Killer Weather

Tawny OwlThis endless winter is literally a killer, what is just a trial for most of us has had more tragic consequences for a few. Needless to say the birds are taking a hammering as well, I do what I can for the songbirds and they, for their part, cheer up my monochrome and frozen garden. Unfortunately there is not much to be done for Owls who have great difficulty finding their prey under snow covered fields. A few years ago the Barn Owl numbers were decimated by a severe winter and I can only see a repeat of that decline this year.

I hear a Tawny Owl on a regular basis in the woods around my house, easy to tell as they are the ones who hoot! I listened to him a few nights ago and it struck me I had never painted a Tawny. I knew I had some images from a local Bird of Prey Refuge so I dug them out and had a go. I decided to position him on a fence post with winter bramble around him. I think it works.

Sea Eagle Thank You

Sea EagleI am very pleased to say that my painting Gaze of the Sea Eagle has been purchased by the RSPB. The painting is to be reproduced and the Giclee’s presented to volunteer’s as a thank you for long service and dedication the the Society. This is extremely rewarding as I am full of admiration for these volunteers and the work they do. I have agreed to manage the production of the Giclees and on completion, sign all 500 prints.

Robin rainy dayIn complete contrast to the ‘flying barn door’, as the Sea Eagle is called, I have recently returned to a favourite subject of mine, garden birds. With the recent cold spell my feeding stations have been mobbed by everything from Blue Tit’s, Long Tailed Tit’s and Chaffinches to Nuthatch and Spotted Woodpeckers. Although the bird that gives the most back, is the Robin. They are so tame that photo opportunities are really easy and so demand to be painted. Every morning as I walked down to my studio the Robin unfailingly appeared and I was able to have him almost, but not quite, take the food from my hand. What a delight. I have painted two Blue Tits on a branch with last seasons foliage, the leaves looked brown until the sun broke through and lo and behold, they were transformed to a flaming gold.

Blue Tits Autumn Dance

Jaguar

I visited Edinburgh Zoo a couple of months ago hoping to paint one or both of their Panda’s, sadly the male remained in his den and the female lay motionless with one paw over her face. They obviously did not feel an obligation to perform, despite the extra cost of entry to the Panda enclosure.

Shy Panda

Fortunately not all the animals adopted the ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ attitude and the Jaguar provided me with some wonderful material which resulted in a painting shown below. This beautiful cat sat a couple of feet from me with only plate glass between him and me and stared straight at me for the longest time.

Sometimes I find I need to do something different from my relentless pursuit of wildlife and I have produced a couple of landscapes using oil paints. It is literally ten years since I last did something in this medium having found acrylic paints suited my style of working, but I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of oils and the change of subject. Now I have had my bus man’s holiday I cannot wait to get back to painting wildlife but using oils!

Jaguar

I have not had prints done from my paintings for quite some time now, this was because the company I entrusted with this task, let me down by failing to maintain the high standard I demand. Having earned my living in the colour reproduction sector of the Printing Industry, I could not in all conscience, sell something that was not a faithful reproduction of the original. The good news is I have now found someone who can reproduce my paintings to the highest standard so I have again begun to have them reproduced, beginning with the Jaguar.

Rain Stopped Play

The headline that has been the death knell of so many events this ‘summer’ was the story of the Yorkshire Artists Exhibition at the Great Yorkshire Show.

The first day of the show ended with the depressing news that it would also be the last day. This was my first year and I was really impressed with the quality of the work on show but what really struck me was what a really nice group of people the artists were. They welcomed me without reservation and presided over by the lovely Judy Packham; made me wish I had regular contact with all of them.

The potter Eric Moss made a terrific video of the venue and the artwork which can be seen on youtube Great Yorkshire Artists@ the Great Yorkshire Show. If you check it out you will see why I was so happy to be part of it.

Because of the anti-climatic end to the event I am still feeling a bit down but I am shortly visiting the Panda’s at Edinburgh Zoo so that should restore my good humour.

Yorkshire Show Paintings

With the show only a couple of days away it is just as well I have finalised my exhibits including three paintings which have been done specifically for this event. The three new paintings include Woodcock; Grey Partridge and Red Kites. The game birds are a natural for the Great Yorkshire Show but I feel the painting of the Red Kites will resonate with everyone in Yorkshire because they have become such an iconic sight to everyone in this area. The painting reflects the view most of us enjoy of these graceful flyers and I have tried to capture the graceful freedom of their flight.

Red Kites

As I have been asked to do a demonstration of my working methods I will also take a work in progress painting of a Golden Eagle which hopefully will give an insight into my technique. As I really enjoy talking to people about my work this will not be a hardship but as I don’t adopt the conventional aproach to painting I am not sure how useful this will be!

Anyway if the weather doesn’t improve we should have large numbers of the public in the art pavilion sheltering from the rain. Every cloud has a silver lining.

A Quiet Corner of the Field

A Quiet Corner of the FieldWith the Great Yorkshire Show getting ever closer I have been working on a painting of Grey Partridge. This is a subject which has been on my To Do list for three years, that is how long ago I captured the photographs of the partridge. I had a pitch at the International Falconry Fair in Reading and another artist mentioned there was a pen with captive grey’s, knowing the opportunity to get close up shots of this bird was unlikely to present itself again I hurried off with my camera. The detail below shows one of the birds and the completed work will feature on my website soon.

