Firstly, my apologies to all of you whose commissions have been delayed due to my car crash. Hopefully, this update will be the start of me getting back to work.
A lot has happened since my last update of the Diary, not least of all my three weeks in Iceland and short time in the Faroes. It proved to be quite a trip. We were very lucky with the weather - it rained the first and last days, but apart from that was warm and sunny, if a bit breezy.
Iceland has many different types of landscapes and lives up to its reputation as the land of fire and ice. One day you can be peering into a boiling hot spring, the next gaping in wonder at a huge glacier, then crossing weird lavafields, climbing mountains, or peering cautiously over steep cliffs teeming with thousands of seabirds.
Iceland does not have a huge variety of birds (some 70 species), but it makes up for that in sheer numbers of each species. Some of the birding highlights were: the cliffs at Arnastapi, with thousands of nesting fulmars and kittiwakes - the sight and smell of which assailed your senses; sitting on the rocks at the very top of one of the kittiwake colonies (which formed a sort of cave), for a whole afternoon sketching the kittiwakes on their nests, with lovely shadows in the bright sunshine - I was so engrossed and enchanted by them that I didn't even think about the steep drop directly below me; behind the cliffs, fields where thousands of arctic terns nested and where, in order to get to the cliffs, you had to run the gauntlet of these aggressively territorial birds - blood was drawn on more than one accasion; taking a boat trip out of Stykkisholmur to a mass of small islands while puffins paddles by, seabirds flew back and forth on their "highways" to and from the sea, shags crammed in lines along the narrowest of ledges, creating waving strings of dark shapes against the guano bleached cliffs, like some macarbre Christmas decorations and where, with the not inconsiderable skill of the (female) captain, we approached very close to a sea eagle nest atop a rocky outcrop on a small island where the female stood guard over two well-grown black youngsters, without making the bird even flinch; everywhere the strange sound of drumming snipe overhead; golden plover's plaintive calls; whimbrels, many different ducks and black tailed godwits in abundance and the three "must sees" in Iceland, the aptly named harlequin duck, the gyr, the largest of the falcons and merlin. Oh yes and I saw a couple of short eared owls too.
The cave of kittiwakes
Harlequin duck and great skua
Arctic skua and part of the activity at the tern colony at Arnastapi
The incredible colours of the landscape
There are not many mammals to watch on land, but the best experience was getting up close (very close) to humpback whales while travelling on an old sailing boat.With her six sails up she was a magnificent sight and a joy to be on board, despite this being the one evening that it rained (and boy did it rain!). However, nothing could put a damper (if you will pardon the pun) on my enthusiasm when I saw these absolutely incredible creatures. In my mind, I knew how big they were, but nothing prepares you for seeing such a huge creature "in the flesh". It was longer than the boat and in the clear water you could see its massive, long white flippers waving slowly around. If ever there was a sight to make your heart pound and your blood run that bit faster, then this was it. At one stage it swam towards the boat broadside on, then gently dipped under the hull and surfaced at the other side. The thing that struck me most was how gently and gracefully they moved. At one stage in the distance, we even saw one breach (jump clear of the water) and when it landed side on against the surface of the water, the impressive splash and loud slap that it made could be clearly seen and heard by us, despite being a huge distance away. Rounding the trip off with the "Captain's Privilege" (hot chocolate with a tot of rum added) and cinnamon rolls was a perfect end to an incredible experience.
Go on, have a laugh at the wet weather gear - this year's catwalk "must have"!
With the nights not getting dark at all, we took a skidoo trip to the top of a glacier at midnight. It was a clear, sunny, night with the sun right down on the horizon, casting warm peach and pink light over the snow and it was amazing to look down onto the tops of the mountains that we had recently been standing at the bottom of. We could see for miles and really get a picture of the whole landscape. One of the things that I like about Iceland is that the geology is so visible and self-explanatory. No-one needs to tell you what has happened - it is all there is front of you ; lava flows stilled and hardened, like in one of those fairy stories where the evil witch casts a spell and turns everything to stone, right in the middle of whatever is happening; volcanoes, decievingly peaceful looking, but still menacingly smoking and simmering away; bubbling hot mud that spoke of the heat within the core of the earth and glaciers like huge chilly giant's hands. All of this we could see spread out below us.Driving the skidoos back down was a bit of an adrenalin rush - it didn't seem nearly so steep on the way up! Having said that, as soon as I got to the bottom I immediately wanted to do it all over again.
Midnight at the top of the glacier
I also walked to the front edge of one of the glaciers. The size, obviously is awesome and the patterns created astounding, but what amazed me most was the noise. It creaked and moaned, squeaked and growled - it really seemed like it was a living being. No wonder so many folktales of trolls, monsters and giants are associated with Iceland.
Enough chatter from me - I could write a book about Iceland - back to work! The Gairloch Marine Life Centre is due to open next spring with all the interpretation work I have created. It has been an interesting project - a mix of imagination, illustration, photography, graphic design and copywriting with a bit of frustration, a few "tear it up and start again" moments, a lot of excitement and many, many, hours of work. Please visit it if you are over that way next summer.
