Sunday, 27 October 2013

Winter Rush

Winter thrush began to arrive at the beginning of the week, with around 1000 fieldfare at Clywedog on Sunday evening. By Wednesday a massive wave of 2000-3000+ were moving down the Gilfach valley stripping the mountain rowans at an incredible rate. Feeding frenzies could be spotted far off because the trees seemed to vibrate and splinter as the birds scrambled around the branches filling their crops. Flocks the length of the valley moved in paddling flight over the hill tops, then swooping low over my head, around and again like a conveyor of birds stretching for miles. Flocks would break off, switch direction, scout and foray before the current of movement would break and birds fall out of the sky, descending on one of the red berry laden beacons lighting up the hill side. The harsh clacking calls of the fieldfare became ambient sound throughout the valley, whilst silence became disruptive as it usually precluded an eruption of alarmed birds disturbed from feeding by ominous shapes in the sky. With the sheer number of birds in the air I found it impossible to spot the threatening silhouette of a raptor at such times although plenty were about, buzzards and kites seemed to congregate and of course peregrine and sparrow hawk, lurked in the wings.

It took me most of theses first few encounters to learn how to approach these birds and in terms of drawing to ‘get my eye in’. Getting your eye in, is about becoming familiar with a subject so as to draw it intuitively. For me a lot of this is to do with understanding what is achievable, for example, here the birds were constantly moving especially while feeding, but I learnt that they rested at certain times in clusters at tops of trees allowing there forms to be studied in drawings I aimed to complete in about 30 seconds. I could build up the groups and begin to form compositions of natural posture. Crayon or pen was best for this rapid movement as marks had to be definite deliberate, as such drawings rely on split second decisions.

Numbers at Gilfach peaked on Thursday as the birds funnelled through the bottom of the narrow valley and gradually dispersed along the wide track of the Wye and beyond perhaps into the Elan valley. On Friday a hillside near Tylwch, laden with red Rowan trees became the focus, I had the best success here because the steep slopes accessed by a sheep track afforded great views from the cover of trees still in leaf ( cover from above seems most important as the birds scan from the air to ensure it is safe to descend). By the end of Friday the original number of 1000+ fieldfare and redwing with five times more starling began to dwindle as a pair or more sparrow hawk striked the flocks. By Saturday it was not worth waiting as the birds could no longer feed, since a raptor would be waiting for the opportunity, plunging into a tangle of wings and branches every time a group dared alight. Also of note a group of 22 raven playing on the ridge, possible goshawk and first brambling of winter.

Many drawings were scrapped to begin with but as the days progress I developed a kind of short hand for theses birds, so I can now at least visualise drawing more challenging numbers, movement and behaviours such as the incredible acrobatics performed when feeding that lasts only a few seconds. Two ideas emerged this week, firstly the drawings which I have discussed above which, as I originally planned, can be worked into monoprints (when I get back). Also I have enough material to paint the flocks in the stunning Gilfach landscapes. Several compositions in mind especially this mountain side which I sketched yesterday evening as the rain began to pour, sometimes this helps explore colour and definition since the work is constantly being washed away and applied over and over in a kind of evolution. End result not much but a useful exercise to loosen up my landscape. (um, ru, az, cy, bs) This mast year, means lots of rowan still left on the hillsides, so with luck and another easterly to bring a new wave through there will be more opportunity to draw these birds and the exciting occasion of their arrival.    


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

From Y Glog

Towards Llandinam hills from Y Glog

I heard about Y Glog from a witness statement during the ongoing wind farm enquiry at the Oak in Welshpool. Y glog is a beacon, a globe bulging away from the steep valley side; a site of bronze age tumulus, chosen no doubt for its commanding view over most of Mid Wales. Fields faceted together in infinite geometric receding in a pattern that belies the rolling soft geology of the foot hills and valleys right to the jagged horizon of South Snowdonia and more immediate the plateau of Llandinam’s hills which I have learnt to appreciate as a dominating character, an Ayres Rock or Sugar Loaf of a hill to me, alone yet dominant. Here I focus on the steep slope immediately facing Y Glog from the west, the trees are beginning to turn accentuating the hedges and gullies where they grow with an orange blaze against the green land. I draw in the contours with shadows leaving tree tops in highlight and the fields which I will overwash green. Such landscapes are a battle to keep alive, easy it is for the green washes to overwhelm, flatten and dull. I reach the make or break point after washing in the green (cb and aur very cold) which dulls the painting, so I decide a stronger definition of shadows is needed, I draw bolder as they now lengthen, cloaking and filling the folds of the land.

