Whaleshark and Fusiliers

Whaleshark and Fusiliers

Thursday, 12 May 2011

It's that time of year again. Forth Valley Open Studios is almost upon us and I'm getting lots of artwork ready. I've some new large pieces that I've worked on over the last winter with canvasses from Yellowstone, the Arctic, and a snowy Scotland.
There's also loads of sketches and watercolours, some framed and some in simple mounts. It's been fun going through the drawers of older work, bringing back memories of places visited and animals seen - I guess that's what it's all about really - sharing the encounter.

Exhibition runs 11-19 June 2011 at West Moss-side.
Details on my website or

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Ever played call-my-bluff? No, not the tv panel game with the much missed Fwank Muir. Try one of the natural history variants like call-my-neotropic-hummingbird-bluff, or call-my-tundra-flora-bluff. You get to falsify names and hide them amongst real species, and this week I've been playing call-my-reef-fishy-bluff.
Orange-spine Unicornfish? Bi-coloured pepperfish? Brokenbar Butterflyfish? Oriental Sweetlips? Powder-blue Surgeonfish? Which is the piscatorial hoax?

Join a week cruising the atolls of the Maldives and like any boat there are usually a few games on board. Share the experience with a cross-section of ages and the sillier the better. Our leader, the marine biologist and foremost authority on Indian Ocean cetaceans, Charles Anderson, had brought his son Robert and two young friends, Freddie and Alexander to witness the astounding marine life on offer: a kaleidoscope of coloured fish danced about the turquoise coral reefs, dolphins in boisterous schools of hundreds jostled for position on the bow wave, and ocean leviathans tried to evade our notice when surfacing from sorties to the deep.

After one memorable snorkel with mantas we returned to the boat and immediately started making model rays complete with gaping mouths and gill slits. (My watercolour paper had just the right amount of flex for the giant wings). In another fun game we cut out simple profiles of surgeon fish and butterfly fish and added some of our own designs - hence the call-my-reef-fish-bluff. Anderson's Rainbow Surgeonfish, Warburton's Moorish Idol, and Rees's I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butterflyfish all made the fishy bluff list. Lots of combinations of dots stripes and fantastic colour – a bit like Fwank's bow ties really.

Many thanks to Chas, Sue and Robert. Go see the Maldives with them at

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

They’re Back

The Christmas fairy has come early. I’d recognize that high-pitched ringing trill anywhere. Conjured up from forests far away to the north and alighting in a garden (or supermarket car park) near you, the waxwings have been gifted to our land.
One look through the binoculars and you are smitten. It may be a once in a lifetime affair (once in every winter for the lucky) - you can’t help but fall for them.
Their plumage is as smooth as silk; their wings are decorated with white spots and yellow trims; the wine-red stain under a tail that’s dipped in matching yellow. Oh, and that face; quiffed and crested dandies with a black bib and mask, and a touch of rouge. I’ve seen them described as pink punks but surely not? When did you see punks apply make up with such delicacy and subtleness? Red blusher here; white eye liner there. Waxwings are truly beautiful.

So keep a look out on your berries and listen for the trill..

Monday, 25 October 2010

Blackbird in Rowan by Robert Gillmor

Happy Fiftieth

A lot can change in fifty years. We take the plethora of wildlife images that adorn magazines, galleries (and websites) for granted now, but in 1960 artworks featuring nature were few and far between. The wildfowl paintings of Peter Scott and book illustrations from Charles Tunnicliffe were popular but far from commonplace.
With this in mind a young bird illustrator from Reading, Robert Gillmor, with the enthusiastic support of Peter Scott, Eric Ennion and Keith Shackleton organized the Exhibition of Contemporary Bird Painters in 1960. After favourable reviews the show was taken on a provincial tour for two years and the success and popularity led directly to the formation in 1964 of the Society of Wildlife Artists.
To commemorate the event today’s wildlife artists have been brought together by Steve and Liz Harris at Birdscapes Gallery at Cley, Norfolk. 50 contemporary bird painters exhibiting 50 works for a 50th anniversary show, and looking at the array of work on display I think we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the forever-young bird illustrator from Reading.
You have to know where you came from if you want to know where you’re going.

In Yellowstone there are two species of bears to look-out for: American Black Bears and Brown, or Grizzly Bears.
Sounds straightforward eh? One's black and the other brown you'd think. You'd think wrong.
You see some brown bears are technically black. This is when the individual is referred as a 'cinnamon' and then you have a brown black bear. Just to keep you guessing some grizzlies are really dark so at a distance you can have black brown bears. Confused yet?
Once again you have to study the structure and the look of the animal to distinguish the two: Black bears have larger ears and fur like velvet (check those bearskin hats). Grizzlies have a shoulder lump and a coarse coat which can take on a two tone look. Black's head profile shows a straight nose; a Grizzly nose can be slightly upturned and make it pig-like (though don't tell it I said so).
Drawing bears is like drawing birds. You look hard and you notice subtle differences. You'd better remember to keep your distance though.....

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What did Groucho Marx say about clubs that would have him as a member?
At this year’s Natural Eye Exhibition at the Mall Galleries I was pleased to receive the Arts Club Award.
The award, in the form of membership, recognizes a collection of work and is given at the discretion of the renowned Arts Club of Dover Street. Founded in 1893 by, amongst others, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and Lord Leighton, the Arts Club’s members have included Whistler, Monet, Rodin and Degas. Current members include Peter Blake, Grayson Perry, David Frost, Richard Attenborough, Ronnie Wood, Kim Cattrall...... and now me.
Standards are slipping I guess.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Earning Your Stripes

I’ve never seen so many tigers in one room. There are lots of hunting dogs this year too, and a smattering of meerkats – the power of tv documentaries, or is that tv advertisements. Lapwings and avocets have again caught the imagination, as is the tradition, but there are some surprises - I think I spotted a jellyfish and pink river dolphin (which is more than I can say after a few trips to the Amazon).
Where can you see this menagerie, squeezed under one roof? Maybe the judging of BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year?
No, I’m sitting on the selection panel for The Natural Eye, the 47th annual exhibition from the Society of Wildlife Artists.
Nearly 800 paintings, prints and sculptures from artists inspired by nature, pored over with a critical eye in an effort to sort the good from the not so good. And one artist’s view of what’s good is not always the same as another artist’s view. Ask 11 artists their opinion on a piece of work and you get 11 different answers. A democratic 8 thumbs up will get you in; 7 or 6 will start a discussion; any less and unfortunately it’s not your year…

Of course there are lots of work that meets with unanimous approval and the whole day is an enviable chance for a sneak preview of what will be a delightful show: Highlights for me were a beautiful set of wood cuts from Kruger by Greg Poole; sketches of Gannets riding the air from John Busby and the sumptuous oils of Matt Underwood. These and many other gems have been lovingly created by artists from all over, and now brought together for one show to celebrate the treasures of the natural world.

So a long day over with 800 entries wittled down to 344 – and I think I managed to smuggle past some of my paintings too. Simples.