Some of the illustrations used in the Marine Life Centre
Commissions have kept me busy too and I still have a few more to complete before I can get on with my next "new style" acrylic. I have started the one featuring penguins underwater and have drawn out another one featuring an otter underwater (I loved doing this subject before and cannot resist doing another different one), then I hope to do the hares/lapwings and the dragonflies. Iceland also gave me lots of inspiration and new ideas to add to my mental list of "intended works".
The final contract has come through for my Antarctic trip as artist in residence, in February 2008. I am really looking forward to it and the new environment and inspiration it will provide me with. I get very excited when I experience new things that inspire me, my mind goes into overdrive, working on the artistic possibilities and I can't wait to get it down on paper. My husband put it perfectly when talking of my trip - you'll be "hyper" for weeks" he said.
For the first time I participated in the Noth East Open Studios event run from 15 - 24 September. Unfortunately, my actual studio was not open but I exhibited some of my work at Gallery i in Inverurie. Next year I will definitely take part again.
I am awaiting delivery of a print run of three new cards. One features a watercoloour of Bennachie in Springtime, one features the "new style" otter painting "The Fishermen" and the third a photograph of red deer on Rannoch Moor in the snow last winter. There are still some of last year's cards available too. A separate card page will be added to the website shortly, but in the meantime should you wish to purchase any of these please email or phone me.
New cards - "Bennachie in Spring" "The Fishermen" "Highland Winter, Red Deer"
Until next month, enjoy the delights and colours that autumn brings.
Otters, eagles, puffins and rain - where have I been? - Mull! We spent a week there this month and despite very erratic weather we had a really great time. Mull is just such a fabulous place, a miniature Scotland condensed into one lovely island.
I was lucky enough to visit Lunga (one of the Treshnish Isles) with Turus Mara on an eveing trip where a chef and barbeque were sent ahead of us and set up on the clifftop. By the time we arrived the seafood was sizzling and the wine was open. All very civilized and to be able to walk along the clifftops watching the puffins and the other seabirds at close quarters was a real privilege. The puffins totally ignored us as they went about the serious business of home prospecting, beak fencing, and collecting grass to line their nest burrows. They are so incredibly endearing little birds, with their waddling penguin walk, ridiculously colourful beaks, and sad "runny mascara" eyes. I remember someone once describing them as "last to the make-up box" - quite apt!
The evening was cold, but bright and sunny with that special light that only the Scottish west coast in sunshine can produce. Sitting there watching the puffins, listening to their strange braying calls and looking out over the rest of the Treshnish Isles was a very peaceful and calming experience and the food was great! I feel a puffin painting coming on!
Taking the opportunity to get some lovely photographs of the puffins.
Sitting in my five (yes five!) layers of clothes enjoying the food.
Some puffin sketches!
I had some lovely walks on Mull, including a four mile walk along Loch Na Keal to watch two golden eagles soaring high above some crags. When they turned and the mantle of feathers around necks caught the light they really lived up to their name. On the way back, I stopped to follow an otter along the shoreline as it nosed its way among the seaweed at the edge of the loch and then again, to watch five golden plovers. They are beautiful birds, particularly the male with his black chest and face boldly outlined in white and his back spangled in gold, black and white.
Have tripod, will travel!
We also had an interesting trip with Sealife Surveys to look for cetaceans and seabirds. The weather was truly atrocious, but we did see minke whales, porpoises and loads of seabirds including a pomerine skua at a "hurry" out in the open sea. We also spotted two adult sea eagles perched together halfway up some trees on the shore. These are seriously magnificent birds and I was delighted to see them. I loved the boat tossing about in the rough seas, but I am afraid that my enthusiasm was not shared by everyone on board, and many were exremely ill. I did feel very sorry for them as they couldn't appreciate the wonderful sights.
Apart from the puffins, my most memorable wildlife experience of the trip involved otters, which will not be a surprise to those of you who know me, as I have a very soft spot for these lovely animals. I watched a female and two well-grown cubs for over two hours as they fished, played in and porpoised out of the water, explored small islands, rolled about in the seaweed and dozed in the sun (yes, we did get some sun). Then I followed them right round to the other side of the bay where they slipped out of the water up over some rocks and into a holt - wonderful stuff!
As far as work is concerned, both my exhibitions at Inverurie and Leith Hall are finished and thanks to all of you who came along and supported me.
I have drawn out my next "new style" acrylic painting "The Divers", featuring penguins and albatross and am about to start painting it - I can't wait as I am really excited about this development in my painting style and am having so much fun with it. The limited edition prints (edition of 200) of the first one "The Fishermen" featuring gannets and an otter arenow available at £55 per print (print size 40mm square).
"The Divers" sketch and "The Fishermen" Limited Edition Print
The acrylic painting "Ailsa Craig Gannets" based on an early morning experience on the Ayrshire coast last summer is now complete and will be on the "Originals" page shortly at £375. Watch both the "Originals" and "Limited Edition Prints" pages for new additions in the next week.
"Ailsa Craig Gannets" acrylic painting and "Leith Hall Panther" in pastel
Above you will see the completed pastel of the panther statue atop the gateposts at the entrance to the autumn borders at Leith Hall. The robin is ever present, foraging among the borders.
