Category Archives: Projects

The Natural Eye, Mall Galleries, London

The annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists runs from 26th October to 6th November. It showcases the very best of art inspired by the natural world and has over 350 pieces by more than 100 artists on display this year.

Trowel Owl

Trowel Owl

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I have worked hard to get 8 pieces made for the exhibition, amongst them is ‘Funnel’ a cuckoo chick being fed by a reed warbler. This sculpture was inspired by a visit to a private nature reserve specifically to observe cuckoo young in warbler nests as part of the SWLA/BTO Flight Lines project. This project looks at the story of our summer migrants. Selected artists spent time with researchers and field biologists from the British Trust for Ornithology and the resulting work will culminate in a book to be published next year.

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Funnel

Funnel

The exhibition is open to the public and well worth a visit.

Damselfly on Stems

Damselfly on Stems

The Natural Eye, Art Book One

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This limited edition hardback book is packed with images from nearly 60 of our artists. With an introduction by naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, a short history of the Society by past President and founder Robert Gillmor, plus text by current President Harriet Mead about the Society in its 50th year and Bruce Pearson looking to the future, this is both a beautiful and informative book. With field sketches, drawings, original prints, oils, acrylics, mixed media, bronzes, ceramics and found object sculpture there are gems on every page. Each of the contributing artists have written short anecdotes about the work that they have donated and funds from the sale of the book will help the Society to encourage and support artists inspired by the natural world through the SWLA Bursaries and other opportunities.

‘What a handsome and impressive compilation it is! I am truly delighted to have it on my shelves.’ Sir David Attenborough

BBC Wildlife Magazine’s ‘Book of the Month’.

‘A hugely impressive treasury of fine art inspired by the natural world’ Jonathan Elphick, writer and naturalist 

‘Anyone who buys this book will love it if they have the faintest feeling for wildlife’  Mark Avery, writer, naturalist and environmental consultant

‘A whole world of wildlife is brought into the room with you, brimming with the essence of each subject, telling stories, and setting up wonder in our enquiring minds’ Andy Clements, Director of the British Trust for Ornithology 

At only £20 plus p&p it makes an affordable and desirable addition to any art or wildlife lovers bookshelf.

AVAILABLE FROM SWLA WEBSITE

Living Seas Exhibition

The Wildlife Trusts Undersea Art Award was set up in 2007 thanks to the vision of Peter Tinsley from Dorset WT. Since then 5 artists have been given the opportunity to learn to dive and then make work from the experience of diving off the UK coast. I was lucky enough to be the latest recipient of the award and I had an amazing time seeing marine life up close and in their element off the North Norfolk coast. See my blog about the bursary here.

To celebrate the Undersea Art Award and help highlight the need for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to be designated examples of work from all five artists (Kim Atkinson, Antonia Philips, Anna Kirk-Smith, Esther Tyson and me) is on show at Chesil Beach in Dorset until March 27th. Click here for more information.

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Sawblade Goby

PLEASE DO YOUR BIT TO HELP THE MARINE HABITAT OFF OUR COASTS

127 MCZs were recommended by the stakeholder groups, supported by the MCZ Science Advisory Panel and Natural England, the Government nature conservation advisors. The Government’s current public consultation is proposing to designate this year just 31 of the 127, and it gives no real commitment to designating the remainder. We need a whole network of protected areas as nursery beds for fish and other marine life and 31 sites does not make a network.

The consultation closes at midnight on Easter Sunday, 31st March.
It is easy to respond as the Wildlife Trusts have produced a simple click-and-send campaign response. Click here to support the MCZs.

Wildlife Trusts Undersea Art Award

The Wildlife Trusts have given this award for the last 5 years and I was thrilled to be chosen. It is an amazing opportunity to learn to dive and then use the experience of diving off the UK coast as inspiration for work to celebrate the diversity of life off our shores. Being based in Norfolk it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore the relatively newly explored Cromer shoal chalk beds off the North Norfolk coast.

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Sawblade Goby

The dive training was pretty straightforward, although I was quick to learn that nothing involved with diving can be performed in an elegant way on dry land. One ends up feeling like a zombie with a toddler’s capacity for achievement. Straps, buckles and zips become major triumphs to undo or do up and movement with all the kit on is a mammoth task. Once under the water it is a different matter with the whole weight lifted by the water and everything that was a hindrance becomes a help. The first thing that strikes you is how noisy it is with every exhaled breath bubbling past your mask. You soon get used to it but it makes you very aware of your breathing.

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Drawing Underwater

The chalk shoal off the North Norfolk coast is an amazing haven for all sorts of marine life. Despite fairly poor visibility I was blessed with views of edible crab, shore crab, spider crab, lobster and shrimp. The gobies darting around on the sand were so well camouflaged they were only visible when they moved. The crabs were ever present in the gullies and cracks of the chalk reef.  A small lobster braved it out with me waving its claws in defiance as it marched backwards to find shelter in the rocks.

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Underwater Drawings(Lobster)

My attempts at drawing it were comical. It would be difficult enough with just the thick gloves to contend with but five metres underwater with cold hands I found the super thick watercolour paper bulldog clipped to a chopping board was not the best idea. Swapping sheets of paper was hampered by the cold and the graphite sticks anchored by string to the board. Thankfully with the help of my bemused dive buddy Kate Risely the bulldog clips got back on before the drawings were claimed by the current.  As we made our way back Kate pointed out the shadow of something, the suggestion of a fan perhaps and then suddenly I could see it was a flat fish probably a dab settled in the sand with its tell tale fins giving Kate the clue to its presence.

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Padlock Crab

The second dive was on the wreck of the Rosalie and I was rewarded with the astonishing sight of walls of anenomes crusting every surface of the second world war vessel. Wrasse and bib made their homes here amongst the architecture of the collapsing deck and it was easy to forget this was iron not rock that was host to this amazing mass of life.  A much bigger lobster and the colourful sea scorpions were showy compared with the rather messy looking spider crabs self adorned with algae and weed. Despite my inexperience I followed Kate around parts of the wreck finning under beams as we delighted in the sugar pink nudibranch or sea slugs and tiny skeleton shrimps nestled among the anenomes and sponges. Time was up on the wreck so we swam back across the sand bed that was punctuated by occasional little outcrops of chalk orientating ourselves by following the ripples of sand sculpted by the sea which was a clue that we were heading back to shore. Sharp eyed Kate found two immature greater pipefish that could easily be overlooked as detritus. They were amazing little fish like straightened out seahorses so it was easy to see that they are in the same family.

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Padlock Cuttlefish

The highlight had to be the little cuttlefish, the size of a large bumblebee that turned black in front of my mask and then darted back with a small burst of ink. Its tactic is designed to divert the potential predator to allow it to escape but being so small it only managed to go away for a few inches. The next option it chose was to drop down to the sand where it disappeared in front of my eyes with one last shuffle of tentacles that swept the sand over its head. Stunning.

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Mole Grip Lobster

Back in the studio I had plenty of inspiration and trawled through my collection of old tools and scrap to find the perfect components for the underwater critters. Mole grips and secateurs helped describe the claws for the lobster and an old blade from a hedge trimmer was the basis for the abdomen with brake cables for the antennae. Padlocks were perfect for the base of the cuttlefish body and the centre of the crab’s carapace. Ring spanners and ball bearings became the prominent eyes on the goby with sawblades for its feathery fins.

I am now hooked and hope to do more dives soon so I am sure I will be making more sculptures of marine life from my experiences.

The Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds are recommended for a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). To support this recommendation visit wildlieftrusts.org/MCZ/cromer-shoal-chalk-beds