Society of Wildlife Artists 50th Anniversary Exhibition

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

This week is Private View week. You know how it is, none for ages and then two come along together. Today it’s the Lloyd’s Art Group exhibition, where I’m exhibiting seven works. This is my first year with the group, so I’m excited to see how it all unfolds. The Lloyd’s Art Group exhibition is open 10.30am – 4pm, Monday 28 October – Friday 1 November 2013.

Tomorrow is The Society of Wildlife Artists 50th Anniversary Exhibition private view at the Mall Galleries. Sadly I didn’t enter the SWLA this year, as the hand-in dates clashed with my teaching in Scotland. Never mind, I’m keen to enter next year, and I’m sure I’ll be even more motivated after tomorrow afternoon. Many of the SWLA artists kindly agreed to my using their images in The Wildlife Artist’s Handbook, so I am much looking forward to seeing their new work. The SWLA exhibition is open 10.00am – 5.00pm, Thurs 31 October to Sunday 10 November.

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Bird Name Quiz – the Answers

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for… (insert drum roll here)…. here are the answers to last week’s Bird Name Quiz.

  1. Starling
  2. Long-tailed Tit
  3. Sparrowhawk
  4. Kestrel
  5. Nightingale
  6. Shelduck
  7. Woodpigeon
  8. Redstart
  9. Fieldfare
  10. Dunnock

If you like puzzles, especially those with a wildlife theme, check out my Mindbender Puzzle ebooks They’re absolutely free, so you have nothing to lose… except your cool!Redstart

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Bird Name Quiz

Delving in the loft the other day I came across some of my father’s old books. Amongst them was an absolute gem, handed down from my grandmother’s family. Published in 1890, it is titled Glossary of Dialect and Archaic Words used in the County of Gloucester.

Chaffinch Many of the words relate to the county’s agricultural heritage and, to my delight, there are numerous mentions of bird, animal and plant species.

Some of them came about very obviously, based on colour or sound. Anyone who has ever listened to a Chaffinch will immediately understand when the name “Pink” came from. “Witwall” is rather harder to understand. How that represented a Great Spotted Woodpecker is open to conjecture.

Prize for the most names goes to the Green Woodpecker, which rejoices under the names of: Eckle, Equal, Equaw, Eeckwall, Hakel, Heckle, Hickwall, Laughing Betsy, Wood-spite, Yaffel and Yuckel.

Just for fun, here are ten bird species, listed only by their dialect names. Can you guess the ten species?

  1. Black Steer, Stare, Steer
  2. Mumruffin, Poke pudding, Oven-builder, Underground Oxeye
  3. Blue Hawk
  4. Brown Hawk
  5. Oodle, Woodwail
  6. Burrow-duck
  7. Quice, Zoo-zoo
  8. Firebrand, Firetail
  9. Felt, Veldwer, Vildyveer, Vilt, Velt
  10. Blue Isaac, Chubby, Haysuck, Hayzick

All are well-known species, and all were/are seen in Gloucestershire.

Answers next week.

Don’t forget, the most comprehensive book of birds in Gloucestershire ever produced is now available, and features ten of my illustrations.


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The Birds of Gloucestershire

Barn OwlThose of you who came to Bird Fair will have seen that I had a display on my stand about the forthcoming book The Birds of Gloucestershire.

Earlier this year I was approached to produce some of the illustrations for the book, and I subsequently painted ten monochrome watercolours. I was given a list of the required species and was able to choose which ones I wanted to do. I chose: Barn Owl, Dipper, Lapwing, Little Egret, Nightjar, Peregrine, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Red Kite and Wren. As a lifelong Gloucestershire resident and birdwatcher, I felt an emotional connection with all of them.

The editors asked if I would devote a little of my stand space at Bird Fair to a display about the book. I was happy to oblige, especially when I saw some of the sample layouts, colour photographs, and other artwork by such luminaries as Sir Peter Scott, Robert Gillmor and Keith Shackleton. The designers and contributors have done a great job.