Finally, some very exciting news. I have just received confirmation of my position as Artist in Residence on board a ship to Antarctica in February 2008. This is avery thrilling trip for me and I am looking forward to seeing lots of new and interesting wildlife, as well as being inspired by the dramatic landscapes and wonderful colours of this very unique continent.
Firstly a big thank you to all of you who came along to support me on the opening day of my exhibition "Wild About Art" at Gallery i, Garioch Centre, Inverurie on 15th April. Also a big thank you to Mark and Kim at the gallery for their faith in me and for looking after the guests and plying them with wine, food and coffee. The exhibition runs until 19 May.
Shortly thereafter (25th - 28th May) will be the Leith Hall "Gallery in the Garden" event mentioned in the previous diary update. Leith Hall is a wonderful, striking National Trust property with gorgeous gardens and is well worth a visit if you haven't been (and if not, why not?).On the Saturday, I will be there all day to discuss my work and there will be several new works thereincluding a couple featuring the stunning herbaceous borders of ther Leith Hall itself. Also on this day there will be music playing int he gardens. All we have to do now is hope that the weather is kind to us.
My "new style" acrylics are proving very popular with the latest one "The Fishermen", featuring an otter and gannets, sold before it is even complete and someone wanting first refusal on the next one (which will be diving penguins, icebergs and an albatross) before it is even started! "Skating off the pond" is maybe proving not such a bad idea after all and I am having such fun with this style - it is so exciting and the colours are just yummy. It is, however, very addictive and I find myself walking past the board (which I leave propped up in the studio) and seeing something that needs adjusting. Befoe I know what has happened, I have sat down and been working away at it for an hour!
Below is the completed painting - limited edition prints will be available shortly.
In the pipeline in the same style are boxing hares and lapwings, dragonflies (with silver leaf wings perhaps?), whales and kingfishers - Ican't wait! However, I do have several commissions to finish and the continuing interpretation work for the Marine Life Centre to do, so they will have to fit in around those jobs. I definitely do not have enough hours in the day.
The Originals and Limited Edition pages are about to be updated to include some of the new works so keep an eye on that too.
In the meantime, enjoy spring!
Lots and lots happening - where to begin? Firstly, for those interested in painting/workshop days and weekends, here are some of the confirmed dates for the next few months. Although I am primarily a wildlife artist, please note that painting days cover most mediums and all subjects.
Saturday 24 March 2007
"Life with Jane" Life Drawing day at the studio at Touched by Scotland 10am - 4.30pm
Full day's tuition, suitable for beginners to life drawing or the most experienced. Lunch is included and the cost will be £45 for the day. AS this is a Touched by Scotland event, book by contacting them on tel:01464 851489 or email:email@example.com
Tuesday 3 April
Duthie Park Winter Gardens 10am - 3.30pm
Tutored PAinting and drawing in the beautiful surroundings in the glasshouses of the Winter Gardens.
Wednesday 11 April
Natural History Unit.Zoology Department, Aberdeen University 10am - 3.30pm
Painting and drawing the many natural history specimens in their huge collection.
Late May (date to be confirmed closer to the time as it is dependent on when the azaleas and rhododendrons are at their best!)
Kildrummy Castle Gardens 10am - 4pm
Painting and drawing in these glorious gardens when colours are at their most spectacular.
15 - 17 June and 24 - 26 August 2007
The Famous Bein Inn, Glenfarg, Perthshire
Painting and drawing weekend from Friday lunchtime until late Sunday afternoon. An all-inclusive weekend of painting out of doors during the day and workshop/talk in the evening. Weekend includes two nights dinner, bed and breakfast (Friday and Saturday) and two lunches (Saturday and Sunday), all tuition and some materials. During previous visits we have had trips to Glenfarg Gardens, Balvaird Castle, Newburgh (for the old fishing boats) and the hills above the glen for inspiration. Please contact me via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or or phone 01467 681398 for further details/costs should you be interested in any of the above, but be quick as they fill up rapidly!
You may also be interested to know that my work will be on show at "Gallery I", Garioch Centre, Iverurie from the end of March (final date to be confirmed shortly) where, on the first Saturday, there will be an open day when I will be there painting and available for questions, discussion etc.
My works will also be on display and for sale at a new event, "Gallery in the Garden" at Leith Hall from 25 - 28 May. My pieces will be exhibited in the old stables and a variety of sculptures and other works will be on show in and around the garden itself. With this in mind, I have started a couple of paintings based on a visit to the garden last autumn. The pastel, which you can see below is photographed at the first stage where it has just been blocked in and it shows the view from the gates into the herbaceous borders, with the beautifully weathered black panther perched atop the moss encrusted stone gatepost. I had to put the robin in as everywhere I went in the garden he accompanied me.
The loose acrylic is of a red admiral butterfly on some bright flowers blooming in the autumn border. When I was watching these butterflies, I was struck by the vivid contrasting colours and tones and this is what i wanted to capture. This painting is a bit further on than the above one, past the blocking in stage, but I still have some work to do on it as I am happy with where some of the tones and colours are in the background. I also think that the background is competing a bit too much. Both these paintings plus one of swallows should be among the exhibits at the Leith Hall event.
