The Turkish Sweetgum Project

13659062_10153848779757476_345607258981279161_nEarlier in June I was lucky enough to be one of four SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) artists invited to take part in an EU funded partnership with Doğa Koruma Merkezi (DKM), a Turkish environmental NGO. Working under the expert stewardship of an administrative team, the four tutors (myself, Nik Pollard, Greg Poole and Esther Tyson) spent five days mentoring and tutoring a group of approximately 20 art school students, artists and scientists from all over Turkey, and five days by ourselves, out in the field, painting and drawing.13620123_10153848779742476_913107875484219738_n

The project aimed to establish a cultural bridge through art and nature – to promote observation and field-based wildlife art as a tool for raising awareness of the Turkish Sweet Gum Forests. The tangible project outcomes, aside from the mountain of artwork produced by tutors and students alike, are a project book and an exhibition, both of which are at the time of writing, being developed. The exhibition will travel to three different sites in Turkey as well as the ‘Natural Eye’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.

So, that is the blurb. On my way over, truth be told, I had little idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised when we rolled up at the Flora Hotel – a fantastic home away from home on the shores of Lake Köyceğiz in South Western Turkey.13654370_10153848763757476_1689761647293032385_n DKM had booked the entire hotel for the project team, and the following day the students and invited Turkish artists started to arrive. After an informal ‘ice breaking’ session I had a much better idea about the professionalism of the project, the passion of the SWLA artists and the enthusiasm of the Turkish students.

The participants themselves were from all over Turkey – a really diverse mix of BA, MA and Phd art college students, professional artists and one or two with a more scientific or birdy background. There were illustrators, land artists, animators, fashion students – a really heady mix. Despite this, and the fact that they didn’t know each other, the group was really coherent and harmonious and all of the students were eager to get out in the field and paint.

some of my stuff produced in Turkey

Nik (SWLA) and Aydan (DKM) had produced a very detailed itinerary, that mostly revolved around visiting the Sweetgum forests – with our ‘base camp’ in the Kavakarasi forest. So, off we would trot in the mornings, into the forest to draw and paint. At first I was a little disappointed with the lack of bird and animal life, but with repeated visits the forest grew on me, and the human stories (foraging and ‘gum’ collection) were really interesting. Later in the evening, we would have ‘share and tell’ sessions in the hotel, where we all got our day’s work out and tried to make constructive comments. The students were amazingly receptive and their work improved no end during the week. What a joy. Aside from ‘working’ in the forests, we made a short trip to a nearby waterfall and an unforgetable boar trip through the delta to Daylan and the mediterranean, and onward to the Iztuzu turtle rehabilitation centre.IMG_0684

One of the key project aims was ‘cultural cross communication’, and it was a privilege to spend so much time with the students and project teams, and hear about the reality of living in such a huge and complex country. For most (western) Europeans, Turkey means little more than a hot sandy beach, so it was fascinating and a little shocking to hear about life in Ankara and other cities. One of my favourite memories was staying up late (very late) one night with a bunch of students and listening to them singing together. Or another time in the Sweetgum forest, when two old ladies, foraging for leaves and bark, literally ‘stepped into’ one of my paintings. An incredible and awe-inspiring experience.

The whole trip was unforgettable in so many ways. Once the students left, we remained and carried on drawing and painting. One site (Kersele?) was literally full of snakes and scorpions,  another (Toparlar) humming with insects and butterflies. Everywhere frogs. I learned so much from my fellow tutors, the students and the forest, and look forward to seeing the publication and the exhibition in London. Hi-res paintings and drawings will be uploaded soon!13619916_10153848779657476_7837518217156734695_n



Finally opened the exhibition ‘Earthbound’ last week, together with my fellow artists. We are all very happy with the result, and look forward to working together in the future. Here are some photos of the installation, the gallery and the works… What a fantastic place!

Dinosaurs on Bornholm

1plesiflatloresI recently worked on an illustration commission for NaturBornholm, one of Bornholm’s premier visitor attractions. Geologically speaking, Bornholm is the only place in Denmark where traces of dinosaurs can and have been discovered, and NaturBornholm have put together an exhibition based on the (quite limited) footprints, teeth and other bone fragments that have been found in the last century or so on Bornholm.

