The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.
I graduated from art college in 2008 having specialised in drawing and painting. It had been a challenging experience and I stumbled into the real world with a sense that I had been existing in a bubble for five years. I was determined to become an artist, to retain my creative integrity and to develop and further the skills I had gained at college. My degree show was packed full of birds and animals, but at this point my inspiration was taken from drawings of the old Victorian cabinets of the Chambers Street museum in Edinburgh.
Only after graduating from college did I begin to seriously pursue printmaking, initially in the form of screen printing. Printmaking is an addictive skill – like all process-based methods it takes time to gain an understanding of the possibilities before being able to tailor it to your own aesthetic requirements. There is something wonderful about watching an image build up in layers and come to life. Once you have found your own language within each process the possibilities are endless.
I first began drawing birds and animals from life in 2009 prompted by a suggestion that I look at the animals around my childhood home in Cumbria. I found the challenge of capturing character, form and context invigorating. It was a new set of problems for me – first of all trying to make successful drawings from a subject that was moving all the time and then learning to translate these drawings into meaningful pieces of work that captured something of my experienced moment with these dynamic creatures.
Because the birds that I depict are all drawn directly from life, recreating these moments in my work serves to enrich and clarify these encounters in my mind. To then be able to share this with others is a real privilege.
My drive to depict birds has renewed a passion and interest for the natural world. With each drawing trip, I see and learn more about the creatures that inhabit our world. Drawing is an ideal way to stop and consider a world which is often overlooked, as Kathleen Jamie describes so well – ‘Between the laundry and the fetching kids from school, that’s how birds enter my life. I listen. During a lull in the traffic: oyster-catchers; in the school-playground, sparrows.’
Through my work I seek to celebrate the everyday and in return the everyday always surprises and delights me.
In early 2012 I was very pleased to discover that there was a Seabird Drawing Course which took place in June each year about ten miles away from Edinburgh, where I live and work. For the last two years I have been lucky enough to join the course; the highlight was undoubtedly time spent on the Bass Rock surrounded by the huge, noisy gannet colony breeding on this iconic volcanic island.
Nothing can prepare you for the sensory experience of the Bass Rock – the noise, the smell and the constant movement is exhilarating. For an artist interested in birds it is an absolute dream! The feeling of being an observer on the edge of the secret world of birds is intense and I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time drawing there.
So, to return to the original question of why I depict birds in my work, you might say that finding inspiration in birds has opened up a whole new world to me. I no longer walk at speed through my home city of Edinburgh – I regularly stop to watch a pied wagtail flying overhead or a thrush sitting at the top of a tree singing into the dusk, or one of the many other creatures who I share the world with, many of which I would have previously walked by without noticing. Nature writer Richard Mabey says – ‘it is nature’s fight back which is such an inspiration, her dogged and inventive survival in the face of all we deal out’, and that is exactly why I continue to draw my inspiration from the natural world and why I am driven to celebrate the diversity of the natural world. I hope that an enjoyment of my work might lead people to look again at the world around them and seek out the constantly evolving and surprising aspects of it.