It is shaping up to be another busy (nothing new there then) and exciting year with a trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands planned as well as ones to Mull and Islay and my trip to Antarctica as Artist in Residence on board an expedition ship is still very much on the cards for early next year.
I have begun work on the interpretation material for Gairloch's new Marine Life Centre, a project which is the baby of Sam and Ian French who run Gairloch Marine Life Centre and Cruises (well worth a trip with them - visit www.porpoise-gairloch.co.uk). It is a large project and will take a huge amount of work but it is right up my street and ~Ithink that the finished Centre will be well worth the effort by all involved.
My work has swerved off at a tangent with the painting of an acylic based loosely (very loosely!) on a peacock. It was one of those paintings with no pre-planning, where I just painted instinctively, putting down what I felt, with colour being the predominanat influence. The photo below will give you an idea of just how different it was. Sufice to say that my family think that I have finally skated off the edge of the pond. I loved painting it though and it has set me thinking about doing more such work but with slightly more planning. Below you can see a sketch and block in of my idea for the next one.
Two paintings "in progress" at the moment are one of a pair of peregrines at Huntly Peregrine Wildwatch which I started over a year ago and which I chucked to the back of the studio in disgust when the attempted removal of masking fluid ruined the surface of the watercolour paper. It has been languishing there ever since. However, I decided to recue it as I really wanted to finish it and so I have turned it into a mixed medium piece by coating the damaged paper with white acylic (which has given me the added advantage of being able to create texture - ever cloud has a silver lining) and then starting to paint over it in gouache. Although it is stil in the early stages, I think that it may turn out in the end to be quite a successful painting.
The second painting is of gannets (birds that I just adore) with Ailsa Craig in the background. It was inspired by a day last summer when we were on the mainland opposite Ailsa Craig very early one morning, in bright sunshine (there's a novelty for a start!), when the cloud and mist was just trailing off the top of the island and so one side was brightly lit and the other in the deep shadow of the cloud.The water was almost navy blue and the birds were gleamingly white. It really was stunning and I spent quite a bit of time observing and absorbing to imprint it on my mind, sketching and taking photographs. It will be an acylic and as you can see below I have jsut roughly painted in the colours and tones before I start to work it up. I hope to have both these finished very shortly.
Several commissioned paintings are underway too and I am looking forward to the clock going on an hour and the spring springing so that I can get outside a bit more.
From now until Christmas I will be working non-stop to keep up with commissions as well as trying to produce some more originalpaintings and limited edition prints. For the first time this year I am also producing Christmas cards. Some will use my photographs and some my paintings. These are shown below and are now available (in packs of 5 or 10) by ordering via email or by post. Please state quatity, titles and remember to incluse your full name and address. Orders may be paid by Paypal or personal cheque.
"First Snow" (watercolour painting) "Towards Bennachie in Deep Snow" (photo)
"Garden Visitor in the Snow" (photo) "Bullfinches" (mixed medium painting)
"Mallard Drake in Winter" (photo) "Winter Woods" (photo)
"Bennachie from Logie Durno" (photo) "Great Spotted Woodpecker" (photo)
"Hoar Frost" (photo)
Pack of 5 of any title: £4.70. Pack of 10 of any title or 10 mixed: £9.20. Plus P+P
The painting "Eyebrook Kingfisher" will shortly be available as a limited edition print and the "Photographs" page is under construction.
Below is a commission painting I have just completed of the view towards Bennachie from beside my house. Aren't I lucky to have a view like this on my doorstep?
The art classes are now happily settled into the studio at Touched by Scotland, and some of the dates for further workshops and classes there have now been confirmed as follows.
"Life With Jane" - Classes exploring various aspects of life drawing, from loose impressions for posture, tonals studies, inventive use of pen and wash and detailed drawing for getting hands and feet correct. Materials will be provided. A block of 4 x 3 hour evening classes will begin on Tuesday 13 February. Time: 6.30pm - 9.30pm. Cost to be confirmed shortly.
"Where Do I Begin" - An introduction to drawing course. for absolute beginners. this couse will take place over a weekend. The first day will be an introduction to basic drawing skills in various mediums (pencil, graphite, pastel, pen and ink and pen and wash) with techniques, exercises and hints and tips to help you master these. The second day will allow you to put some of these skills into practice with tuition to help you achieve this. Lunch and materials are included in the cost which will be confirmed shortly. Date is to be confirmed (possibly the first week of February or first week of March 2007. Time: 10am - 4pm.
Should you be interested in either of these or require further information then please contact Jane on tel: 01467 681398, email: email@example.com or Touched by Scotalnd on tel: 01464 851489, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the summer and autumn I tutored painting days at various sites and a weekend at Glenfarg. Here are some of the particiapnts enjoying the painting spots.
Our Glenfarg weekend
Finally, you can't say that we don't breed our artists hardy in Scotland. This was our painting day at Leith Hall - rain, what rain?
This month, my weekly art classes moved to a new loction and new days and times. Classesd are now at Touched by Scotland's studio, Oyne, and take place on Wednesday evening 6pm - 9pm, Thursday morning 9.30am - 12.30pm and Thursday afternoon 1pm - 4pm. Should you require any further information please contact me. I am also doing a series of workshops/painting days over the winter for Touched by Scotland. As soon as dates are confirmed I will publish them on these pages.
