Really the most amazing week in Aberlady, Scotland (the following is summary I sent to SWLA for their website)
Late last year I was lucky enough to be awarded the SWLA’s Seabird Drawing Course Award for July 2014. I had first heard of the award when trawling through the SWLA website one autumn day, and I thought I might as well give it a go and apply, as I had nothing to lose. Actually the first thing I did was fire off a quick email to check whether I was eligible – I wasn’t sure whether I was too old, or whether the bursary could be awarded to non-UK residents (I live in Denmark).
Once I had received a positive reply confirming that I was indeed eligible, I set about making a short application and getting together a few examples of my work. Actually it wasn’t hard at all articulating what I could get out of the course – I was desperate to spend time with other artists and see how they worked.
I arrived in Aberlady a day or two early, and by the time I met the other course participants on the Saturday evening in the Ducks pub, I had reached a fever pitch of excitement. It soon became apparent that many if not most of the other people had been on the course before, some several times, and straight away I became aware of the warm, friendly and supportive atmosphere. There was an intriguing mixture of people and abilities, from comparative novices to professional artists, and it became clear quite early on that this was not an ‘art course’ in the typical ‘this is how you make olive green’ sense. Rather, the course was an opportunity for a wide range of people to work together – to discuss and compare and feed off each other – all under the watchful eyes of the tutors.
The next six days then, were spent visiting various seabird colonies in the environs of Aberlady – principally the local estuary, Dunbar, St Abbs Head and Bass Rock. We would meet in the morning at the hotel, pick up our lunch packs, and drive together to one of the localities. The day would be spent looking, drawing and painting, and then we would head back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner we would have a very informal session where we would lay our day’s work out for each other to look at. The four tutors were all extremely approachable and provided support, encouragement and advice in very different ways, which was really a breath of fresh air. A particular highlight was looking through Darren’s portfolio on the last day. Some of the other participants also got to see John Busby’s studio while I was on Bass Rock. I would have liked to have seen more of Greg and John T’s work. The other course participants were no less inspirational and encouraging, and a real eye-opener for me was seeing how they worked and discussing their work with them.
A quick word on the places we visited. On the first day I couldn’t understand why everyone was getting so worried about the weather, and whether or not we would get to visit Bass Rock. Surely it couldn’t be that good? It was, and then some. I will never forget my two days on the Bass – deafening noise, an unholy stench, a stinging wind, and gannets as far as the eye could see – truly an other-worldly place. St Abbs head was almost its equal, an incredible collection of cliffs and rocks that, after a day or two of drawing, you couldn’t help taking home with you.
We were lucky-ish with the weather, and whenever it did rain, it really did help to see other people huddled under their umbrellas, desperately trying to record what they were seeing. Back home a spot of rain usually sent me scurrying for cover, and if there is one lesson that I have learned from this course, it is that the best, most exciting work is often that produced when you are being most challenged by the environment.