New Members

At the AGM of the Society Associate Members Nick Bibby, John Dobbs, Simon Griffiths, Richard Jarvis and Bill Prickett were elected on as full members.

Wynona Legg, Lisa Hooper and Louise Scammell were voted on as Associates. Congratulations to all the artists.

Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby

Cheetah by John Dobbs

Tawny Owl by Simon Griffiths

Redwings by Richard Jarvis

School of Rays by Bill Prickett

Phalaropes, Shetland by Lisa Hooper

Shag and Chicks by Wynona Legg

Compass Jellyfish Long Cove by Louise Scammell

Louise Pallister – Bursary Winner Report 2019

Winning a bursary from the SWLA to make an artists’ book was a massive boost to my practice and gave me the impetus to complete a project I had been struggling with. I had made a set of prints describing the pacing behaviour of a zoo tiger but lacked the skills to make a professional job of putting them together into a piece of book art. Through the bursary I was able to have one to one book-binding tuition and reach my goal to complete an edition of handmade artists’ books, finally realising a project that has been close to my heart for some time.

Whilst researching animals in motion I had become interested in the distinctive and disturbing behaviours often seen in zoos. The wildlife charity Born Free Foundation identifies pacing, swaying and head bobbing as ‘stereotypic’ behaviours, typical of stressed wild animals in captivity. With the support of the bursary I created an edition of ten artists’ books entitled ‘abnormal repetitive behaviour’ that show the pacing of a caged tiger. It was inspired by both the early animal locomotion photography of Edward Muybridge and Born Free Foundation videos of this behaviour in zoos.

The book reformats my drawings of a pacing tiger into a sequence of images printed using five photopolymer etching plates and then overprinted with dry point cage bars. Using the zig-zag format of a ‘leporello’, or concertina book, helps to show the movement of the tiger weaving in and out of the panels. A clear border below the images suggests an area outside of the cage. The completed work can be displayed in the round or horizontally across a shelf.

Receiving the bursary allowed me to work with experienced book-binder and teacher Ruth McCann to combine my individual prints into professional pieces of book art. With her help (and a LOT of measuring!) I learned the intricacies of accurate folding and joining to make both the images and plate edges match up accurately across five separate prints. I was then able to add embossed covers to protect it and help it stand for display. I did all of this fourteen times to make an edition of ten books, plus two handling copies, and then joined my last two books together to make a double-length version.
Being awarded an SWLA bursary has been really beneficial (even just telling people that news piques their interest). The personal tuition has given me not just the chance to learn and apply new skills to complete a personal project but also the confidence to make further book art in future.
Showing my finished artist book as part of The Natural Eye is the icing on the cake, connecting me with an audience interested in art and wildlife where I hope to meet like-minded artists and animal lovers.

Cathryn Kuhfeld – Bursary Winner 2019 Report

It all started with my paintings of one small wood mouse. Upon seeing these, someone asked me if I had any work of dormice – to which I said, I had never even seen a dormouse, let alone painted one. However, the idea piqued my interest and set me on the path to Wildwood, a local wildlife centre near my home in Kent. Wildwood has a hazel dormouse breeding programme, alongside their work with other small mammals and much else. The staff very kindly allowed me to visit and observe some of their dormice conservation work. I witnessed them settling down to hibernate in October last year. This involved them being checked over, weighed and having a teeth inspection. I met Snowball, a lovely male dormouse, who is unusual for having half a white tail. I did not see the dormice again for many months. They reappeared in late April, early May, because of the long, wet Spring this year. Once they did emerge they proved difficult to observe as dormice don’t get up early, plus they are reclusive and mostly nocturnal! My time with the dormice has therefore been limited. Without Suzanne at Wildwood I would not have managed to make the studies and drawings I have.

Both the dormouse and harvest mouse can seem ubiquitous – they are so frequently depicted in photographs, however the nature of photography means can be deceptive. I discovered the dormouse is that lovely golden colour of Demerara sugar and they fit perfectly into the palm of a hand, but I could not have been more surprised to discover how tiny the harvest mouse is! Barely half a finger long, and paler in colour than I expected. I have been able to work from the harvest mice and a pair of water shrew called Wilfred and Wanda. It has been fascinating and also really taxing from a practical point of view, making demanding work. The harvest mice, besides being very small, are endlessly on the move, darting and leaping about. The water shrews are pretty busy creatures too, but they did prove rather easier.

