• Published on Wednesday, 18 January 2023
  • | Announcements

Norman Arlott 1947–2022

The SWLA is saddened by the announcement of the death of former member Norman Arlott, who passed away on 30 December 2022.

Norman Arlott was one of Britain’s foremost and prolific bird artist and illustrators. He was elected to the Society of Wildlife Artists in 1980 and was an exhibiting member until 2009.

Born in Reading in November 1947, Norman grew up in the Berkshire town and was originally mentored by the late Robert Gillmor, founder of the SWLA. In a recent interview with Bird​watch​ing​dai​ly​.com Norman explained:

I originally trained as a mechanical engineer, then in the 70s I jumped ship’ to take up my real love as a wildlife artist, concentrating mainly on birds, with much encouragement from my wife Marie and a great deal of help and inspiration from well-known bird artist Robert Gillmor, bird photographer Eric Hosking, and the great East African ornithologist John Williams. Although I had no intention of working on book illustrations, I got caught up in it and really liked it, and I have enjoyed it ever since.”

Norman soon began to establish a reputation for his stunningly accurate bird illustrations, and especially field guide plates. His first major works was A Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa with John Williams, published in 1980. Many other guides followed, including Rare Birds of the World: A Collins/​ICBP Handbook Birds (1989), Birds of Southern Africa: The SASOL Plates Collection with Peter Hayman and Warwick Tarboton (1995) and the much-celebrated Complete Guide to British Wildlife.

More recently, Norman concentrated his efforts on the Collins Field Guide series, with several books published covering various parts of the world, including North America, the West Indies, India, South-East Asia and the Philippines. This led to the compilation of the extraordinary Collins Birds of the World, for which Norman designed and painted more than half the birds himself – all in the correct proportion to each other on every plate.

It was following the last of field guides that I was asked to consider putting together a complete coloured checklist to the birds of the world using the vast HarperCollins artwork archive. There were a few areas that Harper Collins did not have suitable artwork, such as Australia, New Guinea, and some small island groups, so I painted all of these in readiness for putting together the Birds of the World plates.

I decided that to even start this project, a standard list’ was needed. It was decided that the IOC Bird Checklist as of January 2019 was the one I would rigidly follow. Using mainly mine and Ber Van Perlo’s artwork, I promised HarperCollins that I was able to put together the 301 plates and hopefully make a really satisfying (to look at) book, even though some of the plates may contain a great number of species.

Although told by many that I was an idiot to take on such a project, I admit at times I had to agree! Overall, I genuinely enjoyed the experience of working electronically to produce plates and hopefully I fulfilled the promise I made to the publisher to produce an attractive and practical book to the birds of the world.”

Myles Archibald, Publishing Director at Harper Collins adds: Only one person would have been able to complete such a herculean task with such skill and good humour.

The ornithological world has lost a great talent and Norfolk has lost a great golfer.”