Emily Ingrey-Counter – bursary winner 2018

As an artist who regularly draws in the field I was so delighted to be accepted onto the seabird drawing course. My primary aim for the week was to learn from others who love to draw and spend time observing and recording the natural world. The seabird drawing week was challenging and intense, and pushed me in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. We met each day at 8.30/9am and then travelled to our destination for the day; Dunbar, St Abb’s or the harbour where we could meet the boat to take us to the islands of Fidra or Bass Rock. Each evening we met again at the hotel for dinner, which was followed by an informal chat, looking at each other’s work and planning out who was going where the following day, often finishing around 10pm.

One of the highlights for me was getting to know other artists within the group and sharing our experiences and our work at the end of each day. Naturally, I discovered that in the emotional highs and lows of a good/bad day, I was certainly not alone. Although the prospect of sharing our work each day with the whole group was quite daunting I actually found the feedback surprisingly encouraging.

Another highlight of the week was of course visiting the Bass Rock. The weather, winds and swells were in the right alignment for us this year as both groups were able to get access to the gannet colony for a whole day. A huge privilege. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and quite fantastic!
I felt like I’d landed on another planet, with 150,000 inhabitants tolerating our presence. Due to the wind there birds were constantly in flight around us hovering, landing and taking flight. We all drew with intensity and focus for about 7 hours. Amazing! The following day the swells were too strong to land on the island so we sketched from the boat for an hour – which was a great way to develop fast sketches, but challenging in terms of motion sickness!

St Abb’s Head was another location that was incredibly inspiring. Although I have drawn here before, this time I really wanted to capture the sheer and exposed cliff faces on which the birds nest and how small (but many) they are in such an immense landscape. The days we spent there were very windy creating large swells and crashing waves with thousands of guillemots on cliff edges, in flight and at sea.

The informal one to one tutor guidance throughout the week was really helpful. I was reminded of some key elements that had been creeping out of my drawings “Keep a breathing space in your picture”, “What excites you about your chosen subject matter? Keep this in mind throughout your drawing.” Also, “Keep your work fresh, try not to overwork your pictures” “Think about keeping the energy in your work”. Seeing examples of the tutors work and hearing about their practice and individual approach to working was also something I really enjoyed and would like to hear more of.

Through many discussions with the tutors and artists on the course I was encouraged to value what I do, something that’s easy to lose sight of.

I am really grateful to the SWLA for making this week possible. I hope the things I have learnt will continue to echo through my work.It was such a privilege to meet so many people on this unique journey of making art inspired by our natural world.

Adele Pound – bursary winner 2018

Receiving the bursary from SWLA enabled me to benefit from a unique and wonderful experience which I would not otherwise have had. The sites we were taken to were exceptional. In particular, the extraordinary privilege of spending a day on Bass Rock was an opportunity only to be had by attending this course. To be able to spend a week drawing alongside other artists, to share these experiences, exchange ideas and discuss each other’s work is also something very special about the seabird drawing course.

Gannets in flight. Sharpie pen on paper. Our second attempt to land on Bass was thwarted by the swell so we drew from the boat until seasickness forced us to retire.


Fieldwork has always been important in my work, but before the course I was aware I had become stuck and even that I had lost abilities that I once had. Fieldwork calls for a specific set of skills: accessing and identifying birds, the logistics of deciding what kit to take, use of optics, strategies to deal with weather conditions etc. These were beyond the scope of my conventional fine art education. As a result I had rarely met other artists who use fieldwork in their practice and had essentially invented this for myself, working largely in isolation since graduating with inevitable limitations in what I could achieve.

The course really opened my eyes to what is possible in the field. The tutors and the other participants demonstrated to me throughout how much more ambitious I might be. I saw materials used that I would never have imagined taking into the field. I discovered I was able to cope with weather conditions I would not have attempted to work in if left to my own devices. The supportiveness, warmth and enthusiasm of the group helped me to engage with and enjoy the challenges. Everyone was generous with their knowledge, their experience and their encouragement. I was surprised by what I was able to achieve by the end of the week and by how much my thinking about my drawing had changed.

