This year I was delighted to be awarded a bursary to attend the SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) John Busby seabird drawing course. The week was led by Darren Woodhead, Greg Poole, Kittie Jones, Esther Tyson and Mark Boyd. Their role was working alongside the artists in an atmosphere that was mutually supportive rather than directive. We were based in Dunbar, East Lothian, but also travelled to St.Abb's Head, Fidra and the Bass Rock. Each day of intense drawing was followed by an evening together, eating, discussing the day's work, planning the following day's trips and looking at each others drawings/ paintings from the day.
The highlight of the week, for me, was visiting the Bass Rock. The weather, winds and swells were in the right alignment for us, as we were lucky enough to land on the Bass and remain on the island for a whole day. A unique and rare privilege of the SWLA seabird drawing week. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and quite fantastic! I felt like we'd landed on another planet with 150,000 inhabitants tolerating our presence. Due to the wind that day the birds were constantly in flight around us, hovering, landing and taking off. We all drew intensely for about 6 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!
Another highlight was getting to know other artists, picking up different techniques, hearing how others approach their work and looking at each others pictures at the end of the day. Although the prospect of sharing my work was sometimes quite daunting, I did also find the feed back really encouraging.
St Abb's Head was also another location which was incredibly inspiring. I have drawn here before, but previously focussed on small groups of birds. This time I really wanted to capture the sheer and exposed cliff faces on which the birds nest and how small (but numerous) 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 tutor guidance throughout the week was a really helpful in terms of reminding me of some key elements that had been creeping out of my drawings. Such as; "Keep a breathing space in your picture", "What excites you about your chosen subject matter? Keep this in mind throughout your drawing" and, "Keep your work fresh, try working on several at once so as not to overwork your pictures". Seeing examples of the tutors' work and hearing about their individual approach to working was something I really enjoyed. I left the week feeling really encouraged to value what I do, something that's easy to loose 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 for many months to come. It was such a privilege to meet so many people on the shared journey of making art inspired by our natural world.