During Bird Fair two of the book’s designers ( visited my stand and were able to show me the page layouts of “my” species. They also showed me a comparable book so I could see the quality of materials. The Birds of Gloucestershire is going to be a really beautiful book!

It will be a large book too, with over four hundred pages and a 34mm spine, which must go some way to justifying the £45 RRP. Rest assured though, it’s currently available for a mere £20 +p&p as a pre-publication offer. You’ll need to act quickly though, as the current offer only lasts until 2 September. So if you picked up a leaflet at Bird Fair, don’t delay – and if you didn’t, here’s a downloadable version of the flyer: Gloucestershire Birds.

Later this year there will be a book launch and an exhibition of the artwork at Nature in Art. Watch this space for details.


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The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook 2014

I’ve been a great fan of The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook for over twenty-five years, so I’m thrilled to have been chosen to paint the cover image for the 2014 issue. Past artists include Chris Rose, Peter Partington and John Threlfall. The only difficulty has been keeping the painting under wraps until the publisher Buckingham Press Ltd, was ready to release it.

The brief was to paint a pair of birds, with one looking directly at the viewer, in any medium and style. The format had to be square, and the painting had to be at least twice the size of the reproduction. I could choose any species from the British List, providing my chosen species hadn’t been used as a cover image before.

I had a few species on my short list but decided to choose Smew, as it’s a bird I love to see and a popular one with many birders. So without further ado, here’s the painting…

Smew Pair

… and here’s how it looks as the cover image

BYB14 cover mock-up

The Yearbook is an indispensible guide for birders, containing ornithological news, tide times, nature reserve information, bird clubs contact details, sightings checklists, book and website reviews and much, much more. See more details here: The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook

The Yearbook will be published in October 2013, and I’ll be showing the painting at Bird Fair 2013.

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Bird Fair 2013

It’s nearly time for the British Birdwatching Fair (aka Bird Fair)…. for the twenty fifth time. Can it really be the 25th anniversary? A lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of money raised for conservation – over £2,000,000, to date.

A previous year's display.

A previous year’s display.

As usual, I’ll be in the Art marquee, on Stand 50 & 51, with a display of artwork, prints and puzzles, and a small display about two new books: the Birds of Gloucestershire and The Wildlife Artist’s Handbook. Plus I’ll have my cover illustration for The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook 2014 on display.

As well as art, there will be competitions, talks, trade stands, cruises, and an auction taking place, all nestling in the glorious scenery of Rutland Water. If you love the countryside, it’s certainly the place to be.

One of my favourite parts of BirdFair is painting the mural. More than forty artists take part over the three days, with each of us choosing a couple of species to paint. This year the theme is American Grasslands, and I’ll be painting Scarlet Ibis and Prairie Falcon. There’s a real camaraderie amongst the artists, and it’s great to see the mural taking shape during Bird Fair. For some artists the only time they ever paint in acrylics is on the mural, and for the sculptors it may be the only time they ever paint.

The best part of Bird Fair though is the chance for like-minded people to meet up, have a great time and raise money for conservation. It’s a really happy fair: fun, informative and friendly. You can’t ask for more than that.

Do come and say hello if you are coming to the Fair. Here’s the link to plan your visit:

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The Wildlife Artist’s Handbook

I know I’ve been away for a while, but now… I’m back! The reason, as you’ve probably guessed, is that I’ve been super-busy writing and illustrating the Wildlife Artist’s Handbook, while keeping up with all my other projects. It’s finally with the publisher, going through all the tweaks necessary before the official publication day. Anyway, I though I’d update you with the book’s final incarnation, as it has evolved somewhat during its short life.

Front cover designThe Wildlife Artist’s Handbook is a practical guide to wildlife art. Originally commissioned as a How to Draw and Paint Wildlife guide, it soon became apparent that something different was required. After all, there are already plenty of How To books available. It was time for a new approach. My belief was that a handbook would give a more complete picture (no pun intended) of the wildlife art genre, so here is the new structure.

