I have had the pleasure of enjoying plentiful hummingbirds during this migration season. What a joy! Hummingbirds from the northern states and Canada begin migrating through Tennessee as early as July, but the largest numbers of migrants have been moving through this month. So I've taken this opportunity to sit outside with them and enjoy them as often as I can and last weekend, I tried sketching them while I watched.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds beat their wings at a rate of 40-80 beats per second, and their flight speed varies from 30 to 50 mph. Add to that, the fact that they are high-tempered and very territorial when it comes to their nectar source and you have a busy subject. Fortunately, they do hover in place from time to time, perch, and sometimes settle down for brief periods to drink. With as many as a dozen visiting the feeders at once, there was no shortage of replacement subjects when the one I was sketching disappeared.
It was also fascinating to notice how my approach to sketching changed during this experience, as memory and focus adjusted from sketching a still subject to trying to capture one that is constantly in motion. My focus gradually began to narrow as effort continued, and I settled on capturing simple lines, like the curve of the back, the shape of the tummy, the spread of the tail feathers, or the line of the top of the head.
It is while you're sketching that you begin to "see" differently, turning off symbolic memory and concentrating on what you're actually seeing right in front of you. And then your focus naturally zooms in, discarding unnecessary details, getting down that shape you've been searching for, no matter how many tries and birds it takes to capture it. While doing this you are relying heavily on your visual memory and your mind begins to fine-tune its focus, simplifying shapes to accommodate the speed with which you're observing.
After I had sketched for more than an hour, I took a break and picked up my camera and snapped images, paying little attention to light or focus, simply trying to capture some of the same flight shapes I had seen while sketching. When I came inside, I created a digital file of a six of these images, set them into motion as a slide show on my laptop, and sketched them while the slide show was in motion. I was surprised and delighted at how easy it became to capture the shapes at this speed, a speed far slower than the birds, themselves. At the slide show speed of several seconds per image, sketching seemed effortless! I would not have felt that way prior to my attempt to sketch the hummers outside.
It is hard to explain the satisfaction I felt after this effort. Not only did it provide a wonderful opportunity to see hummingbirds differently, it was a discovery in learning, in understanding not only the abilities within the mind to adjust visual memory to what is needed to capture the subject, but the amazing amount of information that is gleaned while experiencing a subject with that kind of focus. The last image you see above is my favorite. Even though it was sketched from the slide show, it was sketched with an ease I had not experienced before, and that was fun! That's when I realized how much I had learned!
To see more of my hummingbird sketches and paintings, visit: Hummingbirds