I was born in the early fifties and spent much of my childhood overseas, first in France and then in Hong Kong. I returned to Britain, studied music and graduated as a flautist from Trinity College London in 1975. Having played professionally for a number of years, I abandoned the concert scene and moved to Skye where I taught music, living in a croft house on the West Coast. A hard environment for birds and people alike but what a place to learn about the ever changing moods of light.
Six years later I moved to Aberdeen, again teaching music, and after years of observing birds finally decided to experience flight at first hand, taking up hang gliding at the age of thirty six. Twenty years on and I have flown in countries from Europe to Japan, thermalled with birds ranging from vultures and storks to red kites and peregrines, won the British Women's Hang Gliding League Championship in 1990, and twice represented Great Britain. During this period I began to draw birds professionally, first exhibiting in 1994.
Finally I discovered a focus for the hours of patient fieldwork, equipped with bivvy bag, Trangia stove, sketching kit, telescope, portable bird hide and a great deal of patience. Scotland has a wealth of bird life and a great diversity of habitats. I have weathered the wilds of Harris, stayed in the lighthouse on the Isle of May, been dropped off by fishing boat on Bass Rock and Handa Island, spent many days and nights in the hills North of Ullapool, and watched the tides ebb and flow in Lossiemouth Estuary where so many fine waders overwinter. My latest infatuation is with the machair of South Uist.
I only draw subjects which I have observed, believing that the unique character of each species is as important as the accurate detail of both bird and background. The Jizz, as bird lovers call it, has to be right. Currently I exhibit in galleries from Tain in the North of Scotland to the South of England, living in Moray and flying sailplanes with the buzzards and, just occasionally, the eagles that own the Cairngorm massif.
Technique - To draw birds the way I want to draw them you first have to get close to them. Some times this just takes patience and cunning but more often it requires some technical assistance in the form of a portable bird hide. Of course things are never as simple as that. The first time I put the bird hide up it was in the garden near the feeders. It seemed like a good place to start....until the shadows and scratching noises on the roof made me realise that it also made a good place to perch. I couldn't see a thing.
Since then there have been some memorable adventures with my small canvas hide. Some involved chest waders and a small stool to sit on as the tide, and the wigeon rose, around me. Or there was a stumbling night walk through a frozen forest to set up before dawn overlooking a black grouse lek. But the best laid plans don't always yield results. I have sat patiently for hours and been thwarted by a `friendly' dog, or been unable to set up the hide on an estuary as the sand was frozen solid.
For wilderness species it often pays to adopt a different approach and travel light - living in a goretex bivvy bag for a couple of days tunes me into the landscape. If you have the right equipment and the weather is half kind this can be a very pleasant way to live. Out in the hills I am often surprised to find how moving gently and being patient, combined with knowledge of how different species behave, can get you right up close. And there is nothing to beat waking by a hill loch at dawn with black throated divers calling overhead or being woken by the splosh of a fish in the dead of night, to see the stars bright and mist on the water.
Back in my art room I prepare a piece of 300gm hot pressed water colour paper, the smoothest there is, and make a margin all round. This is because I like to tear the edge..... carefully.... when I've finished a piece, so that the paper is wholly in the exhibition mount, rather than the edge being concealed under the mount.
I start by lightly drawing the bird. Then with a 9B pencil I always complete the eye. It will generally be the darkest part of the picture and if the eye works then it seems that the picture will too. The rest of the bird is done in anything from the 9B to 6H, working the graphite into the paper with fingers, or with rolled up tubes of paper. Lastly I put in the background. The whitest part of the picture is the unmarked paper, with detail achieved by the use of a rubber cut into various widths, as fine as a few millimetres.
I always wait a day before signing the picture and fixing it... .just in case.