Tuesday, 22 November 2011

New Work On Show; Wildscape Gallery, Stromness

I’ll be hanging a new exhibition of work at Wildscape Gallery, Stromness this week. We’ll officially open on Saturday 26th with mulled wine and discounts on original work so that should be an entertaining day. We’re also launching a new set of prints then – perfect timing for Christmas! There will be 30 paintings; here are some of them which will be on show:

The preceding evening is the Private View of the Pier Arts Centre’s Christmas exhibition – I have two pieces in the show this year. Looking forward to a glass of vino and a wander round an eclectic mix of work.

Finally, following a hectic weekend which entailed taking the overnight ferry from Orkney to Aberdeen, train to Inverkeithing and car to Crossgates where I inspected and subsequently collected our new (old) campervan – drove it around Edinburgh and south to North Berwick whence I collected the unsold paintings from the Seabird Centre then crashed out at darling sister’s place. 04:30 start and a fab drive through the awesome Highlands to arrive at Scrabster just before 11am in glorious weather. Boat across to Stromness was silky smooth and the short 17 mile drive from there to home in Evie rounded off a tiring but ultimately successful weekend.

The new mobile studio/Sal's runabout

So – now the sun is shining and I have an hour spare, I’m off out to try out my new Swarovski ATM80HD. Mmmmmmm – report later.

"Up-High; Young Peregrine" watercolour
on show at Wildscape Gallery, Stromness from 26th November

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Life does have its ups and downs, doesn’t it?! We’re all struggling under the pressure of tightening-belts as the global fiscal squeeze grips. There’s no doubt that when faced with the problems of paying bills and feeding the family, luxuries have to drop down the priority list. Unfortunately for us who work in the art world, that is only too evident. If the choice is food or art, inevitably art will lose out – that’s a fact. So for me, relying almost entirely on my work as an artist, the past couple of years have been particularly trying and the constant effort to survive is a challenge indeed. But we’re still hanging in there. In fact, if I can take the financial aspect out of the equation then I’ve never been more confident about the direction my work is heading. After many years of peering through mud, my vision is starting to clear and I’m now addressing my work with a purposefulness which had been only fleeting in the past.

There’s no doubt that writing the book (Drawing & Painting Birds) helped to crystallize my own ideas and the process also brought me into personal contact with many of my heroes in the genre and their support and enthusiasm for my project instilled a greater confidence in what I was doing. Following the publication of the book I went with other artists on two field trips.

2011 is proving to be an important year for me and I have spend more time than usual in the company of fellow artists. The trip to the uninhabited island of Swona with fellow Orkney artists Sheena Graham-George, Diana Leslie, Dominique Cameron, Anne Bignall and Mark Scadding was the first artists field trip I’d been on. I loved every minute of the trip and the collective creativity was tangible – I filled a couple of sketchbooks whilst there and painted almost solidly for three subsequent weeks. I was then invited to join the Artists for Nature Foundation (ANF) on their visit to the Channel Island of Sark. Spending a week with some of the World’s foremost wildlife artists was both an honour and an incredibly daunting prospect. Above all, however, it was fascinating and instructional to be able to watch artists of the calibre of Harriet Mead, Rosanne Guille, Mike Warren, Carry Akroyd and Vadim Gorbatov as they worked on various aspects of the landscape and wildlife of the Island. Being with these people was truly inspirational and I was keen to bring some of their approach and professionalism to my own scribbling.

Up here in Orkney it’s the end of the tourist season and the visitors have stopped coming to the gallery (not that I was ever swamped by people, you understand). The past couple of years I have shut the shop from the end of October til sometime in the spring because it was costing more in electricity than I would take in meagre sales. This winter I’m going to spend more time in the gallery mainly because I don’t have a studio at the cottage so it will be interesting to see if I make any sales at all.

Waxwings & Keys
Ink and watercolour, 20"x16"
Scottish Seabird Centre Exhibition, Oct 14" - Nov 16th, 2011

Meanwhile the year’s work is culminating in two important exhibitions; a one-man show at the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick and the Society of Wildlife Artists Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. The Seabird Centre exhibition is seminal in that it is my first extensive one-man show outside of Orkney for over 20 years. Twenty-eight brand new paintings were made for the show.

