Orchids and Flycatchers, revisited

Trying to make sense of a head pose, drawing from videos. Rusty margined flycatchers have insanely flexible necks. Like pretty much any bird. But this is a good illustration of what they can do with it.
Trying to make sense of a head pose, drawing from videos. Rusty margined flycatchers have insanely flexible necks, like pretty much any bird. But this is a good illustration of the feature. Pencil on paper, 8″ x 6″

Drawing from videos: very useful if you don’t have live birds in your studio. While painting a pair of rusty-margined flycatchers, I was troubled by a weird head position in the field sketch. What looked okay in the drawing looked bizarre in paint. So I launched a field video and sketched to see what was going on. A passerine’s tucked-up neck is relatively long and flexible. This flycatcher turned to the left and looked at something behind it, then swiveled and looked at the same thing from the other side. A flycatcher needs a circular view. Or, maybe spherical. Looks weird in practice, though. In the end I changed the pose.

Orchid drawing updated with some light pastel in the background and a few highlights. 14" x 20" pastel and graphite on Ingres paper.
Orchid drawing updated with some light pastel in the background and a few highlights. 14″ x 20″ pastel and graphite on Ingres paper.

Drawing and painting are two different art forms, and what’s on my easel lately is mostly painting. Even though I like lines so much, in the painting, outlines tend to squash the illusion of reality.

I added a little pastel to the orchid drawing, around and within the lines. Chalk or conte or white compressed charcoal works. The starting point is a mid-toned paper, like the Ingres above. It’s still a drawing, but the dry media adds light and suggests volume. A tip: when combining pastel and graphite, never go darker in pastel than your darkest graphite value. Dark pastel placed next to dark graphite sets up a struggle between the matte pastel and shiny graphite. The graphite always loses.

Catching a few more head poses of a rusty margined flycatcher, drawn from a video taken on Barro Colorado Island last May.
Catching a few more head poses of a rusty margined flycatcher, drawn from a video taken on Barro Colorado Island last May. Pencil on paper, 8″ x 6″

Video drawing birds, by the way, is a great tool. Here’s the flycatcher video if you’d like to try. You can see it swivel its head around and hear the engine of STRI’s BCI-Gamboa shuttle boat Jacana at the dock nearby. At the end, you might even catch the sleepy roar of a far-off howler monkey troupe. Normal sounds of Barro Colorado Island, always there in the background.

Happy Friday.

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