A Funny Thing Happened at the Bell Museum…

December 2, 2013

See the post for full details.

Scan-131129-0003Left: Sketch of a Gray Partridge made at one of the Bell Museum dioramas, on recycled watercolor paper which is quite "dirty" white with an orange colored pencil.

Last week I went to the Bell Museum to take a look at the Audubon exhibit. It's going to change in January (some images will be removed and others put in their place) so if you haven't seen the exhibit yet you really should go as many times as you can before the switch.

I thought I'd take a swing through and then if I had any eye power left I would sketch for a bit before I needed to leave because I was expected by Dick's mom.

For the most part I had the gallery to myself—except there was the horribly long time period where the 20-somethings on a date kept dogging my footsteps, and then met me again in the galleries later. I so hate overhearing all the nonsense and posturing that goes on during a first date—when I'm trying to look at art. I want to scream at the partner who is clearly the most balanced, who is making the least idiotic statements, who is the least impaired by hormones—"Run away, Run away, I'll block for you."

But of course I never do. I just jot the drivel down in my journal with plans to use it someday. On this day, however, I didn't have my journal as injury necessitates I travel "light." I had strips of 140 lb. recycled watercolor paper (Richeson: search through this blog's search engine and you'll find info on it). And it seems I also had an orange colored pencil. 


But I get ahead of myself.

So there I was walking through the gallery looking at the artwork. They had lots of Audubon prints of course, but they also had works from other artists who either inspired him or were inspired by him. 

I have to say that the prints, seen in person, actual size (I think they are elephant sheets or even larger) are impressive.

But, gasp, I'm not really an Audubon fan. I never really have been. I admire his work; I love the prints; I see what he was trying to do; but I'm just not a fan.

I'd always been interested in birds, especially as a child. After we moved to Australia my head sort of exploded. There were birds everywhere and there were exotic tropical and desert birds all folded into the suburban mix. (We lived at the northern edge of one of the northern suburbs of Melbourne.)


Left: Blue and Yellow Macaw by Edward Leer. I think you'll see even from this low res image that Leer was capable of some major league bird rendering—feathers, form, gesture. This is a guy who watched live birds a lot. His ability to observe and record botanical detail wasn't too shabby either.

There's more to this story I'll share another day, but as to influences the bird artist who always spoke most clearly to me with his illustratons was Edward Leer. His blue and yellow Macaw is part of the exhibit and I've placed an image here for you to see.

James Fenwick Lansdowne is another bird artist I've always admired. He was represented in the show as well. If you go to this link you'll see one of his owl images. It's not in the show, but you'll get the general idea. Ouch!

Now go do a search for Raymond Harris-Ching images. (He's in the show.)

There's also a lovely John Busby pencil and watercolor hung low, I might add, at the prefect height for short people such as myself to see clearly with only a slight stoop. (It's very difficult to look up and close at paintings hung high.) Lars Jonsson, another favorite is represented by one of his oil paintings—but I really love his watercolors.

Two artists not in the show Charles Tunnecliffe and Keith Brockie have also been inspirations to me, Tunnecliffe all my life, and Brockie when I discovered his work in graduate school.

It struck me as I viewed the exhibit, what a creature of my upbringing I am. Almost all my favorite bird artists are British or citizens of the Commonwealth countries (or former Commonwealth countries, I really haven't been keeping up.)

It's an obvious thing. But when you fancy you are an independent thinker it still comes as a bit of a shock when you stare it in the face.

Along with these artists they are so many other great ones included in the show that you might as well just give up and go see it. It's worth it if all you do is look at Francis Lee Jaques' scratchboard illustration and check out Roger Tory Peterson's use of white out. (Yes.)

After checking out my favorites for quite some time I went upstairs to sketch and couldn't decide what to sketch. I realized last year that between sketching as a child and an adult I've probably now sketched every regularly displayed specimen in the building! 

I walked into one of the side halls where small displays are located. The display of gray partridge caught my eye. It's dark in general at the Bell, but I swear it's even darker in the side halls, at least at the gray partridge. 

I poked around in my purse (which is tiny and almost empty so I have little weight to carry) and found an orange colored pencil. I started to sketch with it.

That's the funny bit, the crazy bit, the silly choices we make. I can tell you that while it's difficult to get value contrast when working with an orange colored pencil in the dim I have never had so much fun drawing from a specimen (more fun yes drawing from live birds, but from specimens this was it). Every line I drew just locked right into place (I started with the eye of course) and even as the pencil lead got duller everything kept working great. Even the cold press texture of the paper didn't bother me (it usually does for sketching). 

I felt as if all my inspirations were talking to me. Also I felt as if I could see in the dark and believed I was on the right track, but the main thought was how happy I was sketching a bird, after seeing all this bird art first hand.

The light in my studio is pretty bright. You can't really make the drawing out in that light. You have to stand in a dark corner. 

When I look at it I remember every stroke of the pencil, all the decisions, all the conversation. And I remember the moment I decided NOT to paint the sketch, but leave it orange pencil. Sure it's full of flaws, several of which I'd hoped to correct with paint, but it makes me happy.

It's one of those sketches you make in your life time that remind you why you draw, and why you choose the subject matter you do.

I know if I had used a pen, or maybe a graphite pencil, I might have ended up with a better drawing, but I love this one just the way it is. It's a complete dialog for me—that tells me where I want to go, what materials I want to use next, which tools. I'm going to spend some time with graphite and watercolor. I'm going to start taking real brushes, not the Niji, so I can get some of the details I'm interested in. (To get them on paper rather than just note them and remember them.) And I'm going to slow down.

I can't wait to get back and have another dialog. 

    • Miss T
    • December 2, 2013

    Roz, I LOVE that sketch. It’s one of your best, and it has more the feeling of a live bird than a Bell specimen. Bravo.

    • Miss T
    • December 3, 2013

    Stealth is good!!

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