The SWLA exhibition is also proving to be an important time for me. On the Preview day, Wednesday 26th October, I was awarded the BIRDWATCH / SWAROVSKI ARTIST OF THE YEAR AWARD, perhaps the ultimate prize in Birding Art in Britain. It seems like a long time since I was shortlisted for the SWAROVSKI Young European Bird Artist of the Year Award – back in 1991, at the SWLA. And now, exactly 20 years later, I feel I am at last coming of age as a painter. I was also elected as an Associate Member of the Society of Wildlife Artists by the SWLA committee on the same day. WOW!!!!!

Ups and Downs, eh? – What would life be without them . . .

North Haven Fair Isle; Light and Intermediate Phase Arctic Skuas
Charcoal, 34"x22"
Tim Wootton ASWLA – Birdwatch / Swarovski Artist of the Year, 2011

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Orkney Seascapes

Eastern Promise is in the air! There’s been a steady constant flow of air from the continent bringing with it some rather special creatures. Most of these, however, have deemed to miss our wee block of land and decided that archipelagos further north are favourable – tsk, tsk! Islands in the west have also been soaking up species originating in America and all we seem to be getting is the wind! But once it dies away . . . well, no doubt the Isles will be littered with exotic birds. Birding in this weather is fairly pointless however, so until the wind abates I will have to concentrate on studio-based pursuits.

Several commissions are starting to take shape in my mind – a couple of which are almost purely landscape/seascape so I have been using the past few days to explore seascape s a theme. I must confess I have found the more distant approach both a challenge and a welcome distraction following the concentrated effort working on a bird-level for the Seabird Centre Exhibition (still on show until 17th November - http://www.seabird.org/home.asp ). I aim to work on seascapes for the next few weeks – the first of which are below:

"North Isles Summer"
oil on canvas, 24"x18"
(available from the Online Gallery)

"Whipping-Up; Looking Towards Skiba Geo"
oil on cavas, 20"x16"
(available from the Online Gallery)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Exhibition 14th October - 16th November, Scottish Seabird Centre

I’m bang in the middle of working towards the opening of my new exhibition at the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick. The Private View is Thursday 13th October. If anyone would like tickets please contact me directly or the Seabird Centre;

Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance at the Scottish Seabird Centre or by calling 01620 890202. Held at the Scottish Seabird Centre, The Harbour, North Berwick

Although I have a fallback position of a few favourite pieces, I intend to be showing an entirely new collection of 35 original works – fingers crossed! Below is a new painting completed this week;

‘Moulting Eiders’, watercolour, 22”x15”

I look forward to seeing some of you there!!!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

SWLA Submissions and Exhibition of Work, Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick

That time of year . . . again! Breeding season is rolling up its towel and trudging off to the bar and birds which have bred at more northerly latitudes are already spilling down through the continent on their southern break. It’s yet to really get going here in Orkney although the extreme northern isles have had extraordinary numbers of wrynecks and rosefinches with a couple of super-nice ‘biggies’ such as great snipe and Fea’s petrel. Lapland buntings are appearing in small numbers too – maybe heralding another enormous influx of this fine little passerine.
With my SWLA submissions already packed and sent I have now to address the fact that I will be hanging a major one-man exhibition at The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick which will open in the middle of next month. Over thirty original and brand new pieces are scheduled and I think I’m now painting some interesting pieces in readiness for the show.

In recent years I’ve found that I tend to gravitate towards monochrome, specifically charcoal, at this time of year – to leave entirely alone as a medium for perhaps the other eleven months. The change in the season manifests itself in big seas and dramatic cliffscapes, subjects ideally suited to this approach. In fact, when considering these charcoal paintings it would be difficult to see how they would be enhanced with the application of colour as they depict scenes of rock and foam, swell and spume; all fundamentally about value and key and relating less to hue.
This session however I’ve also detoured somewhat and allowed the indulgence of a few portraits too.

The sketchbooks are becoming increasingly important to me and the way I work; fleeting moments scribbled in pencil or watercolour on long, warm afternoons on the heathery tops have an added resonance at this time of year. Delineated forms are one thing but more so are the notes and washes of colour which help to flick the switch when remote from the moment and he subject. I’m resolving issues of colour and form by direct reference to the field studies than ever I did previously.

