Receiving the news that I had won a bursary with the SWLA, I was so incredibly over the moon. The news was especially welcome having had to turn down a place on the seabird drawing course the previous year because I could simply not afford to go. Receiving a bursary was fuel to keep me focused and I was so ready to fully embrace it.
I am not new to drawing birds but I am very much someone who has put my artistic career on the backburner to make room for other focuses. My recent years have been spent working within nature conservation in warden roles at some pretty special reserves around the UK. I have been privileged to have had close encounters with many breeding birds and would take the opportunity where I could to make sketches in the field between periods of intense monitoring. But I had gotten rusty and felt that I was not yet where I wanted to be in my artistic career. I wasn’t new to the concept of drawing moving subjects or working in the elements and I was ready to get stuck into a focused week of drawing. I was perhaps more than a little naïve in thinking that it would be easy…
Guillemot studies using chinagraph lead, wax crayon and graphite.
This week has pulled me in every direction a person can be pulled! At times, I felt as brittle as the charcoal I was holding in my hand! To have eyes cast over your progress each day was originally a daunting prospect but it was incredibly motivating to have people notice things in your work that you have missed and will you to try new things to lift your work. There were overwhelming moments amongst all the mini revelations where it felt like I had forgotten how to draw! I think to be fully committed to this week you have to be someone who is okay with baring your soul and I definitely did that! I came here to push myself as an artist and I think in order to fully embrace something as unique as this, there is an element of stripping everything back and forgetting momentarily what you already know.
Similarly, I have become very used to being by myself when I am sketching. Coming into a group of other working artists suddenly felt like a lot of pressure. At first it took all my focus not to compare my work to others’. As the week moved forward, this feeling fell away. Being surrounded by other artists working was exciting. Watching other ways of working taught me so much about myself and the way I work.
Razorbill studies using chinagraph lead. Fellow coursemate Andy lent me some lead of a black chinagraph marker to try. The buttery soft wax left some really interesting marks on the smooth cartridge paper and I ended up filling several pages of my sketchbook that day using that tiny length of lead. Laying it flat and pushing it around the paper I could sculpt out the shapes that the razorbills made as they jostled on their ledges. Pressing harder on the tip of the flat lead left a sharper outline that mimicked the stark contrast of the rock and the razorbills ink black plumage. Switching to use the point of the lead allowed a more delicate line for the bright white chest or the detail on the face. For me this was the perfect example of how the introduction of a new and unfamiliar tool can revive perspective or help to grasp a particular technique.
Watching the way others choose their palette, hold their brush or push their pencil around the paper. We were all sitting within the same landscape observing the same subjects but the marks on our pages were often unrecognisably different. It was so refreshing to me.
Kittiwake study using graphite and charcoal over blocks of soft pastel.
The tutors were incredible all week. The investment they gave to each person in turn was inspiring. To see their happiness as people made realisations and revelations in their work throughout the week was in itself a motivation to keep growing. The guidance given by working artists was so invaluable and isn’t something I have ever been lucky enough to get before now.
Coming away from this week I have learnt to embrace the struggles of drawing in the field. To be able to step back and change something about how you are working is an important thing to remember when things aren’t going right. I have learnt to be unafraid of using different mediums to express texture, energy or light. I have always loved the simplicity of line and can get too focussed on continuity but adding something different or changing the way you use your tools can introduce something unexpected. The thing that gives me the biggest smile is the connections I have made from being around other artists working in the field. It has been heartening to be carried along on tough days by the positive words of others.
More razorbill studies with chinagraph lead to explore shape and movement in flight.
Another great week long drawing course on the Firth of Forth. Our joint exercises getting more and more challenging with guest tutor Kim Atkinson inviting us to use sound drawing (clamour of kittiwake and gargle of guillemots in sound foreground) as a way of explore our toolboxes. What might make an equivalent for each sound we could identify.
Kim Atkinson setting up the sound drawing exercise above the cliffs at St Abbs
Darren Woodhead got us all working with clay on the cliff tops on day 5 to feel out in 3D the forms we’d been exploring in 2. The shared activities right there next to the seabirds, sharing the same drizzle, a potent recipe.
On wednesday, day 4 we had a very brief landing on the Bass, only one hour, but the quantity and quality of work was outstanding. The time pressure seeming to force everyone into bolder, more vigorous drawing.
So gathered back on the cliffs of St Abbs we did timed drawing, a bit like a short pose session at a life drawing class. Crazy that we’d never thought to do it before. Ben Woodhams sheet below seems almost superhuman…he had to find and draw the kittiwakes…first in 2 x 2 minute slots, then 2 x 1 minutes and finally 8 x 30 second drawings.