From Y Glog, dusk

Around five, the hillside in front of me is submerged in shadow as the sun drops low behind it; all but a sliver of gold on the hill top is in darkness. A dark wash of reticulating cadmium green is the ground in which to drop more shadows and only the minimal burst of colour. No time to dry, so everything is wet in wet which suits the hazy forms on the shadowy hillside, a hedge a road a farm. But in fact where the light catches the ridge silhouettes were crisp and clear, which would be a nice distinction to make – adding focal point I think.


Llandinam hills from Llanwyrtywain on 9th (every feature has a name I am told, need to look up) for the same project. These are early attempts; what I aim for is the character individuality of a landscape illustrated precisely or minimally summed up, a portrait.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

B&W Illustration

Some of the Illustrations to feature in the Ceredigion Bird Report, out next month.


Red Kite; Feeding time, Nant Y Arian


Manx Shearwater; Feeding frenzy, Borth

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Flamborough Kittiwake II

Latest print, working on long mural format, mark making close to original sketch. Earthy colours taken from cave painting sites like Altamira.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Flamborough Kittiwakes

I made this drawing of Kittiwakes on July 7th, as a sketch to later make into a print. Drawn from beach at Flamborough head during low tide, chalk stone ledges strewn with nests. The long format ties in with the influence of cave paintings which influences these mono-prints, e.g. strong line, rich earthy colour, mark making, expression of movement.

Trial run today on a small plate with simple bs, cb (1st) rs, cb, ru (2nd) (cr, az) palette. 

Rocks bluer, colder, more definate forms needed - shadows

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Snorkel of all snorkels

The recent calm spell meant perfect conditions for snorkeling this weekend. Under Borth cliff a whole new world of life forms was revealed, endless drawing possibilities:

Submerged rocks teamed with conglomerates of spiny spider crabs.

Sea bass shoaled in their hundreds, large specimens could be seen foraging, apparently grazing the seaweed.

Corkwing (?) wrasse, find cover in the kelp, I drew this far bolder individual, defending a scrape in the exposed rock, presumably a 'nest'. Not sure if smaller fish to right is a potential mate?

Jelly fish everywhere, this barrel jellyfish was a metre in diameter.

An otter surfacing close by interrupted my discovery of marine life. As it dived a trail of air bubbles hung in its path for me to follow to the sea bed, lungs bursting I caught a glimpse of a sinewy shape grappling and rummaging under rocks. Then again i watched the otter glide between jellyfish to the surface. I stayed with it into the shallows as it foraged amongst the kelp. Once or twice he showed me his teeth, which is what's happening in the photo above as he swam towards me. An incredible experience, and on my own doorstep

Resident bottlenose dolphins put in appearance just to round off the day.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Craig Y Aderyn Loomery

Guillemots in Ceredigion 

Bird Rock, Newquay, the main sea bird colony in Ceredigion. A notably different affair to the intensity of Elegug loomery posted here a few days ago. The birds have much more space, on the evenly fractured strata of rock; perfectly flat ledges for securing eggs with overhangs and deep recesses for shelter. So why comparatively few birds in relation to suitable nest sites?

The behaviour is much calmer on this loomery. From an inspirational point of view, the beauty of this site is its geology and the birds interaction with it. The loomery is on a headland defined by a fold of evenly layered rock strata arching in a single breach into the sea. Before the cliff submerges it levels out, precisely horizontal to form the ledges that the guillemots especially favour (there are also razorbill and shag mixed in amongst the loomery). Close inspection with a scope reveals more birds deep inside the cliff, jammed in niches and nestled between columns. Their environment is a tessellating matrix of dynamic rock, moving on every sharp angle, dripping with the heavy colours of mineral ore. Light hits the cliff after midday. 

um bu. az cy ru (cr)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

New - Biscay Bonxie

Another print for the Biscay Bonxie series posted here in the past, this time full A1 page. The bird remains the same size, so I have extended the view of ocean surrounding it. I want to convey a sense of the vast, unforgiving space these birds occupy, which for me is the essence of their character and my wonder of them.

