Earlier this year, I took a daytrip along some coastal lakes known for their avifauna. The sea on one side, and intensive agriculture on the other. The weather was only adding to this austerity, with a low cloud ceiling and a powerful freezing and unceasing south wind. Few things to observe on this lake turned into a stormy sea.
Emergency brake ! I park in hurry, because a few dozen meters away, a group of Hooded Crows surrounds a young White-tailed Eagle finishing his meal. I set up the scope in the car but as often, barely an eye in the eyepiece, the bird flies away. Then follows a long aerial dance in which facing the wind, he wanders without a wing flap, swayed by the windgusts.
After a few uncertain attempts I ended up getting this sketch.
Contrary to the Guillemot of my last post, no watercolor to follow this time. I didn’t take color notes. And focusing on the shape of the bird in the wind I forgot to look at the values and colors. As often, I think I have observed well, but while I am progressing in the painting, I realize that I have not.
To finish the painting, I would have to invent or imitate a photo, and I feel no interest in that. I don’t want to paint an average eagle, or the stereotype of the ID guides. I want to paint this eagle, right there, in these conditions.
When painting according to reality, there is a very particular tension that establishes, between the subject, here the eagle always moving in changing light, my emotion that drives the drawing in front of such an observation, and the sketch that always has a big part of doubt: what will the result be ? will I be able to draw what I’ve observed? will I have time to finish?
Every time the result is only partial, it is inevitable. But all the pleasure of this approach lies within the pursuit of that ever more complete, ever more faithful capture, of the animal, of the observation, of the reality. This is what I’m aiming at. The objective (the perfect reproduction), although unattainable, and perhaps even undesirable, gives the direction and meaning to each drawing.
Facing a photo in front of my computer screen, this tension instantly disappears. Everything is fixed, so I have all my time. I can zoom in as I like so I can get lost in the details, but how far? The limit is arbitrary and depends on one’s “style”, whether it is intentional or not. But me personally, I lose myself and eventually keep an artificial feeling towards the image coming out of it. Somehow, I gain in details what I lose in global grasp, dynamism, authenticity.
The fieldwork gives constraints that structure my work, that imposes a rhythm between eye and hand, between observation and drawing. And the resulting dynamism in the image remains curiously inimitable in the studio.
Finally, fieldsketching educates, pushes you to actually observe, which leads to learning by understanding your subject more. And when the bird is gone and I find myself with this sketch in my hands, I feel an immense satisfaction that I was able to capture by means as simple as a pencil and a sheet of paper, a small piece of that reality.