Kittewakes at Dunbar harbour. Pencil on paper. A faded and tatty sheet but one I am proud of having created it laying on my stomach in the pouring rain. The leisure centre hand drier had to be deployed to save it!

The tutors were inspiring. Each brought different aspects and personalities to the course but their passion and enthusiasm was always apparent. It was obvious that their overiding concern was for everyone to get as much as possible from the week. Despite the large size of the group, they were sensitive to the struggles of each individual. Several times I received just the advice I needed to help me progress, whether it was to try a different approach or to persevere with a drawing I had given up on. There was genuine delight from both tutors and fellow students whenever someone had a breakthrough.

The organisation of the course was excellent both prior to the course and during the week. Everything was made very easy and straightforward and individual needs accommodated, allowing us to concentrate fully on our drawing.

Razorbills on a ledge. Willow and compressed charcoal. I struggled all week to put a bird on a rock so this was a breakthrough for me. A fellow student strolled by and said “Ilike your Rock”. I couldnt have been happier!

For me, meeting the other artists and tutors was invaluable. I have made new contacts and friendships and discovered for the first time a community of artists who understand and value the importance of working in the field. It was a privilege to work alongside so many lovely and talented people. The week has refreshed my practice and re-engaged me with drawing and looking. New possibilities for ways of working have opened up and I have been given insights into myself and my drawing. I feel excited again about my drawing and about exploring what I have learned. The experience will benefit me far into the future.

Guillemots, St Abbs. Flushed with success – more birds on more rocks! Including my first ever sighting of a bridled guillemot.


Liz Myhill – bursary winner 2018

The Seabird Drawing Course has been an incredible experience of total absorption into a subject and place. Its rare to have a period of being focussed solely on the simple daily rhythm of going out to draw, experiencing new places and sights and sharing it all with so many lovely people – all with a common goal and who were so open to discussing their thoughts, ideas and approaches.
Although I have enjoyed working outdoors for many years its only recently that wildlife and seabirds in particular have become a focus in my artwork. The biggest challenge during the week would be attempting to capture the essence of a moving, living creature in an interesting way and to understand its form and anatomy. And that’s not to mention being overwhelmed by some of the surroundings we were working in and the challenges they presented ….such as a very windy, gannet infested Bass Rock where one of my drawings blew into the colony and although thankfully retrieved came back full of peck holes!

Gannet sketchbook studies from the Bass Rock and circling the island by boat.

The week definitely wasn’t without its struggles as I grappled with trying to balance good draughtsmanship and accuracy of form with interesting mark-making. And the sheer feeling of being overwhelmed by wanting to try so much in such a short time. It felt really important also to try and take some time just to appreciate and absorb the feeling of place.

Throughout the week there were moments of both absolute exhaustion and total exhilaration but the best bit was there was always someone to share that with. Coming together every evening to relax and talk over everyone’s triumphs and challenges of the day was one of the best parts of the week…that and the shared experience of working together in some truly awe-inspiring surroundings. I can’t thank everyone enough for being such a lovely, fun group to spend time with.

Gull chicks enjoying the sunshine on Fidra, they spent most of the day within just a few feet of where I was sitting.

Each day brought fresh new discoveries and ideas. The tutors wide range of approaches led to a fantastic balance in the feedback about work and different chats we had, each coming from a slightly different angle. They were all so generous, knowledgable and full of enthusiasm. Some of the chats in particular and the various drawing exercises we undertook really resonated and pushed me to try new ways of working. By the end of the week I think everyone felt they had achieved some kind of breakthrough at one point or another, I certainly had several moments of sudden clarity about my practice.

Guillemot covered stacks and swirling birds at St Abbs

The week itself was amazing, stunning locations, great company, new challenges, but what I like best is the fact it doesn’t stop at the end of the week…there are new things I’ve learnt, things I want to try and a whole new group of like-minded people who I’m sure I’ll be in touch with for many years to come. All in all it was just so much fun!

