Amongst the Gannet colony on the Bass Rock. Getting some advice from a tutor.  © Adele Pound
Amongst the Gannet colony on the Bass Rock. Getting some advice from a tutor. © Adele Pound

Seabird Drawing Week bursary

  Group warm-up exercises at St Abb's Head to start the day
Group warm-up exercises at St Abb's Head to start the day

The John Busby Seabird Drawing Week 2024

A field sketching and painting week based in East Lothian, dedicated to the memory of John Busby, David Measures and Greg Poole. Led by Darren Woodhead and Nik Pollard, in 2229 June 2024, based at Winterfield Golf Club, Dunbar.

The full cost of the course, including evening meals and packed lunches, will be £415.

The John Busby Seabird Drawing Week has been running for over 30 years and is an opportunity for enthusiasts with experience of field sketching to gather for a week of drawing and painting among the many seabird sites in the area: Bass Rock, Fidra, Dunbar, St Abbs Head, Tyninghame, Aberlady Bay. Artists can opt to do their own thing or join others on visits to seabird sites. Darren Woodhead, Nik Pollard and another SWLA artist (TBC) will guide students through a number of different ways to approach drawing wildlife in the field based on their own experience and artistic practice. This is a fantastic opportunity to work alongside a group of both new and established artists with the shared aim of creating exciting, diverse and innovative artwork. Each year sees students bond over the triumphs and struggles of working with moving subject matter in all weathers, forming friendships and working relationships which continue well beyond the parameters of the course. 

The SWLA offers between three and five bursaries for places on the John Busby Seabird Drawing Week each year. Applications are now open, the deadline is 12th February 2024.

You can also apply independently for the course — the deadline for this is 12th February 2024. Please email seabird.​drawing@​gmail.​com and you will be sent a link to the application form. 

  Students drawing at Seacliff beach  © Kittie Jones
Students drawing at Seacliff beach © Kittie Jones

We aim to make visits to a couple of islands whenever possible — this usually means the Bass Rock or Fidra. Payment for boat trips is separate from the week’s fee. Weather, tides & poor sea conditions can mean that an island trip is not always possible.

Our most frequent destination is the dramatic clifftops at St Abbs Head. This is a thrilling location, alive with seabird colonies as well as being a visually spectacular landscape.

We usually start the field drawing days with warm-up exercises and we ask that everyone shares their work in the evenings (even if it has been a hard day). A really important part of the ethos of the course is one of a shared experience.

Although seabirds are a central theme we have had many artists focussing on the wider landscape, the flora, the sea, the rocks, the butterflies etc. It is perhaps best described as an intensive drawing week with seabirds at its centre.

  Wynona Legg with her work at the end of course exhibition in Winterfield Golf Course.  © Sally Muir
Wynona Legg with her work at the end of course exhibition in Winterfield Golf Course. © Sally Muir

The week’s headquarters’ is the Winterfield golf club – we meet each evening here for a review of the day and to have dinner as a group. This is also where any evening teaching activities take place.

Most participants stay at the Belhaven Bay campsite which offers a range of accommodation options. B&Bs and hotels in Dunbar would also be an easy option. We ask that everyone with a vehicle shares transport if possible.

Founder Member John Busby set up the Seabird Drawing Week over thirty years ago and although many SWLA members have participated, it is an independent course and open to all. 

What the bursary provides

The current bursary is £550 per person and it is divided as follows:

  • The full course fee of £415 paid directly to the course.
  • The remaining £135 will be paid to the applicant shortly before the course. This money can either be used to cover the cost of any boat trips taken (£30/​trip, ranging from none to 3 or 4) or towards the cost of accommodation.

There is inevitably an element of selection to who is accepted for the course because of limited places. We try to keep the course diverse in all ways. This includes allocating places for relative beginners as well as for seasoned professionals.

All applicants for the course are selected based on various criteria, including the quality of their artwork. You do not have to have had prior bird field drawing experience, but we are keen to have a range of styles and approaches. We encourage people to share their experience during the course. The week is not suitable for complete beginners, but we are open to applicants with a wide range of artistic practice. The criteria we will be considering include:

• quality of current work

• potential benefits of your attendance, eg in your professional artistic practice

• the balance of applicants in the group – a mixed range of people is good

To apply for the SWLA Seabird Drawing Course Bursary please email seabird.​drawing@​gmail.​com with your artist’s statement, cv and up to 8 images of your work which you have drawn from life. Open to over 18s only. Please ensure you label your application as SWLA Bursary.