I have completed my otter drawing based on my experience watching a dog otter fishing for crabs on the west coast. The original is for sale as well as limited edition prints. Please check out the appropriate pages for more details.
Work on two sea eagle paintings is progressing as well as beginning an otter painting and completion of my peregrine painting. As I have several commissions to finish also, it looks like October will be a busy month.
Many people have asked me recently if they can purchase some of my photographs. As a result of this I am intending adding a photographs page to the website in October. The photographs will also be available for use in publications and interpretation work for a fee. Detials will follow on the new page.
January - August
Can you make a New Year's resolution
in August? If so, then mine must be to keep these pages updated
more regularly.I have been so busy that it somehow seems to
have slipped further and further down my 'to do' list.
I have had some wonderful field trips
to Mull, Gairloch (twice), Black Isle, Brora and Cape Wrath
and Braemar as well as getting some interesting subject matter
on my local patch.
Mull, an eternal favourite, gave me
inspiration for several sea eagle paintings, the sketches for
which are below alongside a very preliminary sketch for a painting
of the sea eagle predating young heron chicks which happened
on a coastal heronry.The two Mull ones I am reasonably happy
with but the heronry one needs composing to make more pleasing
shapes with the birds in the sky.
area's rocky shore, I once again stalked an otter. Last year
on the same shore, I watched a female and two youngsters but
this time it was a big dog otter. He was fishing among the seaweed
on the very edge of the loch and I approached him very cautiously
for fear of disturbing him. Every time he dived, I moved a few
steps along the shore, slipping and stumbling on the wet seaweed-covered
rocks, to the next large one so that I could crouch down beside
it or sit motionless on it, before he sufaced again.
An otter's eyesight is poor and as
long as he didn't detect my scent or any movement, he was unaware
of my presence. By this method, I followed him the length of
the shore and managed to end up moving parallel to him about
ten feet away. Only once did he suddenly raise his head and
look directly in my direction. I think that a random gust of
wind blew my scent to him momentarily, but I stayed absolutely
still and silent and he soon returned to his feast.
He was catching large, bright orange
crabs and three times he came to shore with particularly large
ones (looking comically like he was sporting a large ginger
moustache). When he clamboured onto a rock where he chomped
and crunched them up with obvious relish. When he was diving
and fishing, the water was so clear that I could see his light
underside flashing and glinting as he twisted and contorted
underwater. It was hard work keeping pace with him on the slippery
rocks, the sun was really hot and my heart was pounding with
excitment. It was just such a wonderful moment (or to be entirely
accurate couple of hours). When I eventually had to give up,
I was hot, exhausted and very stiff. When you watch a creature
as intensely as this, nothing exists outside of it, you become
a part of their world and experience it with them, or indeed,
as them, and I never once took my eyes off him. This point was
brought home to me when I returned to the car and my eternally
patient husband told me that he had frantically and unsuccessfully
been trying to attract my attention as a red kite had been flying
along the nearby hillside for about half an hour. He also said
I looked extremely silly slithering and squatting my way along
the stony beach. That's wildlife watching for you!
I am in the process of producing an
original pen and ink drawing (limited edition prints will be
available also) of the dog otter bringing his catch to the shore.
Below is the original sketch on which this is based and the
partially complete ink drawing. I would also like to do a watercolour
painting to bring out the wondeful rich orange colour of the
crab against the rich blue of the water and the gleam of sun
on his wet fur.
Commission work has been keeping me
busy too, which is fantastic as I love doing it, but it does
mean that I do not have as much time to produce originals for
sale. Eventually, I have managed to finish the watercolour painting
of a long eared owl with her chick. You can see the completed
painting in more detail and read the story behind it on the
"Originals" page when it is updated shortly, but below
you can see the painting as well as the various stages of its
development. I always like to photograph the work as it progresses
so that I can give the photographs to the person who buys the
painting. Most are interested to see how it has developed. Other
paintings partially completed are of a kingfisher and a pair
of peregrines (see progress shots below).
the summer I have become involved with a couple of really exciting
projects which will develop over the next year.The first is
the new Marine Life Centre which is being built at Gairloch
harbour. Having met the couple who are behind the project (who
incidentally run the best wildlife cruises out of Gairloch -
see www.) and immediately "clicked" with them, I am
hoping to be very involved with the interpretation material
for the interior. What I like about this project is that there
will be lots of interactive stuff for children as well as the
more 'serious' information for adults.
The second project involves me going
a bit further afield - Antarctica in fact! I have been asked
to go aboard a Quark Expedition ship as "Artist in Residence"
early in 2007. This is a fantastic opportunity to see a wonderful
part of the world - I am dreaming about penguins, whales and
albatross already! The potential for Antarctic inspired paintings
is tremendous. It is not contracted yet, but watch this space
for details of both these projects.
