It's the kind of day when the humidity hangs thick in the air, suspended between early-morning fog and a scorching midday sun just starting to burn its way into the soggy earth.
Not ideal conditions for a wildlife painter - too much glare, constantly changing patterns of light, gnats and sweat.
Still, Jason Tako tries to get outdoors to sketch for at least half an hour each day, so he takes things as they are. On this particular morning in the summer of 2004, he has driven a few miles up the road from his Dover Township home to sketch a wetland scene he first captured on paper in February. When the seasons change, so do his paintings. And Tako's not a big fan of summer.
"I like the subtle winter colors better," he says. "Greens have always been a challenge for me."
He flips open a portable seat, plunks down his camouflage backpack and pulls out his sketchbook, brushes and plastic watercolor set.
Sketching from life is the essence of what Tako, 32 at the time, does. Yes, some of the pencil and watercolor sketches might eventually be transformed into more polished oil paintings, but it's this solitary time out in nature, capturing the essence of an animal or a landscape, that makes his art what it is.
Sometimes a bug will die a messy death, mired in a mix of watercolors on his palette or paper. Sometimes the breeze will flip the page he's working on, smearing his work against another page in his sketchbook. There's heat, humidity, rain and mud.
Sometimes it frustrates him in the moment, but once Tako gets home and reflects on his work, it all becomes part of a fond memory. "You're smelling the smells, the bugs are biting you, you're feeling the heat, but that's when you're connecting with the subject the most," he says. "To me, it's all kind of part of the experience."
Working indoors, painting from memory or from a photo, he could use a hairdryer to hasten the drying of colors. He could go back and revise something he didn't get quite
right the first time. But sketching from life affords no such luxuries.
A bear isn't going to stand still until Tako is done sketching all its furry details. A bird won't pose for long just because it has caught someone's interest. Tako has to record what he sees, and he has to do it quickly.
"This really brings out who you are and what you're made of," he says. "If you're not made of anything, this will show you."
A native of rural Minnesota who moved to York County when he got married, Tako is still trying to establish himself in the local art community. But he hasn't rushed to sell his paintings just for the sake of making some money. "I wanted to take the time to really get good at it first," he says.
So he works part-time as a communications specialist for a church in Lancaster County and spends the rest of his time with his art. A few weeks ago, he started posting some of his raw sketches on his Web site in search of exposure and feedback.
"This is the stuff you generally don't see, but sometimes it can be the better stuff," he says. "It's just like sometimes the notes of an interview with someone famous might be more valuable than the edited article you write."
Bara Arens, one of Tako's instructors at Dakota County Technical College in Minnesota, said the simplicity of his sketches gives them a neat effect.
"I love them," she said. "( Jason) has always been the most serious artist that I've known. He would actually go out and do field studies before he came to school. He has always had a passion for art, and I'm sure we'll see very big things from him."
Out at the wildlife preserve, Tako surveys his surroundings and says, "I enjoy scenes like this immensely. They hit me emotionally in a way that they might not hit other people. Not everyone can come out here and capture this."