Monday 19 November 2012

S W L A and the Langford Fieldsketch Award

turnstone at Evie Sands - fieldsketch
The Society of Wildlife Artists Annual Exhibition;  the premier exhibition of wildlife art in Britain – possibly the world.  The Society’s inaugural exhibition was held in London and opened by James Fisher in August 1964.  I first exhibited with the SWLA in 1986 and, finally this year, have been elected a full member.  They say that good things come to those that wait . . . 
pintails and wigeon - fieldsketch
. . . and this year I was astonished but incredibly delighted to receive the inaugural ‘Langford Field Sketch Award’.  The Award is given to “an artist who shows a fundamental understanding of the subject through their work in the field . . . for a body of work that captures the essence of the subject which has been drawn from life”.
I always joke that Autumn lasts about three hours in Orkney; the first serious blast of breeze strips any trees and shrubs of their leaves and deposits them somewhere due east of Scandinavia, yet this year we have enjoyed beautiful proper autumn days, typified by invasions of warblers – many goldcrests from the near continent and the exquisite yellow-browed from Siberia.  I spent a few sessions with these birds.
yellow-browed warbler in sycamore
British butterflies
It was also a pleasant diversion to be asked to make a small painting for a couple I know.  Butterflies occasionally feature in my work, but often they are overlooked in favour of the birds – but this was a piece I was keen to do.  As with most of my paintings, I spent a wee bit of time sketching before committing to the finished article and I was lucky to have several pages of butterfly sketches from my trip to Sark with the Artists for Nature Foundation last year.  Some of the quick watercolour sketches had a nice sense of vitality to them and I tried to keep some of that in the finished painting.
painted lady, red admiral and buddleia
waxwing - fieldsketch
waxwing - fieldsketch
I have a favourite bird – it’s the one I am looking at in any given moment.  But, to narrow that field down a little, it is the arctic skua.  Well, it is when they’re here, at any rate.  And when they’ve left for the Southern Hemisphere, I can look forward to greeting my other favourite birds – waxwings!  These little northern birds bring a splash of colour at the time of the year it is most needed.  Their sleek and beautiful plumage resonates against the dank and grey late autumn light; gem-like.  Nothing lifts the soul like seeing waxwings, and hearing their Christmas jingle-bell calls.  This autumn waxwings have arrived in their hundreds and I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying these delightful birds – and drawing them.  
 waxwing - fieldsketch

waxwing - fieldsketch

waxwing - fieldsketch

waxwing - fieldsketch

Friday 26 October 2012

Last Few Days of Maine Show

Just a few days left of my exhibition in Maine, US - all work now with big discount.  Please follow the link below;

Monday 22 October 2012

Inside-Out, Outside-In

female blackcap, watercolour
Three-quarters of the year past already!  2012 was the year I was going to spend every available moment in the field working on plein-air landscapes and fieldwork.  As it turned out, I could count the number of dedicated days in the field on two hands but, although I enjoyed every second of those rare days, the rest of the time has been spent in the studio and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Dunter Family, watercolour (from the private collection of Mr. Ysbrand Brouwers)
For years I’ve struggled to make the artistic connection with working in the field and the paintings produced in the studio.  Field drawings will always contain certain vivacity simply as a product of its inception and, almost diametrically opposed, studio work (given the generally less hectic timeframes and occasionally more comfortable environment) may have more of a ‘settled’ feel to it.  Of course there are many examples of mad, frenetic studio work . . . I’ve been there.
Fulmar Pair Fly-by, charcoal
Walk The Line, watercolour
I suppose the main thing is to not see the one as the more valid –whatever we do as artists ought to have a vein of truth trickling through it.  So recently I’ve tried to enjoy the fieldwork for the chance it gives me to get close to the subjects – whatever they may be, and not to worry too much at the time about what comes next.  This apparent lack of connectivity between what I’m thinking in the field and what may happen in the studio has become quite liberating and curiously, I’m finding that pure experiences of being in the field are manifesting themselves into paintings and drawings much less self-consciously.  (Of course, these kinds of self-analytical explorations should always be dosed with cellars-full of salt . . .)
Charcoal Trout
Three Brown Trout, charcoal and watercolour wash
Anyway – all this studio time has been good and I’ve also valued my time in the field even more than previously.  In fact – I’ve even been ‘bird-watching’ a couple of times . . . . . although some visual rendering has usually emanated from this, no matter how much I’ve tried to stop it.

