Category Archives: seabird drawing bursary

Becky Thorley-Fox – Seabird Drawing Course bursary winner 2015

I love to spend as much time as possible outdoors, it is here I find endless sources of inspiration in both the landscape and wildlife. Over the last year or so I have tried to regularly draw birds from life in an attempt to learn to capture them as we see them and move away from the need to take photos. There seems to be no going back with this kind of pursuit, watching wildlife is captivating and I would love that ability to capture these moments in paint with life and energy.
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I completed my second artist residency at RSPB reserve Ynys Hir this year where I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in a diverse range of habitats along the Dyfi estuary observing wildlife patterns and behaviour.
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I was very grateful to receive the 2015 SWLA bursary for the John Busby Seabird Drawing course based in East Lothian, Scotland. I had joined the course for a few days the previous year and had been so inspired by the enthusiasm of the group and the sheer intensity of the experience. I had never before witnessed seabird colonies on such a scale. The experience offered the opportunity to freely explore drawing from life with the encouragement and support of a dynamic group of artists and a seemingly endless supply of birds!
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This year the week was led by four tutors, Greg Poole, Kitti Jones, Darren Woodhead and John Threlfall. Their support, guidance and tuition throughout the week helped us explore and experiment outside of our comfort zones, challenging our perception and understanding of the moving form. There were evening talks and demonstrations which set the wheels in motion for learning as the week progressed- these were hugely inspiring. The tutors led discussions on form, anatomy, movement, flight, balance, composition, colour, studio development and more. In the mornings we were trying out drawing exercises that revealed our weakest points and offered effective approaches to drawing and ‘feeling form’. We did blind drawings, memory drawings, two pencils taped together exercises and other mark making exercises to develop the way we see, feel and interpret our subject.11722162_918820588163802_7301989760915224016_o

It was the first time I’d visited Fidra Island on the Monday. John Steel led us to the best spot for watching Puffins as they came in from the sea, beaks fully loaded, before disappearing into their burrows. This was an exciting moment seeing my first puffin! The Gulls moved through the foliage guarding chicks, a set of eyes and beak ready to attack, we had to move slowly to avoid a noisy onslaught of dive bombings. There was a huge Shag colony set amongst amazing rock formations at the edge of the island, many of us set up here with sketch pads and optics to study these charismatic fuzzy looking young families. I watched a tug of war, two against one, the single Shag triumphed and carefully placed the length of nesting material behind it. The young shags often appeared to be tidying up and arranging their nests, it was very impressive.
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We spent a very hot day at Bass Rock, this year thousands of Gannets were up in the air and the ground nesting Gannets had their heads stretched upwards, panting in the heat, I pitied the fluffier Gannet chicks that lay flopped outside the nests. St Abbs was equally spectacular, most of us spent three days here watching large numbers of Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and even a family of Stoats were spotted, bounding across cliffs faces, defying gravity.
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The Seabird drawing course has been a huge inspiration- an experience that stays with you. A big thank you to SWLA and everybody on the course!

Lara Scouller – Seabird Drawing Course bursary winner 2015

Lara was one of 3 bursary winners in 2015 and has sent an account of the experience.

The two driving passions in my art are nature and drawing. I currently work in the medium of pastels, creating drawings inspired by zoological collections from museums in the UK and across Europe.
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I am grateful that the SWLA bursary provided me with the opportunity to participate in the seabird drawing course. The week of activities entailed field drawing at specific seabird colonies, drawing exercises lead by acclaimed artists Greg Poole, John Threlfall and Darren Woodhead who all provided excellent guidance and inspiration.
reDSCF0645Participating in the course allowed me to try new approaches, develop a new body of work and make connections with people working in similar areas. Since the course I have been enjoying exploring the east coast of fife, looking for new inspiration. I have become more attuned to my surroundings and the birds that inhabit it. I will be taking up an artist in residence on the Island of Shetland next year with the intention of drawing the large puffin colony.

The Seabird Drawing Course programme focussed on field drawing at specific bird colonies in North Berwick and the Firth of Forth, Scotland.
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During the course it took me a little while to settle into this new way of field sketching that required looking at bird colonies through binoculars and a telescope, proving difficult at first as it involved a lot of patience and concentration. The image through the telescope revealed subtle nuances of each bird whereby the pattern and colour were much clearer to me than any museum display had been able to offer before.
This new approach to drawing proved both a challenging and inspirational endeavour. It highlighted many strengths and weaknesses in my ability as a draughtsman, reigniting my passion for nature and working outdoors.
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There was a provocative tension between drawing an accurate depiction of a bird specimen and producing something more expressive. It highlighted for me that field drawing is an important skill to have and a good foundation to build on.
After completing the course, I returned to my comfort zone of working from museum collections and I realised the limitations of this type of approach. Whilst the museum environment has enabled me to develop my style within a safe and relatively controlled environment, it lacks the element of spontaneity. Therefore, the fleeting moments and sense of urgency to work quickly are imagined rather than experienced.
The seabird drawing course proved an invaluable opportunity to work alongside other artists who share a similar passion for drawing birds and facilitated further sharing of ideas and techniques.
The Bass Rock, Fidra and St.Abbs Head each offered something different in their unique characteristics both in terms of the topology of the landscape and bird colonies that reside there. After many weeks, I am still dreaming of the islands and their birds.

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The drawing course has equipped me with the confidence and necessary tools to further pursue this way of working. I am currently researching other locations in Scotland where I will visit and continue to tackle this elusive and challenging subject matter.
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See more of Lara’s work on  http://www.larascouller.com/