Monday, November 22, 2010


It was familiarity with Charles Tunnicliffe's watercolour paintings which aroused my interest in drawing and painting birds. I got to know his work from his published illustrations but the first time I saw the originals was in an exhibition in the Oriel Gallery at Llangefni on Anglesey. His draughtsmanship and control of the watercolour medium was breathtaking. Robert Gillmor's collection of CT's drawings 'A Sketchbook of Birds' gives an insight into his working methods but I really wanted to read a book 'Bird Portraiture' which he published in 1945. I was delighted to buy a second hand copy quite cheaply from an Amazon bookseller and I wasn't disappointed.

CT recognised that birds even if you take them out of their natural environment are still have an intrinsic beauty just like flowers but he thought it important for the artist to interpret his bird subjects in terms of basic graphic elements. 

'It is with the creation of a very different kind of beauty that this book will try to deal, - that of line and form and colour on paper or canvas; a work of art in fact which, we hope will have its own particular claim to be beautiful, not because it has slavishly imitated the form and colour of the bird, but because it has used the bird and controlled it to create a new beauty.'

When you study CT's they owe little to 'realism' but a great deal to careful composition and colour harmony.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've been fortunate this summer to be able to observe a young buzzard who took to perching on the goalposts on the village playing field. He arrived regularly about 8.00am and flew of when the field started to be used. While he was using the goalposts as a lookout he was still enough to be sketched through a telescope  When he took off to browse for ants with the jackdaws I had to take photographs.

This sheet of drawings was made from photographs I took. The one on the right was drawn with charcoal and for the left hand study I've used a 4b Carbon pencil. However you tackle them birds are a real challenge.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


This is a working study of nesting Kittiwakes. I photographed them through a telephoto lense from the boat going across to the Farne Islands. There seemed to be dozens of birds on the cliffs and I've composed the sketch by using four from two different photographs.

I've used a 160gsm Ingres grey pastel paper and I began the sketch using Carb Othello pastel pencils. I decided that using watercolour for the birds would speed things up. Using watercolour on toned paper is an occasion when body colour comes into its own. If you decide to try this you will be in good company Turner used the technique on a blue sugar papar.

The white plumage of the birds is basically pure Titanium White and the grey feathers are painted with a Cobalt/Titanium mix. Ivory Black was used for the tail feathers and eyes. I would never use a pure Kolinsky Sable for this technique. I always use Rosemary & Co brushes these days and I've used a Series 401 Sable Blend for the birds and the transparent washes on the cliff face. It's sometimes useful to have a more springy brush and I found Rosemary's Shiraz Round was ideal for the nesting material.

For this way of sketching I owe something to Keith Brockie the Scottish wildlife artist. I managed to pick up 'One Man's Island' a book he wrote as a young man when he had an artists residency on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. It's a book of pencil studies of wildlife he observed in the field and worked up later in the studio. Charles Tunnicliffe worked in a similar way.