IMG_2405Without the ‘wow factor’ of huge skeletons, NaturBornholm decided to commission some really quite incredible dinosaur models from a Copenhagen based company called 10tons and create a family friendly but informative exhibition. The models are life-size, feel incredibly real, and are about as close as you can get to standing beside a living dinosaur. I was commissioned to create a series of illustrations to support NaturBornholm’s exhibition narrative.567lores

IMG_2411A bit of a dream commission really… but pretty much everything I do is rooted in ‘live’ observation in some way or other, so I was a little out of my comfort zone. But, as everyone knows now, birds are dinosaurs, and this fact – together with a childhood spent perched on the kitchen table drawing innumerable prehistoric creatures – meant that I felt confident enough to take on and complete what turned out to be quite a large commission. My watercolours and drawings were blown up and printed on 2m high partition walls, together with the text and some of the objects.IMG_2416

NaturBornholm has just taken delivery of some new dinosaur models, which will be placed out in the open, outside the visitor centre, and the next part of the commission is to create some illustrations supporting these models, with activities for families and so on. Updates will be coming…IMG_2408

Earthbound – progress report

year.detail.lores‘Earthbound’ the exhibition is opening in about four weeks (Thursday the 5th of May, Gudhjem Museum, Bornholm) and I am busy working on the paintings I will be exhibiting. I will be showing ‘time-based’ work, where I am looking at changes (in light, colour, form, vegetation, etc) at specific locations on Bornholm through time (minutes, hours, weeks, months, the year).

All my work for this exhibition is either painted out ‘in the field’ or based on sketches I have done in the field. A side ‘theme’ to my work in ‘Earthbound’ is looking into the process of creating ‘finished works’ from sketches – so some of the finished pictures I will be showing are paintings of paintings of paintings, a sort of ‘chinese whispers’ that means that more personal subjectivity is added with each ‘layer’. solsticesketches.loSo while some of my paintings will be immediate (for instance sketches of a preening gull done every five minutes for half an hour) others will be more ‘processed’. This whole area really fascinates me and underpins everything I do… observation, interpretation…

solstices.loMy main source of inspiration has been the view from my studio – a field, some trees and a band of trees a little further away. For once, there will be very few birds in this exhibition – at least from me… Lone Schiøtz will be exhibiting some of her wonderful birds. Barbara Sørensen, Eva Brandt and Hans Henning Pedersen make up the rest of the ‘Earthbound’ artists, all of whom take their inspiration from Bornholm’s natural environment in one way or another.

I’m really looking forward to this one… more pictures and an exhibition report to follow…rapessed.lo

Wallasea – SWLA artist in residence

mud wallsaseaWallasea Island lies in the Thames estuary on the River Crouch in Essex and is the site of one of the most exciting habitat creation projects in western Europe. The RSPB is creating a landmark new reserve here using waste spoil from London’s Crossrail Project which is deposited on the island in order to raise the ground level by several metres across 1,500 acres. Controlled breaches of the existing sea wall will then create new saltmarsh, lagoons and islands. The RSPB has invited the SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) to document this massive feat of engineering by creating an artistic record of the change in habitat from sterile agricultural land to a landscaped wildlife haven.

An earlier residency took place in the third week of April, with seven artists recording the machinery and bird life of the region. Between the 21st and the 24th of September, and together with five other artists from the SWLA (Carry Akroyd, Brin Edwards, Dafila Scott, Robert Greenhalf and Johnnie Foker), I was lucky enough to take part in this exciting project.bam starlings

Meeting up on-site, we were given a tour of the project by one of the wardens. An almost lunar landscape, the vast sky and flat horizons were unlike anything I was used to. The infill with soil from the Crossrail project was complete (although they still hope for more spoils from alternative sources) and some of the sea walls had been breached, meaning parts of the area were flooded with the high tide. Bird life was sparse and the distant, save a few thousand canada geese.

creek no. 8The weather was…English and the first day was spent under an umbrella trying to sketch and not get too wet. The weather improved over the next few days and I managed to fill half a sketchbook. As everything was new, I found myself rushing around trying to record and get to grips with everything (=not getting anything done). I felt like I needed to ‘connect’ more deeply with the landscape, and on the second day I decided to limit myself to recording the rise and fall of the tide on one particular creek.

Wallasea is a really fascinating place and a really exciting project. I had some really interesting chats with walkers and birdwatchers passing by, and I really hope the RSPB manages to fund a return trip (or trips) – an artistic response to the changes through time could really make this project come alive in an exciting and more valuable way. I can’t wait to go back and see how it develops (hint hint)…ghosts at wallasea


11695977_10155850715275710_5604124462711865948_nDFUNK is the name of a brilliant organisation in Denmark that helps young refugees. They do lots of different activities, with an emphasis on raising awareness of the plight of young refugees, and getting them integrated into Danish society.