It takes continuous observation and sketching to get to know how animals move and behave. Unless you do this, they can lack credibility, I am learning a lot through the process and I feel I have only just begun to scratch the surface. I am still visiting Wildwood and still working there. There is much else to work from among the many small mammals – quite apart from the bird life, including a beautiful pair of ravens – which I find an exciting prospect. I am looking forward to carrying on and I am grateful for the Society of Wildlife Artists Bursary for spurring me on and aiding me with some very practical funds. 

Wynona Legg -Seabird Drawing Course 2019 Bursary Report

This year I had the enormous privilege of being awarded the Greg Poole Bursary by the Society of Wildlife Artists, enabling me to attend the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course. A gift like this is bittersweet in the wake of Greg’s recent passing but I feel a huge amount of honour and gratitude to have been able to share the week with so many of those who painted alongside him and to take time to celebrate the drawing locations he loved and toiled from on so many past trips. Reflecting on what this week brought to him and the experiences shared by others, brings to light just what an incredible and unique opportunity this is for so many artists at every step in their journey.

This time I was returning as someone who had experienced the beauty, breakthroughs and unintentional blank pages of Seabird Drawing Course once before – so in a lot of ways I had an idea of what to expect. But as with any creative journey, the road is always gloriously unpredictable, with moments of overwhelming joy in connecting with nature, deeply nourishing community/excruciating peer pressure and successes both envisioned and accidental!

Having had two years of personal highs, lows and obsessive field drawing since my last trip in 2017, I definitely felt ready to reconvene and refocus my intentions amid the uplifting energy of the week. On the first day, I realised immediately that feelings of overwhelm and pressure were NOT ‘a first timer thing’ but simply a by-product of the journey and experienced by everyone. Full immersion seemed to be the antidote to holding your own in a pool of very talented artists and locations so rich in wildlife that they presented some serious sensory overload!

The diversity in approach of this year’s tutors made for some lively drawing exercises and each day began with something to free up the hand and the mind. One particular favourite involved ten minutes or so of just sitting and taking it all in – and at St Abb’s there is A LOT to take in – the dizzying sound of braying guillemots, the zipping flight of razorbills, the musty heaviness of guano, the waves breaking below towers of lichen-smattered rock. The idea was to then condense thoughts into a few words which best describe observations and then to use these words to inform a drawing. I remember being drawn in my looking to the guillemots, who, in moments of disagreement would appear to be jousting. Scanning the colony, my eyes fell over orderly regiments of guillemots resting sleepy-eyed in neat formation and then, a few guillemots along, the lethargy broken by moments of tense antagonism where spear-heads outstretch like seabird bayonets to settle their scores. Exercises like this are incredibly valuable in the field where hours spent being absorbed in a subject focus can really zap creative energy and something as simple as switching approach can really inject something exciting into tired marks.

Witnessing the journeys of self-discovery happening amongst peers I found to be particularly inspiring both years and it is something that you cherish as someone who usually works in isolation. There is something very special about a group of artists sharing personal views about their practice and how they harness the challenges of working in the field.

I think guest tutor Nik Pollard got to the heart of the matter of drawing when he uttered to me in validation “it is important to be obsessed”.

Sandra Fernandez – Seabird Drawing Course 2019 Bursary Report

Acceptance on the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course was for me the official start on my journey from botanical illustrator to wildlife artist. I had started moving away from studio-based botanical still-life towards painting and drawing from life, my subjects being the common or garden birds living in the tranquility of the agricultural landscape of Kent. One of the attractions of the course was to go from these fairly sedate subjects to the raucous frenetic activity of large seabird colonies on Scotland’s rugged east coast! I would also be taught by and work alongside fellow artists with years of experience in the field whose advice and guidance would be invaluable in advancing my work further. In both respects the course lived up to all my expectations and more.

