The fact that I admire a subject and spend time observing it gives me a deeper connection for making art. And this connection activates my ‘critical eye’. This is a good thing. I’m not speaking of the critical dialog that taunts when we make mistakes or worry about others judging our work. I’m speaking of the keen eye of familiarity. The integrated knowing that says, yes, that’s it, or wait a minute, something’s not right.
This isn’t about getting it perfect to life either. Far from it. It’s about pleasing the artist. And what pleases me is having the subject travel through my eyes into my heart and back out again through my hands, onto the paper. And when its right, I know it. My eyes are happy.
Now, knowing something’s not right and knowing exactly what to change are two different matters. My advice to any aspiring artists out there is just get started. Mistakes are our best teachers. They train the eye and fine tune our ability to translate what we see onto the paper. It’s like being in the dark and watching the world gradually take shape as daylight appears. We see vague shapes, a little bit at a time until the light gets stronger and brighter and all the details finally come into focus. One way to get that effect while painting is to walk away from the table, get a good night’s sleep and come back again with fresh eyes.
Below you see my first sketch.After finishing, I walked away and came back to look at it several times. My eyes were instantly drawn to the beak and my impression, "old man with no teeth". Having watched this hawk in action and finding him far from toothless, I knew I had to change at least the beak. But I waited until the next day before beginning.
This sketch is on sketchbook paper which doesn't absorb color like watercolor rag paper, so its easy to lift. Using a soft brush, clean water and a paper towel for blotting, I started by erasing the inside edges of the beak. What happened next surprised me. Suddenly all the distraction was removed and I could see the other contributing problems. I changed the angle of the throat, softened the eye, strengthened the brow and changed the way the top line and the neck entered the shoulder. Gradually my old man turned back into the hawk he was supposed to be. I could see many more slight adjustments, but my sketchbook paper said, enough. And I had accomplished what I intended to do, wrap my mind around the details and shape of a hawk.
His next portrait will be on watercolor paper. Isn't he magnificent?More hawk observations and sketches coming up.