You can attribute it to seasonal affective disorder, lack of light, or the extreme cold weather that settled in this week, but January is not my favourite month. I am at my most miserable and misanthropic this time of year, coupled with a short fuse. My jaw has been bugging me for a couple of weeks, a consequence of unconscious clenching and teeth grinding. I’m not sleeping well and have bad dreams.
As a result, I’ve been keeping to myself more than usual.
I haven’t got any motivation right now, and when I mentioned it to Shonna, she reminded me this happens every year. It’s funny how I forget.
I’m still up at five each day and at my desk by six because this is my job, and I have obligations and daily deadlines. The best advice I ever give anyone who asks me about art-for-a-living is that you have to work when you don’t want to, just like everybody else.
But at the moment, each cartoon takes longer to draw because I’m easily distracted. I’ve got two paintings in progress, but I’m finding the work about as exciting as assembling IKEA furniture.
Though we plan to keep riding our bikes all winter, it’s far too icy right now and brutally cold, something we’re both genuinely pissed about. I’ve been forcing myself to get out and walk most days, finding any excuse to run an errand downtown. I’ll layer up and walk the 6 km round trip to Safeway for only a couple of items, just to get some exercise and light exposure.
On the way, there’s a long stretch of paved pathway beside the train tracks. It runs behind another grocery store, recycling drop-off, and Canadian Tire and several ravens hang out in the area, scavenging for scraps.
Ravens can get quite large here. They often seem comically arrogant with their vocalizations and antics. They bicker at each other, and me if I get too close, but they’re usually too lazy to fly away until the last minute. I’m likely projecting my own impressions upon them, but given the nature of my work, I do that with most animals.
But when a raven flops down on his back and rolls around in the snow, pausing several times to look right into my lens, it’s hard not to imagine it’s doing it for my benefit. I took quite a few shots of this clown before he (or she) finally got back on his feet.
So, despite my brooding melancholy and lack of enthusiasm, I’ve been taking my camera along on these forced marches. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve captured dozens of remarkable reference photos for future paintings, many more than the ones you see here.
Thanks to a recent photo tip technique on my friend David duChemin’s site, I’ve been using Auto-ISO, adjusting the EV Compensation as much as +2 and cranking the shutter speed to higher than I usually would. Though many of the photos came out lighter than expected, requiring Camera RAW correction in Photoshop, I was suddenly capturing amazing detail in the raven feathers and features. Some of the flying shots are so sharp I can paint from them.
While a professional photographer might deem them unworthy for prints or portfolio pieces, I use the photos strictly for reference, so any flaws don’t matter.
I’m currently working on a raven painting from shots I took two weeks ago. But I now have dozens of others I can paint from down the road.
Though I’m struggling to find my creative spark right now, I know it will return as spring gets closer, and my mood will improve with more sunlight and warmer weather. It always does. And should I want to paint more ravens then, I’ll be grateful I forced myself to get out now and that I took my camera with me, even though I didn’t feel like it.