How it all started

I quite enjoyed art at school. I don’t really remember being taught anything in art lessons, but I do remember mucking about quite a lot and occasionally producing something that slightly surprised me. I was never any better than an average pupil when it came to art, and it went no further.

In 2014, about 27 years later, I was inspired to pick up a pencil and draw. I can’t fully put my finger on what made me decide to do it. I’d spent a lot of time in the company of the acclaimed Darren Woodhead and was certainly somewhat inspired by him, although I couldn’t imagine doing what he does. I’ll never forget ascending the slopes of Cairngorm mountain with him in search of Ptarmigan. We didn’t succeed, beaten back by the weather and a time restriction on my part. When I got back to the car park, my numb hands and feet were relieved to be within sight of the car through the snow and the biting wind. Darren meanwhile, got out his paper, brushes, watercolours, and began to paint the Snow Buntings that were flitting around the car park. He’d taken all that stuff up the mountain too, fully intent on painting the Ptarmigan if we’d found them. He starts and finishes his paintings in the field, regardless of the weather. No finishing off in the comfort of home. A big inspiration, but hardly something I could ever aspire to do. One painting Darren produced during that trip was an epic view across a valley in the Cairngorms as the snow fell and a Peregrine pursued a Black Grouse. The snow of that day crystallised the wash of the sky on the painting and adds a natural texture that couldn’t be matched by hand. That painting now hangs proudly on my wall.

Shortly afterwards, I inadvertently bumped into Cath Hodsman when she was the resident artist somewhere that I was visiting. Her methods looked far more comfortable and realistic to me, working from a comfy chair in the warm with photos that wouldn’t move or run away as her reference. Cath is a renowned entomological illustrator and watching her at work, I couldn’t help but think, very naively, “I could do that”. I couldn’t, of course, but it did appear to be something that I could at least have a go at. Two of Cath’s pieces also hang on my wall, although unusually for her, they are mammals – Scottish Wildcats that she drew to help raise funds for conservation efforts. When she learnt of my own passion for the species, she kindly supplemented my acquisition with a complimentary print of another image of Felis silvestris grampia.

Not knowing what I was doing, and with zero research, I got online and ordered an A3 pad of Bristol Board, a set of pencils, a sharpener, and had a go. This dodgy White-legged Damselfly was the result.

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...and then ended

No more than four or five drawings later, including this Meadow Pipit, I’d thrown in the towel. I wasn’t happy with what I was capable of, and wasn’t really prepared to invest the time and patience it would take to improve. Why I’d set such high expectations and misplaced optimism ... Read more