Tora painting razorbills at St Abbs Head
To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the SWLA and seabird drawing course until last summer & the Turkish Sweetgum Project (2016) . Meeting with the four great artists who are already members of SWLA changed all my perspective on the wildlife art. With advice from them, I searched and worked a lot to apply for the seabird drawing course. It was a great moment when I received the acceptance mail from the SWLA. I was very excited because the dream to see thousands of seabird was gonna be true in a couple of months.
Gannet studies from Bass Rock using wax crayon. It was too hard to work so close to the birds. I tried to focus on the lines in bill and eye.
The week we spent on amazing Scottish coasts was incredible. Being with dedicated artists and sharing their experiences taaught me a lot in just a couple days. It pulled me up day to day. I always tried to sue different techniques and ways to express my observations. The results can be discussed but it is clear that the week was more effective than all a year that I spent alone. In addition to the artistic side, the birds were unbelievable for me. It was the first time that I saw these species and in those numbers. I can still feel every second of my time I spent with these birds.
Razorbill studies using charcoal. It was very enjoyable experience for me to use charcoal because normally, I hate to use charcoal. But since that drawing, I am using charcoal very oftenly.
Each of the tutors and artists were incredible. I didn’t expect to be in such a welcoming atmosphere. To see their their great interests and hospitality kept me motivated for all week. When I looked back and see the differences between before and after the course, I can say that I feel myself more controlled to understand what I draw and I am not bored anymore when I draw something for hours. Also I am more confident to use my watercolor palette freely and I am not seeing an object to draw when I look a bird. I am looking for its behaviour and try to understand it’s moves.
Razorbill studies using pencil. With suggestion of coursemate Ben Woodhams, I was trying to draw Razorbills just in 5 lines. There are dozens of pages that I tried this way. It was teachful to understand its behaviours and moves.
Herring gull studies using wax crayon. I tried to use the same 5 lines technique with colours.
Besides all, I feel myself very happy to catch a chance to be with these great people in the great places. Thank you very much all the support you gave me to live this unforgettable experience.
Fulmar studies using pencil. I was trying to understand the bill shape. It took me all day to see real shape.
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.
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!
Standing on Bass Rock, looking up into a dark, ominous sky trying to take in the spectacle of thousands of Gannets reeling and swirling in the wind. The constantly changing shapes, sharp and angular, soft and rounded, delicate tones. To try and fix an image in your minds eye and transfer it to paper. To capture the foreshortening of a wing, the form of a beak in a moment.
David sketching gannets on the Bass Rock
I never dreamed that I would get a bursary, especially SWLA and Seabird Drawing Course. And to my great surprise and happiness I actually won it along with two other artists for 2016! Continue reading
When I found out about the seabird drawing course through the Mall gallery website, I knew it was right up my street. I applied for the bursary and was very excited when I was told I had been awarded it.
I always wanted to go onto Bass rock ( I had taken the boat around quite a few times but not been on it ) and I hardly slept the night before. Nothing can prepare you for Bass rock and its 170,000 gannets. It was their world, you were entering it and it blew my mind away. As soon as you arrive the smell and noise hit you – it was like all my senses were overtaken by gannet and I even fell asleep that night hearing them in my bedroom. It’s an experience I will never forget. I also enjoyed watching the birds flying alongside the boat we were on and watch how they moved in the air.
We visited other areas including St. Abbs head ( at the Scottish borders ) which has such a dramatic landscape shaped by volcanic activity. There were guillimots everywhere there.
Sketching birds from life reaffirms and reminds me how much we can learn about them. Every birdwatcher should try this as they would be pleasantly surprised by how much more insight they gain. As a birdwatcher you think you know the bird until you try and draw it.
It was such a great week with friendly, like-minded people. It was good to work alongside other accomplished artists and tutors who were there to give advice on artwork and their work practice. It made me feel more confident on what I was doing and after the course I felt an urge to create more work outside the studio. I have also made some good contacts and friends.
It’s been a very positive experience and something I would love to do again.