Through these periods of stylistic chop and change, the Sharpie remains constant. I use the pen often for scribbling ideas and processing thoughts on colour in the studio and intend to make several finished Sharpie paintings for the upcoming show. I imagine this one (or a version of it) will get wall-space at some point.

I’ll post updates about the exhibition dates and times very shortly.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Media Musings

The past few weeks have been spent working around the property but art-time has been spent trying to develop my work across a range of media. I find that switching approaches and spending a period of time exploring what different materials can offer to me and how I can best use their properties.

The Sharpie drawings continue and they are now finding a place in my general process of making art – I now use the medium as an interface between the sketchbook and either a larger-scale fully developed Sharpie painting, or as the preliminary colour study for colour-work using different materials.

This Sharpie sketch went through several incarnations until the finally realised version manifested in the form of an oil painting on canvas . . .

. . . and these little Sharpie studies collided often, in the form of a watercolour painting and finally (for now) a fully blown Sharpie piece.

The nature reserve is developing better than I could have imagined – some of the willows are now over 6 feet tall (although the winter blasts will no doubt curtail their enthusiasm – at least they should have decent roots in readiness for he spring spurt) and the pond has been visited by an interesting selection of species including several snipe (one of which I watched, sketched and eventually committed to watercolour) and a fabulous green sandpiper which stayed briefly, but long enough for me to fire off a couple of record shots of its visit).

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Six Artists on Swona - An Island Odyssey


Uninhabited islands have a magical quality; even more so when that island was once home to a thriving community of people. Swona has this special magic.

Swona sits in the Pentland Firth between Orkney and Caithness, west of South Ronaldsay. The area is extremely tidal and roosts are apparent at both the north and south ends of the island. It’s a potentially dangerous approach and even large vessels are flicked about. We moored just off the Haven and transferred into a 9foot inflatable, rucksacks, food, art gear and optical equipment chucked in first then the precarious ship to ship transfer of personnel. Following the 30 minute crossing from Burwick, South Ronaldsay I, along with five fellow artists – Anne Bignall, Dominique Cameron, Sheena Graham-George, Diana Leslie and Mark Scadding – were shuttled from the Pettlandssker via the little orange inflatable in two groups, scrambling up the storm-beach at the Haven where we were met by the Orkney Bird-ringing group who were headed back to Mainland Orkney.

Most seabirds have been having a torrid time of it over the past decade, so it was encouraging to see so many puffins whizzing about so purposefully. Sandeels of all sizes were in evidence so it looks as though tiny chicks and their larger kin are being nourished. Kittiwakes and razorbills were feasting too.

Swona is a little over a mile long by half a mile wide and is home to the (in)famous Swona Cattle; left here untended for over thirty years, they are now recognised as a unique and distinct breed. They’re also rumoured to be a tad on the tetchy side on occasion – a fact which hadn’t slipped by unnoticed by me. The island is littered with memorials documenting the development of the herd – an old heifer gradually sinking back into the pasture which gave her nourishment in life, lying still in the peaceful position where she finally collapsed to the ground, never to rise again beside a tiny lochan; reminiscent of water buffalo on the African Plains. A bull turning from red fur to green algae, merging with the colour and textures of the rocks.

So – for a three night, four day stay we had to lug food and water, clothing and sleeping gear and artists’ materials. Our accommodation was basic – a couple of rooms in one of the least-dilapidated houses which remain. I did have to sweep away the decaying remains of a rabbit before positioning my sleeping bag, but the hours out on the cliffs and the odd sun-downer (at approximately 11 pm) helped sleep to come.

But the days were jam-packed with drawing and painting opportunities and rarely have I had the chance to stay in the field for 9 hours in one sitting recently. A mixture of sun, rain and breeze accompanied each outing and the occasional cautious glance to check where the cattle were at any particular time added and extra piquance to the day’s work.

Although a limited number of species were encountered (a lone whimbrel being the most exotic of the trip), the numbers of puffins and razorbills combined with their accessibility meant I filled half a sketchbook in the three full days of work. Some of these scribbles and studies have already been translated into colour paintings of the ‘Sharpie’ pen and watercolour variety.