September - December
Unbelievably it is the end of another
year. The last few months have provided me with some wonderfully
inspiring experiences, not least of all the few glorious days
we spent in the Gairloch area. It was early October and the
weather was uncharacteristically good. We felt grateful, especially
when we dicovered that in the previous five days more rain had
fallen than anyone locally could remember in years. However,
the sun shone on us and we set about exploring the stunning
surrounding countryside and coastline.
It was here that I had one of the best
wildlife encounters of my life. Driving alongside a sea loch
I spotted something in the water. Stopping to train the binoculars
on it, I discovered that it was an otter swimming about 20 feet
offshore. Two others, both smaller, surfaced and from the ensuing
behaviour I concluded that it was a female and her two well-grown
cubs. It was typical otter habitat with a shoreline tumble of
seaweed-strewn rocks, the water clear and the colour of Glenmorangie
with large floating patches of seaweed.
We watched as they swirled and twisted,
dived and surfaced and rolled over onto their backs to eat the
butterfish that they were catching. As they showed off their
incredible suppleness rolling about on the surface, their wet
bodies gleamed in the sunshine like highly polished mahogany.
Several times they struggled to the shore with larger prey and
squabbled as the youngsters tried to steal it from the female.
I had decamped out of the car with
all the paraphernalia that I carry with me on such occasions
- telescope, binoculars, tripod and camera. I could not believe
how incredibly close I was to them, with only the width of the
shore between us. All three had hauled up onto the rocks among
the lovely ochre and rich brown seaweed. As they held the eel
in their funny little flat front paws, I could see the bright
pink insides of their mouths and the rows of tiny sharp white
teeth. I was so close that I could hear the crunching and smacking
as they tucked in.
For an hour and a half I stood with
my eye firmly pressed against the eyepiece of my telescope.
The youngsters in particular seemed to be having such fun, interspersing
the serious business of fishing with bouts of wrestling in the
water and games of hide and seek among the seaweed and rocks.
They looked equally at home in the water or on the land, moving
easily from one element to the other. Eventually and reluctantly
I had to drag myself away, as my right eye was aching from peering
through the telescope. In fact it was about twenty minutes before
my eye came back into focus properly, but this I felt was a
small price to pay for such a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime view
of wild otters.
staying in a cottage right on the shore of Loch Gairloch we
were able to watch a pod of harbour porpoises feeding in the
loch and one evening we witnessed a sunset so spectacular that
it seemed unreal so vivid the yellows, oranges, reds and violets
were. There were so many fabulous sights during those few days:
an immature hen harrier sitting on a post calling plaintively
and unsuccessfully to be fed; 42 whooper swans flying in formation
over the loch; red deer lying up in the bracken - these took
a bit of picking out through the binoculars; ravens dancing
on the wind and seals everywhere, including one sitting on typical
half-moon pose on a rock (returning a couple of hours later
it was still there - what an exciting and varied life these
One of the funniest incidents was when
we spotted a grey seal sleeping vertically in the water just
off the end of the pier, with only its head out of the water.
I sneaked carefully out to the end of the pier to get a closer
look. I needn't have bothered - it was deeply asleep. When I
arrived at the point on the pier closest to it, I had to stop
myself laughing out loud - it was snoring! The sound came to
me over the still water, a deep resonating snore, nostrils flaring
and closing, eyes tightly shut, Roman nose tilted upwards and
all its rolls of fat piled up around its neck. It really was
the most ridiculous sight and sound. I smile every time I think
Early in the morning of the day we
left to come home, as we passed the shores of Loch Maree, we
stopped and got out to admire the clouds hanging over Slioch
and the surrounding hills, the sun just catching the very tops
of the mountains making the bracken colours flare up and the
whole scene reflected in the flat, calm waters of the loch..
The air was perfectly still and it was absolutely silent apart
from the roaring stags. A fearsome, raw sound, it echoed around
the corries and glens and came rolling agressively across the
water to us. It was the perfect acoustic accompaniment to the
view laid out in front of us. I felt the goosebumps rise on
my arms. It was a truly fitting finale to four fabulous days.
We also spent four days at Loch Melfort,
south of Oban and my experiences there along with those at Gairloch
and in my "local patch" have given me enough material
to keep me painting for the whole of 2006!
Commissions for Christmas kept me busy
for most of the past couple of months, but within the next couple
of weeks, three new paintings will be on the Originals page
for sale, with a fourth following shortly thereafter. All of
these feature birds, but the next painting planned (and already
drawn out) is of those wonderful otters at Gairloch!
May - August
Firstly, an apology for not updating
the diary pages for a while - the summer months have been very
busy. The original pen illustrations for the Raptor Worker's
Field Guide are now available for sale at £275 each mounted
and framed (plus delivery). If you wish just the illustration
or mounted only please contact me for prices. The Tawny Owl,
Osprey and Raven are already sold. The other subjects are Sea
Eagle, Long Eared Owl, Short Eared Owl, Little Owl, Barn Owl,
Snowy Owl, Peregrine Chicks, Hobby and Kestrel. You can view
the illustations on the Limited Edition Prints page and the
pictures of the mounts and frames on the Originals page.