Should I Stay or Should I go, charcoal
And the highlight of my particular exhibiting year will soon be here; the Society of Wildlife Artists Annual Exhibition at The Mall Galleries, London.  After last year’s simply incredible Birdwatch / Swarovski award and being elected an Associate of the Society, I was delighted to have one of my submissions reproduced on the official invitation to the Private View of the exhibition on 31st October.
Black-headed Gulls On The Fly, conte and watercolour
SWLA, 2012

Sting In The Tale: Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warblers, conte and watercolour
SWLA, 2012
Shame I can’t get down to see the show in person . . . again . . . and a shame I didn't go out 'bird-watching' til after the enty deadline, because I would have loved to have had the opportunity to show thsi piece, based on a 25 second encounter with a yellow-browed warbler; 
Yellow-browed Warblers, conte and watercolour

Thursday 2 August 2012

You Gotta Roll With It

In this summer of Olympic achievement and dreams being realised, one of my own came true!  Birds and bird-art are deeply engraved into my psyche, mainly through exposure to ‘Thorburn’s Birds’ as a four year old child – several decades ago.  Of the birds beautifully depicted in watercolour on those complex yet superbly designed colour plates, many stuck in my mind, but the one with woodpeckers on it also contained a very special bird indeed; the European Roller.  I’ve wanted to see one of these kaleidoscopic wonders ever since.

We are very lucky to live in Orkney – it’s a place of wonderful landscapes and fabulous birds and, from time to time, some unusual ones find themselves off course and on the islands.  We are also lucky in that many folk are tuned in to the wonders of the avian world and news gets circulated via our own birding grapevine ‘Orkbird’ ( and a very special Orkney Rare Bird Alert texting service.

When the local quarry-owner’s wife reported that she had just nearly run-over a parrot in Finstown, it didn’t take long for the bird to be relocated and (correctly) identified as a European Roller.  The news spread like wildfire and on Friday 27th July, I first connected with this long-awaited beauty.  I managed a brief but very satisfying view on my way to label the exhibition at the Loft Gallery ( and returned later that day to begin fieldwork. 

Over the next few days I spent as much time as family and work would permit (the gallery in Stromness may just have been closed a little earlier than usual) and by the time the bird finally left the site, I had a few useful colour sketches of the bird and habitat and I finally managed to bring the whole experience round full circle with a fully-fledged watercolour painting depicting this most memorable and long-awaited event. 
'The Orkney Roller'
watercolour, 27"x22"

So – a childhood dream has come true for me.  And now I can only hope this magical bird, having finally found me, can now find its way back to southern Europe and re-join its kin in warmer climes.  And a footnote to this 45-year story;  on the very same plate which Archibald Thorburn painted almost exactly 100 years ago, tucked away in the top-left corner is a wee bird which I still remain to see – lesser-spotted woodpecker.  Hmmmm – any chance one of THOSE can make it to Orkney . . . . . ?

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Orkney Exhibition - Loft Gallery, South Ronaldsay

Arctic Terns: watercolour, 27"x22"

Almost there! I seem to have spent the whole of 2012 working on exhibition pieces or commissions - a far cry from the intended project which was supposed to be targeted towards my new book; landscape and plein air work only . . . ah well.

Oystercatchers & Curlew; conte & watercolour, 30"x22"

The show in the States opened a couple of weeks ago and seems to be fairly well received. I’m really disappointed I couldn’t scrape the time and/or funds together to make the trip over the water, but next time, maybe.
So –next up is slightly closer to home. When I was asked late last year to exhibit at The Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope this summer, I was delighted to accept. I have only shown in this intimate and delightful upstairs gallery once before, and it was a thoroughly pleasurable experience. It was also an excellent opportunity to have a few glasses with old friends (we used to live just a couple of miles from the village). Some may say that preparing artwork for two One-man shows in as many months is an ambitious target, but I find the pressure of looming deadlines quite exhilarating and I think the work I’ve produced over the past couple of months is at least equal to the best of my efforts from previous years. Better than most, perhaps.  
Eiders; watercolour, 27"x22"

The show opens this Friday evening at 7pm, so if anyone is in the locale and would like to drop in for a glass and a chat about the work, please feel free to pop in.

Pee-wit!: conte & watercolour, 30"x22"

The rest of the working year will be spent in painting work for a joint exhibition at The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge in September, a few pieces for the FAME project with some really wonderful artists all contributing work for this most important seabird conservation project. The artists involved are:
Eider & Arctic Terns; watercolour, 27"x22"  

Finally I will draw a line under the exhibiting year with preparation for the SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London.  I can then turn my attentions to the slightly pressing issue of building my studio.  And then next year, I’ll be devoting my time to landscapes and plein air work only . . . maybe.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Painting, Drawing, Painting

