Straight after my trip to Turkey, it was off to Scotland for the Seabird Drawing course. Formerly led by the late John Busby, the Seabird Course is now headed by Darren Woodhead, along with Greg Poole, John Threfall and Kitty Jones. This year Bruce Pearson was the invited guest tutor. Bloomin’ brilliant.
Having arrived pretty much straight from Turkey with Greg, we were both ‘battle hardened’ and eager to get out in the field again. The drawing conditions in Turkey had been very pleasant, but the wildlife and birds were sporadic at best and we spent most of our time drawing in quite a ‘static’ environment. The seabird course could not have been more different. The weather was cold, windy, changeable, windy, showery and downright challenging and the seabirds were anything but static.
St Abbs proved to be the most popular venue and there is really no place like it. The constant din of seabirds, vertiginous cliff and rocks, crashing waves – a kaleidoscope of colour and form. You can sit anywhere in St Abbs and find amazing stuff to look at. There is simply no end of things to see and draw, and I could gladly spend the rest of my life just walking up and down the paths over the cliffs, drawing and painting. And through time, of course, everything changes. Each weather front brings its own colours and shades, and the tides and the movement of the sun create a dynamic backdrop to the even more dynamic movements of the birds.
I spent most of my time working on ‘time-based’ work – following the flights of the seabirds with brush strokes and creating a long exposure of their flight lines. Landscapes split into different sections throughout the day, some under the sun, others rained upon. Row upon row of 10 second, 20 second sketches of the same bird. I really feel as though I am going somewhere with this sort of stuff, and I look forward to mining this more and more – I think it is a rich seam.
A boat trip to the Bass was another highlight of the trip – unfortunately I was not able to get on the rock this time. In the lee of the wind, we made countless small circles in the shadow of the gigantic cliff, drawing and painting a moving – but returning – target. An incredible and moving (ahem) moment, as tutors and students alike scribbled away in total concentration, wordlessly, under the din of the squabbling gannets. Unforgettable.
As this was my second trip I felt I was able to hit the ground running. I knew what to expect and what I wanted to do. This year, the tutors had a more ‘hands on’ approach, in that the day started with warm up drawing exercises and finished with evening talks from the tutors. This was a really positive development that opened a whole new element to the course, without detracting from the democratic and non-prescriptive atmosphere that made the seabird course so iconic in the first place. The dynamic of a residential course, where everyone is in the same boat, is a wonderful thing to behold and experience, and I look forward to the next time I can come. The SWLA has a bursary – see here….Go if you can!