Firstly, wildlife art is set in context, by looking at the rich heritage of wildlife portrayal in art history – (a great excuse to show some fabulous artwork from cave paintings to the present day). Next the book keeps faith with the original concept, giving practical drawing and painting techniques. Wildlife doesn’t exist in isolation, so a chapter on fieldcraft and working outdoors follows on.

It helps to be aware of what goes on beneath fur and feather, so a look at the basic structure of birds, animals, insects and fish is the next chapter. Although the science is important, the purpose of wildlife art is to produce a piece of art, so a chapter on composition helps readers to communicate their visions to the viewers. Wildlife artists use a range of media, so a chapter about print-making and sculpture suggests the breadth of the genre while providing inspiration for future possibilities.

In these days of digital images, it makes sense to include photography. Some readers will choose to work from photographic reference, while to others it is an anathema, yet most of us have to cope with photographing our work and submitting images to competitions, websites and blogs. We all need to keep abreast of the laws of copyright. The photographic chapter covers all of this, beyond the scope of the How To books.

The final chapter helps the reader to establish their art according to their own interests, and looks at pricing work, undertaking commissions, exhibiting and using social media to connect with other artists and collectors. The concept of this chapter is to support the reader as they gain in confidence of their art skills and start sharing their work with a wider audience.

The Appendix lists organisations (with website addresses) around the world, where wildlife art can be seen and studied. A Further Reading list offers suggestions for books on both the practical and aspirational aspects of wildlife art.

Ultimately, The Wildlife Artist’s Handbook is a book that acts as a companion to the reader as they progress from the first tentative drawings of a moving subject, to being confident enough to share their work with a local, and then global, audience. It is a dual purpose book, offering practical advice, and showcasing wildlife art from history and from thirty contemporary professional artists. Whether or not the reader picks up a pencil, they will enjoy the inspiring images from this beautiful book.

The Wildlife Artist’s Handbook comprises 55,000 words and 250 images. RRP £16.99.
Publication date: 25 November 2013, but available for pre-order now.

If you’d like further information about The Wildlife Artist’s Handbook please contact me:

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How to Build an Art Collection on a Budget

Yesterday I tweeted excitedly about my preparations for BirdFair (I’m exhibiting along with many other wildlife artists in the wonderful Art Marquee). Someone responded that visiting the art marquee could be very expensive. Now, it’s not clear whether they meant that they were bound to succumb to temptation, or that they expected the art on display to be expensive, or something else. But it got me thinking – can you build an art collection on a budget? And if so, how?

The answer, you’ll be glad to know, is yes. And here’s how:

1. Contemporary art is often cheaper than you’d think.
The price of the latest pieces from the likes of Hirst and Emin is always hitting the headlines, but in reality most original art is priced in tens and hundreds rather than thousands. For example, at the recent NEWA exhibition, the selling prices of hundreds of pieces of original art started at around a hundred pounds.

2. Follow your favourite artists on social media or check out their websites regularly.
Sometimes artists have promotions or sales. Keep up with what they’re doing and where they’ll be, and you could be in the right place at the right time to snap up a bargain.

3. Christmas gifts.
If you see a piece you really like, why not get family members to club together towards a Christmas or birthday gift (or both) for you. You’ll get the piece of your dreams and they’ll love knowing that they gave you a unique gift that you’ll really treasure. Be sure to invite them round when it’s in pride of place!

4. Payment plan.
Ask about spreading the cost of a piece or artwork. Artists understand the realities of a recession as well as anyone, and above all they’ll want their artwork to go to a good home. Suggest paying over a few months and you’ll get the piece you want and they’ll know their painting went to the right person. Win: win!
(NB Look out for my future post on UK gallery instalment plans)

5. What’s on.
Check out the ‘What’s On’ sections of websites and local press. If there’s a local art sale you can bet it’ll be promoted in the Press, and there’s a strong possibility there’ll be a bargain to be had.

6. Check out your local flea markets and boot sales.
We’ve all seen the programmes where someone arrives with a grubby piece and proclaims “My Mum bought it at a boot sale for £5” and it turns out to be an early Picasso or a Ming vase. You’re left wishing it could be you. Well, it could!

