Born in Bristol , 1960.
Growing up near the Avon gorge in Bristol I quickly got keen on birds as the easiest form of wildlife to watch and eventually got to know other birders around Chew Valley Lake. I was lucky that Laurel Tucker was one of that band. To see her little Daler sketchbooks, filled with detailed, sensitive sketches was inspirational. I think I was already inclined towards an aesthetic rather than scientific appreciation of birds. Now I could learn from someone who had a way of communicating that appreciation.
I drifted into studying zoology at Cardiff university and though I still love the idea of trying to make sense out of the seeming chaos in the animal world I was too subjective to be a good scientist.
Within a few months of leaving the university I had met the 2 artists who have had the biggest effect on what I do. In August 1983 I met Nicola Henley on a trip to Cape Clear Island. Nicola makes big textile wall hangings andthey helped me to see that I didn’t need to ‘get the birds right’ to say what I wanted to say.
Shortly afterwards in October 1983 I met Kim Atkinson for the first time whilst bird ringing at Bardsey Island bird observatory .To see someone at work with such a strong voice, interpreting the surroundings and really enjoying different media had a long lasting impact.
After bits and pieces of conservation work I spent the 1985 migration season at Long Point bird observatory, Ontario . As a perk I was able to join a bird censusing trip to the Hudson Bay. This was the moment of revelation for me. I was with one other ornithologist, in a tent on a beach ridge hundreds of miles from the nearest people. Icebergs offshore, caribou migrating, arctic fox on the neighbouring ridge and all kinds of exotic birds in this near 24 hour clear light. It was a sensory overload and I didn’t know what to do with it. Some of the time having to retreat into the tent. I made the resolution to find a way of expressing what I was seeing as soon as I returned to Britain.
On return from Canada a glut of adult education classes was half eye opening and half depressing. I didn’t realise then that what I needed was a full time experimental course to find out where I wanted to go. Instead I did what I thought an artist ought to do and left for Spain. I resolved to be out painting each morning at 7 but quickly found I was actually coming home at 7 am after heavy socialising. Though that had it’s virtues I eventually realised that time was flying and that I’d lost track of nature.
I was fortunate to be able to rent a house on Bardsey Island for 6 months in 1988 where I really did draw all day every day but ended up realising that I didn’t know how to take the drawings forward.
The block of work made on Bardsey got me a place on a foundation course at Manchester polytechnic and there I realised how thirsty I was for knowledge about materials and ways to go beyond just drawing what I saw. That year was by far the best academic experience of my life and there aren’t many days when I don’t refer back to some aspect of that course.
Since then I’ve been trying to keep the attitude of the foundation course. I’ve done quite a lot of illustration work. Good to be set challenging briefs that I can use as a vehicle for playing with different media but then having to make sure that I don’t get trapped into a fixed approach.
The support and friendship that the Society of Wildlife Artists (I’ve been a member since 1993 and twice acted as council member) and the Artists for Nature foundation have offered in these last few years has been great. Some of the projects shared with other artists have been amongst my happiest experiences.
BBC radio broadcasts produced by Tim Dee describing what I do. (Tim, a friend since schooldays, has just written a great book ‘The Running Sky‘ the review on the Amazon site gives a good sense of his achievement) .
I have enjoyed a series of week long residencies at the Nature in Art museum in Gloucestershire. The best of these have been when working with other artists collaboratively…locked into that space for 6 days. I think 2 were with Kim Atkinson, one with Bruce Pearson and 3 with David Measures. David died in 2011 and I must remember to post some kind of record of our weeks working together which had a profound effect on me (2001 residency).
unfinished business to be added
SWLA book projects
Kibale SWLA project , Nik Pollard
‘La Riviera’ published by Gallimard
John & Jane Paige, Kings Cliffe
hand made books
John Busby’s drawing course