The SWLA offers three bursaries for places on The John Busby Seabird Drawing Course. The next week-long course is to be held in June 2019 at seabird colonies around Dunbar and the Firth of Forth. This is a fantastic opportunity to work alongside around 20 established and enthusiastic artists, and get an insight into the diverse approaches that those artists have to working in the field.
Kittie Jones course tutor
"I have had the privilege of being involved in the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course since 2012 when it changed the direction of my work - opening my eyes to new possibilities and putting me in contact with an international group of like-minded people. I am now lucky enough to be on the tutor team, and I watch with interest each year as the students go through the week, experiencing the challenges and triumphs of working outdoors."
Every year the SWLA fundraises in order to provide bursary places for the course. This year, five diverse artists took part in the scheme, each on a different creative journey. Below, they outline some of their experiences of the week.
"Fieldwork has always been important in my work, however before the course I was aware I had become stuck and lost abilities that I once had. Fieldwork calls for a specific set of skills: accessing and identifying birds, the logistics of deciding what kit to take, use of optics and strategies to deal with weather conditions. These were beyond the scope of my conventional fine art education. As a result, I had rarely met artists who use fieldwork in their practice and had essentially invented this for myself, working largely in isolation since graduating with inevitable limitations in what I could achieve.
The course really opened my eyes to what is possible in the field. The tutors and the other participants demonstrated to me throughout how much more ambitious I might be. I saw materials used that I would never have imagined taking into the field. I discovered I was able to cope with weather conditions I would not have attempted to work in if left to my own devices. The supportiveness, warmth and enthusiasm of the group helped me to engage with and enjoy the challenges. I was surprised by what I was able to achieve by the end of the week and by how much my thinking had changed.
The tutors were inspiring. Each brought different aspects and personalities and their passion and enthusiasm was always apparent. It was obvious that their overriding concern was for everyone to get as much as possible from the week. Despite the large size of the group, they were sensitive to the struggles of each individual. Several times I received just the advice I needed to help me progress, whether it was to try a different approach or to persevere with a drawing I had given up on. There was genuine delight whenever someone had a breakthrough."
"One of the highlights for me was getting to know other artists and sharing our experiences at the end of each day. Naturally I discovered that in the emotional highs and lows of any given day I was certainly not alone. Although the prospect of sharing our work with the whole group was daunting, I found the feedback surprisingly encouraging.
Another highlight of the week was visiting the Bass Rock. The weather, winds and swells were in the right alignment as both groups were able to get access to the gannet colony for a whole day. A huge privilege. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and quite fantastic! I felt like I had landed on another planet, with 150,000 inhabitants tolerating our presence. Due to the wind, the birds were constantly in flight around us hovering, landing and taking off. We drew with intensity and focus for about seven hours. Amazing! The following day the swells were too strong to land on the island so we sketched from the boat for an hour - this was a great way to develop fast sketches, but challenging in terms of motion sickness!
The informal tutor guidance throughout the week was really helpful. I was reminded of some key elements that had been creeping out of my drawings - “keep a breathing space in your picture”, “what excites you about your chosen subject matter?” and “think about keeping the energy in your work”. Through many discussions with the tutors and artists on the course I was encouraged to value what I do, something that’s easy to lose sight of. I am really grateful to the SWLA for making this week possible. I hope the things I have learned will continue to echo through my work. It was such a privilege to meet so many people on this unique journey of making art inspired by our natural world."
"I had come to the course with little seabird knowledge but great enthusiasm to learn. Both the tutors and my fellow course members were generous, not only with their extensive knowledge but also with lifts to the various locations we were to draw in. Equipment was freely shared. Never having used binoculars or scopes whilst drawing before this was particularly useful. I was able to draw on the wealth of experience around me. It was interesting to see the different approaches and working methods: what to take on long days field sketching; and how to work comfortably and efficiently in a range of weather conditions. The evening meal at the end of the day was a good time to share experiences, highs and lows. Seeing other people's work was a joy.
When I began the week I knew I wanted to understand more about seabirds. I hadn't anticipated how entranced I would be. The grace of the kittiwakes at Dunbar harbour, the charm of the guillemots and razorbills at St Abb's Head, the challenge of the gulls on Fidra. I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity to draw gannets on Bass Rock - the most visceral, astounding and beautiful place.
I have never looked so intently or for so long at birds before. It was at times difficult and demanding. The tutors were always there with energy and enthusiasm and not a little kindness and patience. I could not have asked to share the experience with a more lovely group of people. I benefited greatly from their support and expertise.
Coming away I felt a bit dazed. The week had been very intense. Looking through the work I produced I have a great sense of being at the beginning, so much to explore and learn. It is an uplifting thought."
"John Busby in Drawing Birds said ‘To copy from nature without resolving our own thoughts is a barren process’. I copied from nature for many years and when I applied for the John Busby Bursary, I had stopped painting altogether and had pretty much given up on my art. I knew the barrenness John had spoken off and it was not a nice place to be. I was desperately looking for an answer because nature and art were something I had once loved.
I came to the course expectant to receive the answer I needed and I was not disappointed. I was greeted with a warm, friendly atmosphere and a group of tutors and students willing to share, encourage and inspire. I couldn’t help but be affected by the infectious enthusiasm and passion for wildlife and painting outdoors. This sparked in me a new desire to draw and paint nature, not solely focusing on a finished painting but learning to enjoy and embrace the process of seeing, understanding and mark making. I feel I have still much to learn but the course has helped me see that this process is full of rich experiences with much value and rewards.
The process of learning to see was a revelation to me. Although I’ve painted for over twenty years, being in the field presented me with challenges and difficulties that working from photographs in a comfortable studio did not.
The amazing thing about this course was that I started having totally lost my way in my art but left with enthusiasm, motivation, excitement, a longing to learn more and a burning desire to work in the open air. It has given me direction and purpose and for that I am so grateful. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the wonderful legacy of John Busby!"
"The biggest challenge during the week would be attempting to capture the essence of a moving, living creature in an interesting way and to understand its form and anatomy. And that is not to mention being overwhelmed by some of the surroundings we were working in and the challenges they presented - such as a very windy, gannet-infested Bass Rock where one of my drawings blew into the colony and, although thankfully retrieved, came back full of peck holes!
The week definitely was not without its struggles as I grappled with trying to balance good draughtsmanship and accuracy of form with interesting mark-making and the sheer feeling of being overwhelmed by wanting to try so much in such a short time. It felt really important to try and take some time just to appreciate and absorb the feeling of place.
Each day brought fresh new discoveries and ideas. The tutors wide range of approaches led to a fantastic balance in the feedback and different chats we had, each coming from a slightly different angle. They were all so generous, knowledgable and full of enthusiasm. The various drawing exercises we undertook really resonated and pushed me to try new ways of working. By the end of the week I think everyone felt they had achieved some kind of breakthrough, I certainly had several moments of sudden clarity about my practice.
The week itself was amazing - stunning locations, great company, new challenges, but what I like best is the fact it doesn't stop at the end of the week. There are new things I have learnt, things I want to try and a whole new group of like-minded people who I'm sure I'll be in touch with for many years to come."