7. Signed limited edition prints.
If you can’t afford originals, signed limited edition prints make a great alternative. With the giclee print method, the quality is excellent and colours are lightfast so you can go on enjoying your print for years without fear it will fade.

8. Raffles
Charity raffles sometimes include paintings or prints. Buy some tickets and you could end up with an original for just a few pounds’ outlay. If you don’t win, at least you’ll know you’re helping a good cause.

9. Buy unframed.
If you can’t afford the framed original, why not consider an unframed piece now that you can frame later?

10. Follow up & coming artists.
Consider investing in unknown and up & coming artists (providing you love their work, of course). Not only is their work cheaper than their famous cousins, but you might find in a few years time that their work has gone stratospheric and you’ve made a canny investment. Sound good?

11. Set aside a budget, any budget.
Plan a budget every year for an art piece. It may be only a few pounds, or if you get a sudden windfall, it could be a more. But just by allocating a budget every year you’ll be able to indulge your love of art without feeling guilty. And you get all the fun of planning what to add to your growing collection.

12. Know your art.
Spend time at galleries and exhibitions. Not only will you have a great time, but you’ll get to know the market, and be better equipped to spot a bargain when the opportunity arises.

Owning original art shouldn’t be the province of only the rich. In the words of Hedy Lamarr: “A good painting to me has always been like a friend. It keeps me company, comforts and inspires.”

Happy collecting!

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Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1

The flag’s been handed over, the torch extinguished, and a palpable air of loss hangs over the country. But all is not lost – there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in the wildlife art world:

  1. It’s less than a week to Birdfair
  2. Give yourself something to look forward to – how about booking a wildlife art course in Scotland in 2013?
  3. Go field sketching – the weather’s warm, but not too hot, and you can avoid the showers if you’re careful
  4. Enter the draw to win a signed limited edition print of Heading Home by signing up to my newsletter
  5. Visit an art exhibition in the metropolis now the crowds are gone -
  6. If you don’t like the city, check out these top 10 coastal galleries
  7. Buy a National Art Pass and get free entry to over 200 museums, galleries and historic houses
  8. Make a date in the diary 9 Oct – 26 Nov British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition at Nature in Art showing the winners from the latest 2012 competition
  9. Learn a new skill – sign up to an art class
  10. …And you can do all of the above without missing the Olympics!
Heading Home

Heading Home


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Artists Can Have Olympic Moments Too

As the Olympics draws to a close I can’t help thinking about the joy and pride we’ve seen on the athletes’ faces after years of preparation and training pays off. As I thought about it I realised that artists come up with exactly those emotions.

Ok, we don’t know the sublime joy of winning a gold medal in front of millions, but we certainly know about dedication – years of building skills, practising, trying again and again when a piece just doesn’t go right. The feeling when you’ve kept at it and finally it does come out even better than you thought it would… there’s a pride and a joy in that moment, knowing that you could have given up when the going got tough but you pushed yourself to keep on going.

It’s not just established artists who experience these Olympic moments. One of the comments I hear so often when I’m teaching beginners is “Can’t I just call it finished?” (This is code for “I’m not happy with it but I don’t know what to do to improve it.”) My answer is always “Well you could, but then you’ll always feel slightly dissatisfied with it. Why don’t we carry on for a bit and make it in to something you’ll always be proud of?” One of my favourite moments in a class was when one of my students’ “Can’t I just call it finished?” became “Wow! I’d never have thought I could do that!” 

In the wise words of our final 2012 medallist, Sam Murray, “Honestly, if you have a goal – if there’s anything you want to achieve in life – don’t let anybody get in your way. You can do it. If I can do it, and I’m a normal girl, anyone can do what they want to do.” That applies to art just as much as the modern pentathlon.

So next time you’re contemplating giving up, remember the dedication we’ve seen from the athletes. Instead of conceding defeat, how about giving yourself an Olympic moment?

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