A lot of time in June was spent along
with members of my art group at Archaeolink, our local Prehistory
Park, painting a 4m x 2m wall with a scene from the battle of
Mons Graupius. It was a real challenge because of the scale
and subject matter. All of the group are amateurs so, although
capable of the task, sometimes they lack confidence (I had a
few moments of doubt myself), but I think that they did a marvellous
job and should be proud of it.The photos show the various stages
from initial sketch up to near completion.
It's not been all work though and I
have managed a few days' sailing out of Largs on the west coast
of Scotland, a week in Mull and Skye and some birdwatching at
Rutland Water and the Eyebrook Reservoir. All of these trips
have given me endless inspiration for paintings.
Off Arran, plunging gannets, as always,
fascinated me. I love their shapes, both when flying and the
'paper dart' shape they adopt when plunging into the sea. An
overnight on the boat at the quiet anchorage of Caladh at the
top of the Kyles of Bute, awakening to flat calm water, seabirds
and seaweed strewn rocks provided me with a wonderful palette
of colours. Watch out over the next few months for the appearance
of a painting of this area with some lovely reflections and
a heron on the rocks (sounds like some exotic cocktail doesn't
Mull is one of my all time favourite
places and we had glorious, sunny, hot weather (again!) in which
to enjoy it. I saw nearly all of my hit list (compiled mentally
before I left). We had some wonderful views of an otter fishing,
repeatedly diving and surfacing with butterfish, then using
its dextrous front paws to stuff them into its mouth. The reflected
colours of azure skies and golden ochre seaweed, broken into
small fragments by the otter's twisting and diving made a really
interesting pattern - another painting in the making I think.
The first two paintings I want to produce
based on my Mull experience are of two of the most sought after
birds visitors to the island want to see, golden and white tailed
(or sea) eagles. I was lucky enough to get great views of both.
The golden eagle banking across a hillside with the patchwork
background of grass and lichen encrusted rocks was dramatic
and unforgettable, especially as it turned and came back across
the hillside, settling briefly for a time on top of one of the
A distant view of a young sea eagle,
huge and dark coloured, perched atop a large boulder awaiting
the adults, although blurry because of the heat haze (now there's
a problem you don't often have in Scotland) gave me enough information
to form the basis of a painting.
Also while on Mull we took a boat trip
out of Tobermory with the Sea Life Surveys boat Alpha Beta.
Although we did not see whales as hoped, we did see porpoises
and common dolphins and many seabirds. What I really had wished
for was a sighting of a basking shark, particularly as one had
been seen earlier on in the day, but we lucked out. A speeding
flock of storm petrels and a frenzy of feeding shearwaters followed
by a similar group of terns were all worth seeing. Puffins are
always a joy to see too and we constantly came across lone guillemots
with single chicks following on peeping loudly. Returning close
to Ardnamurchan Point, the white guano-coated rocks showed up
the dark shapes of the shags very well as they sat about looking
dim-witted as only shags can.
One of my favourite evenings at the
Eyebrook Reservoir was spent watching a kingfisher from a bridge.
It kept returning every twenty minutes or so to the same perch
just beside the bridge where it would sit for about five minutes.
What an exotic jewel of a bird it is and this one was almost
bombproof. Despite quite a crowd of chattering people gathering
at one point, it seemed totally unfazed and just continued to
peer down into the stream. It was an absolute delight, a gem
of a bird in every sense and such was its magnetism, that I
simply couldn't drag myself away. After each of its visits,
I would think, "Now I'll leave", and then almost instantly
decide to stay "just until it appears again" - and
so passed two and a half hours! I've always wanted to paint
a kingfisher but have never had close enough nor long enough
views of one to consider that I have the 'feel' for it and a
true idea of the colours. Now I do, you can be sure that over
the winter it will be one of my priorities.
Of course, Rutland and the surrounding
area also provided great views of red kites, whole families
of ospreys, a dead tree full of perching cormorants (wonderful
shapes) and three little egrets feeding in a pool so I guess
I'm going to be busy over the next few months.
Underway at the moment are a painting
of the pair of peregrines and one of a long eared owl and chick
(referred to in previous month's diary). These should be completed
by the end of September and on the website by the beginning
of October. Then I intend to get started on the eagles and kingfisher.......
and maybe otters........ and cormorants and oh yes, gannets!
- somebody hold me down!
A lot of this month has been spent
checking out raptor breeding sites and
monitoring their progress on behalf of the Raptor Study Group.
It is an
ideal opportunity while sitting about waiting for something
to happen (birds
of prey are very good at standing around for long periods of
pretty much nothing) to observe and sketch. Light conditions,
time of day,
weather and individual birds and locations can make a huge difference
These are some sketches of a male peregrine, based on a scruffy
sketch that I did on the back of a till receipt (that was all
I had in my
pocket at the time) and from memory. This male is a particularly
bird and I want to do a painting of him and his young female
mate as I saw
them that day on one of their favourite perches atop a very
aesthetically pleasing, dead, bleached tree stump. The rocks
below have the most amazing
array of pinks, blue-greys and lilacs in them and the rocks
and pale stump
are set against a background of deep dark pines. These sketches
the basis of that painting which I hope to start in May.
