John Busby Seabird Drawing Course 2018 / by Emily Ingrey-Counter

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. 

Tutor, Greg Poole, teaching on anatomy at Dunbar Harbour.

Tutor, Greg Poole, teaching on anatomy at Dunbar Harbour.

Drawing on Bass Rock, surrounded by 150,000 gannets.

Drawing on Bass Rock, surrounded by 150,000 gannets.

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!  

Drawing on the Bass was exciting and challenging with the intense noise, smell and wind. Everything was constantly moving and changing - with so much going on it was quite hard to settle on a composition/subject and see it through to a finished piece as inevitably the birds were always moving..

Drawing on the Bass was exciting and challenging with the intense noise, smell and wind. Everything was constantly moving and changing - with so much going on it was quite hard to settle on a composition/subject and see it through to a finished piece as inevitably the birds were always moving..

Bass rock lighthouse from the boat  2018 .jpg
Quick line drawings from the boat whilst constantly in motion.

Quick line drawings from the boat whilst constantly in motion.

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. 

 

Quick loose sketch focussing on conveying the constant movement, energy and intensity of the Bass. The tutors led informal exercises such as; left hand drawings, blind drawings (not looking at your paper), block colour and continuous line drawings. These are a really useful ways to engage with the environment and develop the discipline of looking more at what we are seeing than at what we are drawing.

Quick loose sketch focussing on conveying the constant movement, energy and intensity of the Bass. The tutors led informal exercises such as; left hand drawings, blind drawings (not looking at your paper), block colour and continuous line drawings. These are a really useful ways to engage with the environment and develop the discipline of looking more at what we are seeing than at what we are drawing.

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.

Drawings at St Abb's Head: my focus was on conveying the tough and immense environment these thousands of seabirds nest and breed in each year.

Drawings at St Abb's Head: my focus was on conveying the tough and immense environment these thousands of seabirds nest and breed in each year.

9 St Abbs Head and crashing waves with kittiwake and guillmots, ink wash and soft pastel, June 201828.5 x 18.5cm .jpg
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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.