A very memorable day for me was drawing the birds on the rocky outcrops of St Abb’s Head, where the weather changed dramatically from slightly overcast to strong winds, pelting rain and thick mist, which slowly descended on us obliterating our view and in some cases our work. Strangely, this proved exhilarating as it forced me to stop worrying about my work and paint as quickly as I could to capture the changing light and atmosphere on the imposing rock face in front of me. The rock was set against an ever darkening sky speckled with the tiny white flashes of birds flying past seeking refuge. Normally I never mix my mediums, but the speed in which I needed to capture what I was seeing led me to combine my watercolours with pastels. A combination which I felt achieved the dramatic image I wanted to create and is something I will use in the future.

The drawing exercises we were given on the course opened my eyes to the limitations of my mark making and made me realise my need to develop this further to enrich my work. One exercise required us to draw with a continuous line looking at our subject but never at the paper. I was faced with a wall of nesting Kittiwakes at Dunbar harbour. The resulting sketch looked very strange but captured more of the feel of the scene with its different levels of nesting birds than my pages of single studies. Sketching like this from the start will help me to quickly establish a variety of compositions before getting too involved in the detail of a scene and is very useful as a warm up exercise before embarking on a sustained painting.

Students and tutors alike shared ideas, materials and tips on how to cope with painting birds in an ever-changing environment. Working alongside my fellow artists and seeing their unique approaches and use of different materials in their work was enlightening and encouraged me to try painting on site directly in brush with acrylics, in lieu of my usual pencil and watercolour approach. This pushed my work into a new direction and led me to be more expressive with my line and use of colour.

While some aspects worked, others did not, however the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course was created to push artists’ creative boundaries and, as with me, sow seeds of inspiration to cultivate long after the course had ended as I progress on this new artistic journey to draw birds in their natural environment.

Melanie Mascarenhas – Seabird Drawing Course 2019 Bursary winner report

I love observing birds in the wild, however I have limited experience of drawing them. Receiving the SWLA Seabird Drawing Bursary gave me the much-needed opportunity to change that, for which I am incredibly grateful.

Monoprints based on field sketches of insects and arachnids drawn in a suburban environment have been my main artistic focus. I knew, however, there was something missing from my approach. My work seemed to be inhabiting a very small, contained and comfortable world.

The John Busby Seabird Drawing Course was the perfect remedy – there is nothing small or contained about this experience.

The vast, noisy and dynamic seabird colonies within a vividly intense environment were breathtaking and an absolute joy to behold. Naturally this presented the dilemma of meeting the challenge of getting this down on paper. The various drawing exercises the tutors set us each day, which began with a period of just sitting, listening and getting a feel for the place, really helped.

The combined sound and continuous line drawing exercise were particularly useful when faced with drawing gannets on the incredible Bass Rock; an awesome if somewhat overwhelming sensory experience. It was a huge privilege to actually sit with the enormous colony and draw.

The exercises afforded me the freedom to fully explore my drawing and mark making. I learned to enjoy having a fistful of drawing materials and living through the movement from eye to arm to hand to paper, imprinting the experience as purposeful meaningful marks. It put me on a new, braver path to finding my artistic voice and begin creating my own visual language.

I would never have believed I would welcome pouring rain, buffeting winds and dense sea fog, but it was an incredibly liberating experience to enjoy the process more than the outcome. At one point I looked down to see more colour washed onto my waterproofs than was clinging to the paper and just chuckled.

There was a real sense of camaraderie facing the elements and challenges with a truly wonderful group of like-minded enthusiastic artists, which was incredibly uplifting. The tutors were all so informative, helpful and motivating. Everyone, students and tutors alike, were incredibly supportive and it was a relief to know that everyone, no matter how experienced, was also navigating their own personal struggles.

Seeing the work at the end of each day, with all the different interpretations, styles and approaches was instructive, invigorating and helped give rise to new ideas and possibilities. Seeing my work through other people’s eyes helped me to recognise what was working well and how to carry that forward to the following day. My biggest breakthrough came after being handed a block of graphite to draw razorbills. I’d never used graphite in this way before, but as I felt it glide across the paper, carving out shapes in a sculptural way, I finally felt I was starting to convey some of their character, energy and dynamism in a more exciting and meaningful way.

In many respects I have learned so much more than the results on paper can show. It was a challenging week in every sense, overwhelming at times with recurring feelings of anxiety and elation. But for me real progress can only be had with the added struggle. This unique opportunity has increased my passion for working outside and I know that what I have learnt will continue to manifest itself over the coming months and that this inspiring week has permanently changed the way I observe and respond to the natural world.