On the Easel

Ross underpaintingMy latest piece of work is a painting of a Golden Labrador named Ross, this is quite a departure from the recent series featuring Big Cats. A dogs’ portrait might be seen as lacking the appeal of more exotic subject matter, I do not agree. Having loved dogs all my life and enjoyed the unquestioning loyalty they give I cannot think of anything I enjoy painting more. It is quite a challenge to portray a dog and convey the character in a way that resonates with the dogs’ owner.

Ross detailThe way this painting was developed can be seen in the images taken at various stages and shows my preferred working method. Certain key elements such as; in this case, the eyes and the nose are carefully defined and form the roadmap for the painting. The rest of the painting is completed in muted colours, almost monochrome, with local colour added in transparent glazes. The final stage sees the addition of opaque colour to emphasise form and highlights.

This image shows the underpainting prior to the addition of glazes

At this stage the glazes are added to the underpainting.

There are many examples of the unique relationship between men and dogs and it should come as no surprise that we want to have our pets immortalised. To quote Agnes Sligh TurnbullĀ ”Dogs’ lives are too short, their only fault really”.

Ross glaze

Siberian Tiger, in From the Cold

Dudley Zoo

My recent visit to Dudley Zoo, made with the intention of photographing their Snow Leopard’s turned up an unexpected bonus, Dudley Zoo had recently acquired two young Tigers, a Sumatran male and a Siberian, also known as Amur Tiger which is a young female. The Snow Leopards were beautiful but the wire mesh of their cage; foiled my attempts to photograph them but the Tiger enclosure provided marvelouse views and the tigers were playful and completely captivating.

When I completed a painting of the Amur Tiger I sent the image to Dudley Zoo and complimented them on their Zoo. I was pleased to get an immediate response from their Head of Media and Communications, asking if they could use the painting on their web site. Well we all have an ego and it was nice to have mine stroked. More importantly I was invited to return with the promise of meeting the Head of the big cats and with a bit of luck he just might manage to assist me in getting a photo of the Snow Leopards.

When I was a young boy we used to visit Edinburgh Zoo and I distinctly remember being upset by the cramped and austere conditions the animals were kept. That was how all zoo’s kept their animals then. The huge change in the perception of what is acceptable to ensure wild animals are healthy in body as well as mind, has brought about a sea change in zoo’s the world over and now zoo’s go to great lengths to ensure the animals have enough space and mental stimulation to provide them with a good quality of life and crucially; contended enough to breed normally.

The massive erosion of environment has meant that the only way many of our endangered animals will survive is by the breeding programs that all zoo’s pursue. In the case of the Amur Tiger there are only about thirty individuals left in the wild. So we have much to be grateful for and it means our children and their children will be as thrilled as I was when I visited Dudley Zoo.

Bye Bye Blackbird

BlackbirdRecently I have seen an increased incidence of Sparrowhawk sorties targeting the birds at the feeders in my garden. I try to accept the harsh reality of nature along with all the pleasant sights and sounds. After all it is as natural for a Sparrowhawk to predate songbirds as it is for Blackbirds to feed on worms and try as it might a hawk cannot feed on peanuts. There can hardly be a more exhilarating spectacle anywhere than a Sparrowhawk streaking by at such speed you are left with only blurred impression of it’s passage.

My acceptance of the natural pecking order was somewhat tested when a young male Blackbird which had become increasingly tame and almost accepted tidbits from my hand, appeared to have fallen victim to the raider. I went out into the garden and disturbed the Sparrowhawk, it flew off with the victim in it’s talons. On examining the crime scene I did not need CSI to establish the unfortunate bird was a Blackbird. I feared for my new friend and looked in vain all that day. However I am pleased to say that ‘Blackie’ turned up for breakfast the next day unhurt and hungry as usual so it was not his time.

I have been invited to exhibit at the Great Yorkshire Show this year and I am looking forward to the three day event. It is a great venue and I always enjoy talking to the public about my work.

I am working on a painting of an Amur Leopard at the moment, I captured images of this beautiful cat on a visit to Edinburgh Zoo. I must be the only visitor to the zoo recently who did not want to see the Pandas! I am on a bit of a roll with big cats having just completed a Sumatran Tiger, this will be on my web site shortly.

Speaking of exotic animals; check out the photograph of a field vole on my feeder. A real you’ve been framed moment.

Field Vole

Tiger Tiger

It has been a while since my last posting and the big news (for me at least) is my new studio. It has just been completed and means I can now vacate the spare room and my wife can whip out her Farrow & Ball colour chart and re-decorate the mess I have left behind. The studio is a loft conversion above my garage and with four Velux windows in the roof the light is fantastic.

On the painting front I have decided to take a break from my usual subject matter; which is predominately British wildlife and indulge myself with some more exotic wildlife from farther afield. With this in mind I spent a pleasant day at Chester Zoo and captured some good images of big cats. The first painting is a relatively small gouache of a Sumatran Tiger, television never seems able to give the same charge of excitement you get when you are up close and personal with wild creatures, despite innovations like HD etc, TV just cannot convey the presence and sheer charisma of something as magnificent as a Tiger. But even in a zoo where you know you are beyond their reach, there is a thrill of fear as they come close. The unmistakable throaty cough of a big cat touches something primeval in us that our instincts still retain. Hopefully you will think I have captured something of the dismissive arrogance of this male Tiger’s gaze in the painting.

Sumatran Tiger

Because I enjoyed painting it so much you can expect to see more from the material I brought back from Chester and I am already planning a visit to Dudley Zoo.