Field sketches

2015-06-07 (1)

I started working from left to right, swinging the telescope across the stony islands in the pools, drawing what I saw, switching between charcoal and pen.  For some sketches in pen, I played a game, aiming to do six drawings in six minutes using six lines each.  I managed four drawings, but could not find the discipline to limit myself to six lines.  The lapwing drawing was the closest to what I intended.

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The roosting black headed gulls were scattered into the air.  Another birder said, obscurely, “did he drop it or swallow it?”.

2015-06-07 (2)

A lesser back backed gull had settled back on an island further away.  It had caught a chick apparently.  I spent the rest of the time watching the predator.  It spent a long time assiduously preening yet I think, always with an eye on the black headed gulls and their chicks.  It was mobbed on land by a diving black headed gull and later on water by a lapwing.

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It was joined by a second – its mate? – and they flew off north.  I think the same bird swept round and came in low over the trees to attack the colony from the south.  I don’t think it caught a chick and it was seen off with a pair of the smaller black headed gulls flanking it left and right.

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Tomorrow, I will watch again, this time aiming to capture the gulls in flight, the mobbing and the raids.  However, time passes.  Even within a week, the chicks may be too large and no longer a target.

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To see inspirational field sketches which combine simplicity of line and shade with capture of character, movement and shape, its worth googling images using the term “John Busby birds”.  A search on Amazon brings up two pages of his books.  I met him two years running through the Scottish Seabird Drawing course which he founded and led.  As for many others, he had been an influence on me through his books  for many years before that.  I was sad to hear that he died and his funeral was yesterday.

Energy

The sketch should focus not on birds alone but derive its energy from the underlying rocks and surrounding atmosphere.

Think.

This place, Bass Rock, is a basaltic plug, the core of an ancient volcano thrust up into what is now a shallow sea.  The many thousands of gannets who come here each year to breed, the predatory gulls looking to steal an egg, are mere décor on this venerable surface.

Breeding colony of gannets on Bass Rock, Scotland.

Breeding colony of gannets on Bass Rock, Scotland.

This paraphrases the guidance from John Busby who brings to this subject both breadth and depth of artistic understanding. Both scientifically and artistically, we have to draw in the surroundings to animate the bird.

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Charcoal sketches of gannets against the underlying limed granite.

Charcoal sketches of gannets against the underlying limed granite.

Charcoal sketches of gannets against the underlying limed granite.

Sitting surrounded by these large birds, overwhelmed by their noise and smell, it is hard to escape their essential beakiness.  This is what grabs the eye, literally if they were given the chance.

How long is a gannet's beak?  This one has morphed into a Malibou stork.

How long is a gannet’s beak? This one has morphed into a Malibou stork.

This is a fundamental error in draughtsmanship.  The beak is closer to the length of the head.

Capturing the shape of the gannet's head.

Capturing the shape of the gannet’s head.

The watercolour headlining this post was painted at the end of this first day, an attempt to decorate the rock with the nesting birds preening, displaying, defending their sites.  At home, I reworked this to get a more striking balance of tones and colours and added the many other gannets careening through the air.

This was the original.

Gannets on Bass Rock: watercolour sketch on site

Gannets on Bass Rock: watercolour sketch on site

Reflecting further, were we to imagine the landscape looking back at us, the distinction between gannet and sapient ape would be trivial, both minor variations on that recent innovation, the walking fish.  What links us, aerobic metabolism, quadrapedal morphology and the rest is greater than what divides us.  But neither ape nor bird are mere superficial dots, for both carry forward that metabolic drive, that spark of fire that first ignited in submarine fumaroles long before the Bass Rock volcano exploded and that has shaped this planet as profoundly as any other force.