Spring Willow Warbler; watercolour, 22"x15"
Everything has gone off to the States now so I can concentrate on the next couple of upcoming shows, starting with The Loft Gallery, St. Margaret’s Hope (Orkney) which is scheduled for the last week in July.  I expect to be making a range of work for this One-man show, including a few large charcoal pieces and some ‘Sharpie’ paintings. 
Tangled Love: watercolour, 28"x23"
Working in different media I think helps me to keep my ideas fresh and maintains my interest.  But it does sometimes pose the question of ‘signature’ work; from time to time I’ve heard visitors to the gallery remark on the disparate nature of the work on show and I recognise that it may not always be apparent that they all come from the same hand.  But I enjoy the change . . . so, I’ve recently been making efforts to try and bring several ways of working together.  I’m drawing directly onto paper with an umber conte pastel and simultaneously painting with watercolour.  This, I think, retains a certain freshness to the painting and also starts to bring together the drawing apparent in the charcoals and Sharpies with the colour I use in my paintings.  It’s not really a diversion, but again, maybe just another way of making an image. 
Lapwing in Marsh Marigolds: conte and watercolour, 30"x22" 
Ringed Plovers in Tangles: conte and watercolour, 30"x22"
Wrens and Butterbur: conte and watercolour, 30"x22"

Thursday 17 May 2012

Wings Over The Atlantic (and other stories)

Common (Mew) Gulls - acrylics on canvas, 24"x18"
The past several weeks have been hectic, mainly due to my commitment to painting 20 new pieces for my show in Maine which opens mid-June.  Well this collection was finished, packed and shipped today and I can now take a break from show-painting and turn to a couple of commissions for the next few days . . . then it’s back to thinking about work for the up-coming exhibition in The Loft Gallery, St. Margaret’s Hope which is scheduled for July.  Here are a few of the completed works which are currently winging their way across the Atlantic;
Seal Siesta; Common (Harbour) Seals, Arctic Skua and Common Eiders - 30"x22" watercolour
Early Splash: Guillemots - acrylics on canvas, 24"x18"
Neighbourly Discussion, Razors and Puffins - Sharpie and wash
Eiders Off South End, Stromness - watercolour 30"x22"
A Difference Of Opinion - Sharpie and wash
Late Light, Skuas - acrylic on canvas, 24"x18"
Golden Brown - Golden Plover and Brown Hare (Scratching Curlew) - Sharpie and wash
Meanwhile I was delighted to learn that my submission “20 Years Left; The Extinction of British Arctic Skua” was shortlisted for the prestigious (and valuable) ‘David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year Award’ and has been sent to Yorkshire for forwarding on to the exhibition at The Mall Galleries, London.  This is an important piece for me and depicts a lone skua in pursuit of two arctic terns.
The skua is a klepto-parasite and relies on its ability to harass terns and kittiwakes into releasing their catch of sandeel.  Over the past decade or so, sandeel stocks around the Northern Isles have diminished to such an extent that the terns and subsequently the skuas have barely raised a fledged chick in over 10 years.  This piece attempts to describe the plight of both species; the terns are only carrying a 50% catch (actually quite a decent return in a recent context) and, even if the skua succeeds this time, the chances are the next bird it chases will not have any food – a waste of its own energy and a failure in its quest for nourishment for any offspring it may have.
I wanted to render the piece in monochrome as a statement about the bleakness of the situation as well as the harshness of the environment against which the scene is being played.

I’ve also just taken a few days doing bird surveys for a local environmental consultancy which will get me out and about a bit.  Makes certain I won’t be getting too bored any time soon . . . and it should get me close to a few birds . . . occasionally.

Monday 19 March 2012

Spluttering Into Action; A Late Start to the Blogging Year

I had big plans for 2012; I was going to spend at least 50% of my time working in the field (especially on plein air landscapes) whilst also writing the majority of my new book which has been fermenting for three years now. Hmmm – the best laid plans and all that . . .

Instead I committed myself to three major exhibitions and far more illustration work than I usually take on which leaves me, almost a quarter of the year passed, with a couple of colour pieces from the field, four interpretation panels completed and a handful of ‘finished’ paintings prepared in readiness for the first of my exhibitions.

Ringed Plover at the Broch of Gurness; Fieldstudy

"What's That?"; Puffin, Studio Piece

I will be showing 20 new paintings at the Audubon Society’s‘Project Puffin’ seabird centre, Maine, US from June til October 2012. Preparing the first few pieces has given me the opportunity to trawl a few of my recent sketchbooks (including work completed on my Swona trip last year). No doubt that seaducks will also feature strongly in the show and this painting of loafing eiders represents a re-visiting of a piece which I completed last year.
"On The Edge"; Puffin on Swona, Studio Piece

"Three Eiders"; Studio Piece

More to follow . . .