I now have limited edition prints available of some the pen drawings I did
for the Raptor Worker's Manual. Birds featured are Long Eared Owl, Barn Owl,
Tawny Owl, Little Owl, Short Eared Owl, Osprey, Raven, White Tailed Eagle
and Peregrine Chicks. Each print is approximately A4 size, individually
signed and numbered and is available as print only, mounted in single mount,
mounted in special double mount and mounted and framed in broad, charcoal
black wooden frame. See "Prints" page for further details. Originals of
these will be available for sale next month when they return from the
My obsession with owls continues unabated and I have found a tawny owl site, barn owl site and possible long eared site all with fairly "bomb proof"
birds because they are all near busy and noisy areas. Watching them from a
distance (through the telescope) from areas where human activity is normal
and tolerated allows me to watch and sketch without disturbance. I am so
looking forward to getting some drawings of these wonderful chicks.
I am hoping to complete my portrait of a Long Eared Owl and chick this
month. Below are the pencil sketches and ink and wash sketch that were the
preliminary drawing before I started. What I was trying to show was the
contrast between the half-asleep adult and the alert and very much awake
youngster (the typical story of mums and young babies in the human species
too!). The background is larch branches and at the time of year that the
chick is at this stage, the soft, larch needles are a gorgeous, fresh, limey
green. So far, I have drawn it out on the watercolour paper and have just
started to paint.
Painting Weekend, Perthshire
I am tutoring a painting weekend based at the Bein inn, Glenfarg, Perthshire on 2th – 29 th May. It is an all-inclusive weekend with all meals, accommodation, tutoring and materials included. I have tutored two weekends here before, both of which proved a great success. The weekend will suit both beginners and the more experienced and we will be painting in Glenfarg Gardens and at Balvaird Castle . Should you be interested you can go to www.beininn.com (go to What's New, Special Offers) to find out more or email me at email@example.com
Well, March has been a funny old month. It has seen the scale of my work vary from the sublime to the ridiculous, from a commission for a pen and ink drawing of a merlin to a painting on a wall that measures 4m x 2m. The wall painting is of a battle scene between the Picts and Romans, not my usual subject matter but it will be a challenge. They do say that it is good to try something new – I'll let you know after it is underway!
In the last few weeks I have been organising to have limited edition prints made of some of the pen and ink drawings that I completed for the Raptor Worker's Manual. At the moment the subjects will be barn owl, short eared owl, tawny owl, long eared owl, little owl, osprey, white tailed eagle and peregrine chicks. They should be available by the middle of April and the originals will be available for sale shortly after. Also underway are a watercolour painting of a fishing heron and one of a long eared owl and its well-grown chick. Keep checking this page for updates.
This my favourite time of year when everything in the natural world moves up a gear or two, Blackthorn is blooming, bulbs and plants are growing apace, catkins load the trees, the garden birds are building, insects are appearing and the raptor season is underway again. The clocks change and extra light in the evenings means I can get out walking and birdwatching.
On an icy Easter Monday, a trip from Braemar, over the mountain, through Glen Isla to Kirriemuir gave me some interesting subject matter. First stop was for some red deer stags high on the hill halfway through the mountains. My husband pushed me and my telescope out of the car with the phrase “your on your own”. Standing on the edge of a moor in a freezing wind, with numb fingers, red nose and streaming eyes, peering through a telescope at animals and birds is not his idea of fun. The deer were fabulous though, with their white tipped antlers and their slightly scruffy looking, faded winter coats. They made a lovely sight against the rich, port wine colour of the dried heather blooms and the tumbles of pale grey stones. I spotted a mountain hare, still totally white, crouched among the heather, sheltering from the wind. It was startlingly obvious as there was no snow about.
Another stop further down the other side of the Glen and I picked out a ptarmigan, partially white, tucked into the lee of a large boulder. It was more sensible than me standing out in the bitter cold wind. Further searching revealed others lying low. I love these hardy little birds and would like to do a painting of them just as they were that day, huddled down among the heather and rocks. The moors were also full of curlew, flying low over the heather, calling with that wonderfully evocative sound that is quintessentially summer. I love the way they glide on curved wings with their heads and elegantly curved beaks held downwards on a stiff neck. It is a very distinct posture.
Closer to home, the tree sparrows have taken over most of the nestboxes in my garden and wood. I will need to put up more for the poor tits that have been ousted. From my studio, I can see five boxes and all but one have tree sparrows coming and going carrying feathers and nesting materials. There is a nest box surrounded by ivy on a pine tree at the back of the wood and I did some drawings one day of this pair busy about their homemaking. While one was in the box, the other sat impatiently on top of the box, a soft, curved, pale wood pigeon feather in its beak. I thought what a lovely painting it would make and hope to start one based on this very soon.
If any of you subscribe to Wildscape magazine, you will have noticed that they have a gallery feature on me in the current issue and I believe Leopard magazine also have an article on my work in their latest issue.
January and February
Most of these months were taken up with working on illustrations for the Raptor Workers' Manual. Although black and white, these were very detailed and quite hard work but very rewarding. I tend to do a light pencil drawing first then work my way through the illustration, completing one part before moving on to the next. Sometimes, being a bit of a grasshopper mind, I jump about the picture putting in all the similar tones and so end up with a very fragmented piece of work until it is completed and comes together again.