, dragon flies, beetles, butterflies, mushrooms, slugs.... A boy needs a place to record all this.

So I picked up this inexpensive handmade journal bound in fabric so that it could be used as a nature journal. I used my painting of the Flame-backed Woodpecker as a reference, and used fabric paints, to make the cover more interesting. When painting on fabric I use a really tiny brush with short bristles which functions almost like a pen. It is easier than I expected really.

My boy  loved it. I do hope it gets him started on journalling. I also had an idea that I could use the tea bag pouches that I refuse to trash on some pages so that he can store treasures like tiny seeds and feathers.

A fabric bound handmade notebook

Ah, can that be an inspiration?

A perfect present for a little boy -- and coming full circle really because the painting I made was based on his photograph of the bird!

Slow progress

It's been a passion with me to collect paint supplies, and although I bring them out once in a while, seriously getting around to putting paintbrush to paper was tougher.

My interest is in painting birds, and watercolours do bring out the details of this fascinating subject wonderfully.   Being a self-taught artist (how easily that rolls out..) comes with a price, and one needs to be really honest or have good critics around who can say things that are constructive without damaging the delicate artist's ego.  All I can say with the experience of exactly four pieces of relatively small-sized watercolours is that I have a long way to go. I would advise any other closet artist to invest in a good spiral bound artist's block which can chronicle your efforts. Although this can make you cringe when you look at your first attempts, you can progressively cheer up - in fact, if you flip the pages fast enough you  might see more of the good parts.

The really wonderful part about painting was that I turned my attention not only to the details of the birds, their plumage, their silhouette etc., but I began noticing trees: their trunks, their shapes, the branches and leaves. All these paintings are from photographs taken by the boys, but I was witness to these birds in nature, and I recall everything that happened, how the photograph was shot, and the sense of exhilaration we felt when we saw the bird.  This is reflected in the paintings, rather these attempts at painting them. Sketching, noticing forms, brush control, paint fluidity all these were learning experiences. While I have tried to be true to their basic shapes, this appears to be more a snapshot of their mood, some sort of continuation of my professional work in editing and publishing. The paintings really are edited versions of the photographs.

Interestingly the bird that looks fairly "flat" in the photograph, the shikra,  has come out quite well as a painting. That's because I had to take more effort in layering to get the effect I wanted.  I remember feeling a keen sense of awe watching this beautiful bird at head height (we were in the Canter at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve) just about 12 feet away from us. The effect was of silent power couched in delicate colours.

Update: I had a discussion with my friend Kamini about these paintings, and after that I decided to post the original photographs alongside the paintings so you can get an idea of how much editing and cropping I had to do to translate it into a painting.  These are actually photographs of photographs since I did not have the digital files with me. The photographs of the Flame-backed Woodpecker and the Spotted Dove were taken by Anant and three others by Dipak. It is difficult to encapsulate the magic of the Shikra and almost ashen coloured tree trunks and branches that provide an almost ethereal quality to the photograph. Even the blurry yellow leaf that appears in the foreground can be excused - remember that these are photographs taken from a vehicle and we stopped for barely thirty seconds. One does not go about manoeuvring one's position in a Canter with several other people! The thing about my painting is that I have no patience in taking time over the painting - since these aren't really large canvases. I feel compelled to do the sketch, filling and background in one sitting. One could call it artistic urge, but...actually, I know it's just plain old impatience. 

Oriental Tree Pie - this social, almost tame, bird was common in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Don't miss the blotches of paint hidden really badly with white paint. What a mess!

Blossom-headed Parakeet - a riot of colours, really a challenge for me to figure it out (as you can tell) This beautiful bird really appears boring in my painting.

Perky Flame-backed Woodpecker sitting on the Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma)  - it was high up on this tree and quite small.

Shikra at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

Don't forget to leave some blank pages in between so little hands can have a go too. Sketch of a  Spotted Dove (minus the spots) by  Anant (June 2010)