Lorna Hamilton – bursary winner 2018

John Busby in Drawing Birds, 2014, said ‘To copy from nature without resolving our own thoughts is a barren process’. I copied from nature for many years and when I applied for the John Busby bursary, I had stopped painting altogether and had pretty much given up on my art. I knew the barrenness John had spoken off and it was not a nice place to be. I was desperately looking for an answer because nature and art were something I had once loved.

I came to the course expectant to receive the answer I needed and I was not disappointed. I was greeted with a warm, friendly atmosphere and a group of tutors and students willing to share, encourage and inspire. I couldn’t help but be affected by the infectious enthusiasm and passion for wildlife and painting outdoors. This sparked in me a new desire to draw and paint nature, not solely focusing on a finished painting but learning to enjoy and embrace the process of seeing, understanding and mark making. I feel I have still much to learn but the course has helped me see that this process is full of rich experiences with much value and rewards.
One of the most special things about the course was drawing as a large group of artists for an extended period of time. I don’t think I could have grasped the importance of field drawing on my own however this week has taught me stamina and determination and has shown me the importance of sitting in gales, rain or sunshine so that I can bring a fullness of experience and knowledge to the page. During this week I have learned to love drawing in the open air but more than that I know it is the way forward to engage with my art again.
The process of learning to see was also a revelation to me. Although I’ve painted for over 20 years, being in the field presented me with challenges and difficulties that working from photographs in a comfortable studio did not. One of my most valuable lessons was the practical task of trying to capture form using cool and warm tones. This really challenged my seeing, thinking and indeed my relationship with colour and mark making. I know it will be something I will continue to wrestle with in my practice for many years to come. It also helped me recognise the need to better understand the anatomy of birds hence I plan to do further study and develop my understanding and knowledge in this area.
The amazing thing about this course was that I started having totally lost my way in my art but left with enthusiasm, motivation, excitement, a longing to learn more and a burning desire to work in the open air. It has given me direction and purpose and for that I am so grateful. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the wonderful legacy of John Busby!


Helen Kennedy – bursary winner 2018

  Over the past few years I have become more and more fascinated by the wildlife around my city home. The songbirds I watch from the window inevitably made their way into my artwork. A conversation with the lovely Kittie Jones at Edinburgh Printmakers led me to apply for the John Busby Seabird drawing course. Finding out that I had won the bursary on a dreich January morning was a moment of real happiness and excitement.

I had come to the course with little seabird knowledge but great enthusiasm to learn. Both the tutors and my fellow course members were generous, not only with their extensive knowledge but also with lifts to the various locations we were to draw in. Equipment was freely shared. Never having used binoculars or scopes whilst drawing before this was particularly useful. I was able to draw on the wealth of experience around me. It was interesting to see the different approaches and working methods. What to take on long days field sketching. How to work comfortably and efficiently in a range of weather conditions. Once we had reached our location one of the four tutors would give a short talk. Ranging from bird anatomy to colour theory these were always appreciated and often gave me a new way of thinking and working. The evening meal at the end of the day was a good time to share experiences, highs and lows. Seeing other people’s work was a joy.

When I began the week I knew I wanted to understand more about seabirds. I hadn’t anticipated how entranced I would be.The grace of the Kittiwakes at Dunbar harbour, the charm of the Guillemots and Razorbills at St Abbs, the challenge of the Gulls on Fidra. I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity to draw the Gannets on Bass Rock, the most visceral, astounding and beautiful place.

I have never looked so intently or for so long at birds before. It was at times difficult and demanding. The brilliant tutors were always there with energy and enthusiasm and not a little kindness and patience. I enjoyed getting to know the other people on the course. I could not have asked to share the experience with a more lovely group of people. I benefited greatly from their support and expertise.

Coming away I felt a bit dazed. The week had been very intense. Looking through the work I produced I have a great sense of being at the beginning, so much to explore and learn. It is an uplifting thought.


Requirements to be met by bursary winners

(these requirements are being reviewed/edited 11/10/18- lacks info. about digital submissions and return of unframed artwork) Requirements to be met by bursary winners The bursary…