Monday, April 15, 2019

American Goldfinch

4/7/19 male American goldfinch (breeding colors)

Last winter we saw finches at our feeder only occasionally (juncos and chickadees were our primary visitors, and still are). This year, several varieties have been showing up daily, and in no small numbers. Our feeder is often covered with the tiny birds frantically vying for seeds.

In December I sketched a male American goldfinch with his “non-breeding” colors – some yellow on his head but with a brown back. Now that it’s spring, we’ve been seeing more males with their breeding colors on – brighter yellow all over.

4/1/19 male American goldfinch
I recently heard Gage life-drawing model Randy say that he sometimes holds the same pose for a whole academic quarter – three hours a week for 10 weeks, with a break every 20 minutes. Students work on a single oil painting or sculpture, week after week, as Randy returns to the same pose. My approach toward sketching birds at our feeder is similar: Over the course of weeks or months, the same birds (or ones that look identical) return to the same positions on the feeder again and again. Instead of 20 minutes, I might get only a second or two, but each time, I refine a detail or gesture, and eventually I complete a whole sketch. After numerous attempts, I finally caught enough goldfinches that I could complete a couple of sketches showing their coloring and wing details.

Alas, I was never able to complete even one sketch of a Bewick’s wren. All winter, I waited patiently to catch this infrequent visitor, but it’s just too fast for me and doesn’t come often enough, even using the Randy method. I tried several times with my usual colored pencils, but pencils are too slow for wrens. Frustrated, I took a cue from my own life-drawing practice, where I use brush pens containing ink for the shortest poses. The best I could do on the wren was to grab a few gesture sketches using a brush pen (below).

3/31/19 Bewick's wren

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