Sunday, May 23, 2010

Drawing from life and trying to get it right. Sigh.

After many years of drawing from photographic reference material, I've sworn off the stuff and am learning to gather my visual information from life only. Easier said than done! Plants and fungi hold obligingly still while one draws them, but birds and mammals seem to be in constant motion. I try to look and memorize and then, as I start to draw, realize that I can hardly remember a thing. It's very frustrating. Trying to learn this new skill has brought up troubling memories of being very young and learning to ride a bicycle. I persist because I actually did...eventually...learn to ride that bike.

Although I see dark-eyed juncos of the Oregon race frequently I haven't done any sketches of them before, because they tend to dart away as soon as I point my binoculars in their direction. Today, though, as I sat on the dusty shores of Pond B at Foothill Regional Park in Windsor, CA, I was pleasantly surprised to find one bathing nearby. She bathed once, left, then came back and bathed some more. Her bathing style was fairly sedate. The California towhees that use our birdbath at home bathe with complete abandon and much flapping and splashing. This junco got in the water, jiggled about a few times, sat there quietly then left. When she was done she went off into some nearby grasses and preened then rested. Without binoculars it was impossible to spot her but, hey, she was holding still! She stayed put until someone walked on a trail about a foot from where she rested and then flew off into some manzanita nearby.

I didn't add color to these sketches until I got home. Once I started painting I thought I would consult David Sibley's Guide to Birds to make sure I got the colors right. Which led to me getting the color wrong because the juncos I've been seeing have so little of the rusty brown on their flanks that it's almost invisible. Note to self: trust your own memory and just hold off on the painting until you can go back and confirm what you thought you saw or didn't see.


  1. Your bird sketches are an inspiration to me, Debbie. I think your visual memory is enviable. The little Junco sitting in the grass looks like she has spotted the human passing by and is keeping very still.

  2. Very nice Debbie. I know the problems of drawing from life. I finally started seriously about a year ago. It can be a struggle but it all builds up a reservoir of knowledge that you use the next time you draw or paint. And it does become addictive I think.

    It looks you are proceeding very well!

  3. Holding a visual memory is especially difficult when refocusing from using binoculars, and it's encouraging to see how well you are developing that ability. Lovely sketches and a lovely story to go with them!