Timed kittiwake drawings by Ben Woodhams on the 2017 John Busby seabird drawing course
30 second timed guillemot drawings by SWLA bursary winner Wynona Legg
2 & 1 minute timed guillemot drawings by SWLA bursary winner Wynona Legg
SWLA bursary winner Wynona Legg’s drawings are equally impressive… Fantastic to see her development during the week.
This is only a small part of what the course is about and maybe invidious to pick out individual work but the phenomenon of the discipline of quick timed sketches seemed worth sharing asap.
I think John Busby and David Measures would be very happy looking down on the evolution of the course.
The world famous British Bird Watching Fair attracts over 20,000 visitors over the three day event and the Society of Wildlife Artists is proud to be part of the experience. The impressive Art Marquee offers visitors the chance to buy art and talk to the artists themselves and the large SWLA stand is a key part of the display showing a wide range of work from member artists using wildlife, not just birds, as the theme.
Birdfair – 18th – 20th August Egleton, Rutland
18th – 20th August Egleton, Rutland
The exciting new book ‘Flight Lines’, celebrating the BTO/SWLA Flight Lines project, which brought together SWLA member artists, BTO researchers and volunteers to document migrant birds and those who study them will be launched at the Fair. This unique collaboration has produced some stunning art, supported by an authoritative and accessible narrative written by the BTO’s Mike Toms.
The SWLA holds the hugely popular Original A5 Artwork Draw on Friday and Saturday. Each ticket holder is guaranteed a piece of original art by a member artist and the money raised helps the Society to continue to offer bursaries to young and emerging artists.
This year the artists on the stand include Harriet Mead, Darren Rees, Esther Tyson, Nick Derry, Brin Edwards and Richard Jarvis. Other SWLA artists with stands in the marquee include Carry Akroyd, Nik Pollard, Chris Rose, John Threlfall, Mike Warren and Darren Woodhead.
The Mall Galleries have updated their website with information on dates and how to submit to The Natural Eye – SWLA Exhibition 2017
Submissions are invited to the Society of Wildlife Artists 54th Annual Exhibition 2017 at Mall Galleries. How to Submit ALL work must be submitted online.
Application for this years seabird drawing bursaries closes at the end of next week (7th October). If you are a keen field sketcher why not apply?
About the bursaries
2016 course blogs
Or if you would like to attend the course as a paying student, please contact Mark Boyd, details below.
Enjoy a week long field based drawing & painting course. Learn alongside our team of experienced tutors Darren Woodhead, Greg Poole, Kittie Jones and guest tutor Kim Atkinson. Be inspired by the energetic frenzy of the seabird colonies around the Firth of Forth at the height of the breeding season. We welcome enthusiastic sketchers of all levels.more details from – firstname.lastname@example.org – 01767 650904
The week was amazing in so many ways. Being based in beautiful Perthshire and drawing alongside such knowledgeable tutors, carried along by the enthusiasm of fellow students and course mates, as well as the locations we drew at (Bass Rock), made the course an incredibly inspiring experience and one I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to go on.
I really valued the time we had to observe the different species of sea birds, learning to capture their constant movement, watching them in ﬂight and their behaviour. The trip to Bass rock was especially remarkable, one I’ll never forget. Though a challenging environment to draw in, being
under a wheeling sky of thousands of Gannets was truly spectacular.
Working from life, being in the movement of the day, whatever the weather, gives rare insight. These encounters are a pleasure to try and capture through drawing.
The informal ‘crits’ when everyone shared their day’s drawing, meant each persons work was appreciated and learnt from. I always ﬁnd it interesting to see the different ways artists depict similar things, and their varied interpretation of the same subjects.
No day stands out being a particular highlight…the whole week was awesome!! The most valuable aspect for me was the tutors. Being under the tutelage of such talented and experienced artists, not only receiving advice and ideas, but being able to work alongside them was an amazing privilege. Their enthusiasm and passion for their subjects and the natural world was inspiring to see…it enabled me to see new potential in the direction of my work, and strengthened in me the desire and importance of drawing from life.
For me as an artist, the course was inﬂuential as it gave me conﬁdence to try new skills, particularly watercolour. Since then I have continued to experiment with this medium, introducing more colour into my work. This new way of working has brought enjoyment back into working in the ﬁeld.
Overall, the course was a wonderful experience, something I would love to do again and encourage others to do as well. It has breathed life back into my drawing.
Thanks to everyone who was involved!