Print from the first (bottom) plate

Second (top) plate ready for the paper

Worrying times, this method only gives one print

Finished print

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Elegug Stack Loomery

Elegug Stack (2/3 of West side)
Elegug, detail 
Elegug, detail
This drawing is of the view of Elegug stack loomery (guillemot colony) from the West, or at least 2/3 of the visible colony. On the East side of the stack the rock face slopes at a gentle angle, accommodating the main mass of breeding birds, so that really this drawing shows about a tenth or less of the full loomery. I started it Saturday mid morning as a study for a painting, but found myself still drawing late Sunday evening; surprisingly I ran out of paper (180cm in length) before the will to live. In fact it was one of the most absorbing experiences I've ever had drawing, the graphite moved speedily across the paper allowing me to cover far more ground than I could ever do with paint. At this level of observational detail I learnt to find my way around the colony by locating individual birds by their territories, which remained constant amidst the chaos, so much so that I found I could pick up the drawing after a night away and find the incubating birds at least, in the same position. Through out the drawing I came across surprises; an electric blue egg flashed for a second, or a bridled guillemot, a white streak highlighting the eye (interesting to see the only bridled birds were all paired together), a battle scared bird, white bib stained crimson. More captivating than anything else was, once I had established a rough plan of the territories, beginning to recognise some of the interactions and behaviours. 

Guillemots are known for their tightly packed colonies, being more tolerant of close nesting neighbours than any other UK species. Elegug is extreme, in putting this tolerance to the test, fights are constantly breaking out with birds jousting with their bills. In more serious bouts birds lock bills and grapple as one tries to sling the other out of its domain, with the defeated often ending up in another battle with the bird whose territory it has ended up being evicted into. Fights are most common when a bird alights on the stack or needs to take off from the edge as their is no choice but to walk over other members of the colony. At the other end of the spectrum pairs groom one another and I suspect their neighbours, offer fish and as I read in Tim Birkhead's 'Bird Sense' it is possible to watch a guillemot calling for its mate coming in from the sea long before it is in view. Some birds seem to be better tolerated, perhaps being more dominant they can walk untroubled through large sections of the loomery and perch boldly in the centre of the chaos. Others are quickly pushed to the peripheries where the cliff drops away, probably non-breeding birds. 

The shadows of gulls and jackdaws constantly slide over the colony like search lights trailing waves of anxious bows and stretches. In the chasm below, young peregrine signal their hunger with piercing loud calls and their parents sail nonchalantly out again over the easy pickings. 

Above all, Elegug evokes a sense of tension where guillemots, clearly disadvantaged on land endure a precarious existence, rife with predation and competition at the pinnacle of their life-cycle.          

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Nant Yr Arian

Feeding time at Nant Yr Arian, drawing from a new view point. Dense fog means the kites take a long time to build up confidence and wait for better visibility, heard but not seen. An hour late, one swoops into view before more can be seen congregating in the background before drifting through the picture plain and descend on mass into the foreground. cb Vdb (qr)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Newquay Coast

Headed West over the snowy pass in a bid to escape our endless winter inland and to Craig yr Aderyn (bird rock), Ceredigion's main sea bird colony of mostly guillemot as well as razorbill, kittiwake, shag and cormorant. The cliffs won't be packed here until the birds start laying and feeding chicks in May to June, but the guillemots stake out the best ledges and display around now, so already there is a good sprinkling of birds about. Much of the colony is directly below the precipice and impossible to see, but on occasion in a lull of the swell and buffered upwards on the wind, I catch the familiar sound of the sea cliffs coming to life and a warm sense of Spring, tantalisingly close. 

5 choughs weave their own sharp lyric into the cliff-scape as they pass from time to time in typical aerobatic display. A Peregrine, silent marauder, at one point provides the loudest crescendo as it sends the kittiwake colony spilling off the cliff in a snowy white outburst of alarm; Kittiwake! Kittiwake! name calling over and over as they tumble onto the safe surface of the sea.

The painting is made from an outcrop below the path that gives good but distant views of a small group of displaying guillemots,tight groups head bobbing and jostling on prime ledges.  The geology of brittle shale like stone eroding in vast sheets has formed layer after layer of perfect high rise terraces for the birds. Guano stained ledges delineate the potentially vast extent of the colony once breeding is in full swing. This ends further up the headland where the perfectly horizontal ledges rear up in a swirling kink of strata, impossible to cling to, let alone lay an egg on.

(Bad in anything Northerly)

Monday, 21 January 2013

Common Snipe, Pwll Penarth

Snipe line the shore of snow capped islands. Static,  intersecting bills divide the space, angled against the mottled plumage of one another. Slender green tinged legs end in a splay of tendril toes, rooted to the cold mud. The pattern repeats along the shore line, and in reverse as reflections in motionless water; turgid, clotting, on the turn as the temperature fluctuates around zero. As I draw the seemingly static motif, the cunning, shape-shifting snipe come to life, switching and swapping at every drop of the eye to take up new statuesque postures. In detail, I appreciate the maze of striation, barring and swirling plumage that for once stand out against the clean white backdrop.