Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Your Best Bet for Sharper Bird Images

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Hello again. Welcome to Installment Two of Taking Care of Bill's Blog. Today, we hear from artist and banjo player Debby Kaspari.

Bill asked her to do some illustrations for Bird Watcher's Digest many years ago, and that relationship blossomed into a friendship that will endure many years into the future. Go to her web site. Just go. But pin your wig down, 'cause it'll blow off.--JZ

Spotted Antbird in the Panama understory- my best shot

I am not a bird photographer. Let me reinforce that: I’m a horrible bird photographer. I leave that to professionals like Bill and Julie.** But when I travel I want to bring back pictures, so I sketch. Drawing birds instead of using a camera has an upside and a downside, as you might guess, when it’s a birder’s primary image making method.

A study site in the forest on Barro Colorado Island- see the orange surveyor tape?

Barro Colorado is a former mountaintop now emerging as an island from the waters of the wide part of the Panama Canal, Lake Gatun. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has preserved it as a field station for scientists who study everything from soil ecology to army ants to fish-eating bats. I go there with some regularity to get my tropical bird fix and keep my scientist husband company when he runs experiments in that wonderful tropical forest.

On BCI, Collared ara├žaris, Crested guans, Slaty-tailed trogons and other fancy charismatic birds are abundant and sometimes even sit out where you can watch them to your heart’s content. But the little brown jobs that I’m fond of, the xenops and the antshrikes and the leaftossers, birds that hang out in dense understory or clamber around gleaning from the undersides of leaves, are just about impossible to get in photos without blinds, strobe flashes, and a National Geographic photographer to hold the camera (an actual possibility on Barro Colorado Island- go look at your back issues). So what’s a bird lover to do? Sharpen the pencils, is what.

Spotted Antbirds in the Panama understory- one more time, with pencil.

In point of fact, drawing a bird forces you to really, really look. It takes patience and quality time, which you’ll spend with fewer birds, meaning forget the big trip list when you’re busy with the sketchbook. On the positive side of the equation is that the birds you sketch will be practically engraved in your memory and a good reference point from then on (“hmmm, it looks like that Rufous motmot I drew last week, but, wait, the chin’s green- must be a Broad-billed!”). By the way, don’t try this on an organized birding tour unless you want to get yourself thrown off a canopy tower.

Spotted Antbird in the Panama understory, in acrylic, beyond the reach of my point-and-shoot.

Next week I’ll be on BCI again, for twelve days of sketching, painting, and yes, I’ll be using my camera, too, on all those slow-moving leaves, lianas and tree roots which will show up in paintings, along with bird images made the slow way. In the meantime, if you’d like to read a little more about how to draw birds on the fly, here’s something to get you started:
5 Steps To Better Bird Drawing

Draw a Bird, Own A Bird

Drawing Birds: How to Sneak Up On Your Subject

**what Debby means is, "people who have finally coughed up the money for a longer lens."

Sweet travels and peaceful sketching, Deb. May the antbirds sit quietly; the motmots not fidget.


On September 11, 2007 at 7:01 AM Jayne said...

Just beautiful Debby! Your talent amazes us all. :c)

On September 11, 2007 at 8:24 AM Mary said...

You have a great blog, Debby. I want to say your first photo on this post looks typical of mine. Thanks for sharing your talents!

On September 11, 2007 at 9:16 AM Rondeau Ric said...

She's giving you a run for your money on the how to sketch/paint a bird jz.

We were in Costa Rica about 5 years ago, all little scuttle birds looked the same to me. On the other hand, the motmots and trogons were easy to id.
Enjoyed your post.

On September 11, 2007 at 11:13 PM Anonymous said...

Great post Debby! Lots of good tips, and such excellent bird art. Have a great trip.


On September 12, 2007 at 11:58 AM Kathy said...

The spotted antbird painting is beautiful!