One of the things they do is hold a summer camp, where they invite young refugees in Denmark together with young Danish people, to live, work, eat and play together for a whole week. During the week there are lots of different activities and workshops – the whole emphasis is on having fun, making friends and – well that’s it really. The atmosphere is fantastic and very positive. Denmark is bloody good at this sort of thing.11755815_10155850713655710_7532820958411564515_n

In July, I was invited to teach some workshops over a two-day period at Jyderup Højskole. We started off doing some ‘architectural constructions’ with spaghetti and marshmallows, and moved on to charcoal drawing self-portraits. On the last day we did some ‘land art’ – where we had to go out into the (very picturesque) surroundings with an egg and create some sort of sculpture, using only the materials that we found.P1120331

My initial description of what we would be doing was met with rather blank stares, but in no time at all they got the ‘gist’ of what it was all about, and a few hours later, had produced some really cool stuff…11143622_10155850717705710_7759247442073198879_n

Galleri Vang – Exhibition

Fugle, Naturligvis (= Birds, Naturally) is the name of my new exhibition opening at midday, Sunday the 28th of June at Galleri Vang, in Vang, Bornholm. eiderrestinglores

The Gallery at Vang is an old stonecutters’ workshop, and what it lacks in ammenities (= er, lighting!) it makes up for in location. It sits right on the beach almost, in the shadow of the overgrown walls of the old granite quarry, and I’m really looking forward to putting some of my stuff on the walls. There will be large charcoal drawings of Barnacle Geese, together with watercolour sketches (and sketchbooks) from Bornholm, Estonina and Scotland.

The Gallery is open every day from 12 until 6pm and Saturday the 4th of July (start closing 4pm on the last day). See you there!

See ‘vangflyer’ below for the poster…




Just back from a week-long sketching and painting trip to the wilds of Estonia… We were four – myself and three bird, flower and plant experts /nerds – and we used every opportunity to watch, collect, observe, photograph, listen and draw and paint (me) the local flora and fauna. The song of the Cuckoo and nightingale were our constant companions.DSCF7710 DSCF7708

The whole country (at least what we saw of it) is heavily forested. Very flat and rather unspoilt. The population density seemed very low, and we saw only fleeting glimpses of the locals. Based on my mostly hire car-based superficial musings, there seemed to be a strange mixture of things going on – on the one hand an obviously neglected and decaying Soviet-era industrial and agricultural infrastructure, but juxtaposed with an assured Nordic sophistication and an influx of Euro-wealth (at least, in the metropolitan centres). Non-existent signage to a bird tower, but with a beautifully translated English description. Weird.DSCF7709

We started off by basing ourselves deep in the woods by Lihula, where we made several trips to the forests and marshes in the surrounding areas. Whilst we missed out on the big concentrations of migrating birds, and were perhaps a little early for the flowers, there was still lots happening and passing through. Highlights included a HUGE flock of Barnacle Geese (6,000? All of which at one point put up by a sea eagle, which were also very numerous) DSCF7705and an obliging Lesser Spotted Eagle. We then moved on to Sareemaa (an island) where I stayed put while they went off looking for orchids. We spent the last few days just north of Haapsalu where we went looking for marshes and bogs. DSCF7711At one wonderful location there were Black Grouse, Montague’s Harriers, Black Kites and Lesser Spotted Eagles all flapping about  in front of me. Almost too much to take in. Amazing.

Anyway, I ended up getting lots of sketching done – actually mostly of birds I see here at home – but the light was good and the birds were performing. Some House Martins collecting mud for their nests… DSCF7707some back-lit Swans battling a strong wind…. Yellow Wagtails prancing about on some sleeping sheep… the monotonous song of the Great Reed Warbler… these are some of the things I took back and will be working on… And thanks to my companions for taking on the lion’s share of the organising, planning and driving…DSCF7706


Eva Brandt 3 big stoneware pots 'Yellow Fossil', 'White Fossil' and 'Greygreen Rock' about 40 cm tall, coiled, fired in electric kiln 2011
Eva Brandt
Barbara Sørensen

I’m in the process of trying to get funding to take an exhibition of five artists working on Bornholm (including me) to exhibit at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester. The exhibition is called ‘Earthbound’ as we all take our primary inspiration from the natural environment of Bornholm. What with transport, insurance, lodging and so on, it’s quite an ambitous undertaking, but I am really excited at the thought of showing off Bornholm art to a wider audience.

Hannover Turn Around 003
Hans Henning Pedersen
And 2
Lone Schiøtz Nielsen

The artists are – me, Barbara Sørensen (mostly oils), Eva Brandt (ceramics), Hans Henning Pedersen (wooden vessels) and Lone Schiøtz Nielsen (watercolours and prints). Three rejections already, but my fingers are crossed – I really hope we get some support for this as I’m convinced this will be a Good Thing.