Winter Robin

Robin in a Tree
Watercolor on printmaking paper, 5.5″ x 4″

A couple of weeks ago I saw this American robin in the aspen tree in front of my house. For some reason birds always act like they think you’ll reach up and grab them, even though my arms clearly aren’t that long (and I wouldn’t, anyways). All of the paints for this I made myself from dry pigments.

Walnut ink on printmaking paper, 3" x 4"
Walnut ink on printmaking paper, 3″ x 4″

Here’s a drawing from yesterday that was made with a fountain pen. It’s actually a copy of one of the photos I posted here about four years ago.

Winter Lookout

Two Deer in Snow
Watercolor on 140 lb paper, 4.25″ x 6″

The setting for this painting is in the same Azure Valley as in the last post, and because I’ve passed through there many times I have many photos from different times of year. One of them had a buck walking through an open area of snow with some scrubby brush and low trees around. It seemed like a good start for a scene, but he was too small and the brush too far away, so I made a few edits to the photo.

Winter Lookout 1 ref 1

After cutting the buck away from the snowy background and positioning him closer to the darker and more interesting shapes of the trees and brush it still seemed too minimal. I did like the contrast of the brown against the cooler background colors, but the lighting on that cloudy day wasn’t very interesting.

Winter Lookout 1 ref 2

These two deer were in that same area, maybe even the same field, but on a different day. I liked their different poses, but they didn’t fit into the vertical format I was planning. By cutting out and repositioning the deer on the right to be next to the deer on the left it helped them fit and also changed the dynamic between them. Now their closeness might better emphasize a sense of togetherness and mutual trust.

Winter Lookout 1 wip

I then drew everything with the lead holder, seen on the far right, with a 7H lead in it. Everything was painted in sections, with each section being mostly finished before moving on. There were a couple of other small brushes used after this photo. The palette for everything was the five color palette I posted on Instagram a few days ago here.

Leaping Squirrel and Suggesting Detail

Squirrel Drawing
Graphite and white charcoal on grey paper, 8.5″ x 5.5″

Today I drew this squirrel, and although it took awhile to finish it would have been much longer if I hadn’t of just suggested most of the detail, so I thought I’d write a bit about that.

Basically, some areas of an image will benefit much more from high detail levels, while in other areas a lot of detail would either contribute little to the image or would even distract from the main focus. A lot of time could be wasted trying to perfectly draw or paint things that really only need to be vaguely indicated to get a sense of space or setting. These are the things that inform the viewer of what sort of a scene it is and generally what’s happening, but aren’t the actual subject of the image.

Here, I put the most of the detail in the squirrel’s face and paws. The further you look in the background the more vague details become until they’re just shapes, and that spared me having to painstakingly draw thousands of pine needles. Even the needles in the foreground are quickly sketched, and the shadows are really just dark shapes with no detail at all. Still, I hope it gives the illusion of a scene set within a dense mass of branches and needles.

This approach is often seen in portrait paintings where the face and maybe hands are carefully painted with high detail, but folds of clothing may simply be indicated with broad single brushstrokes. Part of that is because those are interesting portions of a person and tell us a lot about who they are and what they’re doing. Accurately painting every detail of the buttons on their clothes, for example, would not normally tell us any additional or useful information. By only suggesting the existence of detail, without elaborately describing each detail, an artist can direct the focus to what’s actually important while also saving time.

The narrower depth of field on the left has fewer distracting details.
The narrower depth of field on the left has fewer distracting details.

In photography, a similar idea would be referred to as subject isolation, meaning that the subject that’s in focus is clearly distinguished from the rest of the scene that’s out of focus. The rest of the scene is still important, because again it gives the viewer at least some idea of where the subject is and maybe what’s happening around them, but when everything is in perfect focus at once the other details can sometimes just be a distraction, like in the example above. Of course this isn’t to say you should never have everything in focus, such as in landscape photography, just that in many cases there’s benefits to letting extraneous details blur away.

For me, in the case of drawing and painting, it’s saving time that’s the main attraction.

Bee and Grasshopper

Grasshopper and Bee
Graphite and white charcoal on tan paper, 6.25″ x 6″

I took this photo while walking this morning, hoping to see a bumblebee and not at all expecting a grasshopper. There were a couple of other attempts at painting something with watercolor to post today, but they weren’t working out well. Maybe I should make more drawings like this for awhile, or something else?

Bee and Grasshopper 1 ref

Verdant Canyon

Green Forested Canyon
Watercolor and gouache on 140 lb watercolor paper, 4.5″ x 6.125″

Painted from another photo out the train window as we passed through a canyon a little to the east and north of here a few weeks ago.

Verdant Canyon Ref