Ever since I can recall I’ve been interested in nature and drawing. After my mother passed away, I discovered a brown envelope that she had kept, full of my drawings as a child going back to 3 years of age (she had dated the drawings). They were nearly all of birds!
While still at secondary school, the well known English ornithologist Dr Bruce Campbell ‘took me under his wing’ and taught me much about bird song and nesting birds. John Campbell of Woodstock county museum asked me to do voluntary work on the Biological Recording Scheme and I learnt much about species monitoring. I still use these skills, acquired at 16 years of age, today.
My parents thought it better for me to work rather than go to Art School and I became a Trainee Taxidermist with Glasgow Museums and Galleries. This was a blessing in disguise as I had the privilege to work under 2 ornithologists: the late “Charlie” Parker and Hector Galbraith and my tutor taxidermist, Dick Hendry. Not only did I learn much about birds, animal anatomy, moulding and casting techniques but I was also able to study Alexander Wilson’s collection of study skins. During my lunch breaks, I would go up into the public galleries and soak up the art: Salvador Dali, some impressionists, some great Pre-Raphaelites and the Post-Impressionists: The Glasgow Boys.
Thanks to the understanding and support of my superiors, I was even able to attend Eric Ennion’s last Master Class at Weyhill. Not wishing to spend the rest of my days stuffing foxes and pheasants and with few museums posts on the ground, I went to work as a paid species protection warden for the RSPB in the Lake District (Peregrine Falcons and Golden Eagles).
After working for 3 years, I could now apply for grants to go to Art School independently and secured a place as a mature student on the last 2 years of a four-year course at the then Dyfed School of Art in Carmarthen. Having successfully completed this course, I suppose I should logically have tried to get on the then RCA MA Natural History illustration course but instead I went to Luxembourg’s National Museum of Natural History for work experience and became a museum designer, helping to plan the (then) new museum for four years. I still kept up my field sketching as a hobby and in 1991, on the promise of editing my book E JOER AN DER NATUR ZU LËTZEBUERG, I went freelance and have been ever since. My work in the Museum had brought me into contact with some of Luxembourg’s well-known naturalists: ‘Poldi’ Reichling, Marc Meyer, Guy Colling and Jean Marie -Mangen to name but a few. My period in the Museum and my participating in J-M Mangen’s expedition to Irian Jaya in 1989 aroused my interest in drawing and painting plants. This was further encouraged by a commission to illustrate a book on Luxembourg’s Wild Orchids for the Museum and since then, plants, insects, amphibians and reptiles have illustrated the one-man books that followed.
I also got to know some of Luxembourg’s field ornithologists and three years of fieldwork for the book IN STORK COUNTRY brought me in contact with several other ornithologists in Europe and abroad.
I am still active today as a field ornithologist and contribute to species monitoring studies in Luxembourg including The International Water Bird Count and Common Bird Monitoring (since 2010) and a Hazel Grouse Monitoring studies, in 2013 and 2014.
With the idea of becoming an Art School lecturer in France I started to study at Strasbourg University as a mature student (again) and having successfully completed a European Masters in Applied Arts in 2003, embarked upon the writing of a Doctoral Thesis in Visual Arts which I completed and defended in 2008.
These studies led to major changes in my artistic development. They enabled me to spend much-needed time looking at, reading about and discussing a very broad range of artists all along the history of art, from the almost cinematic realistic hunting lions in the ‘Grottes de Chauvet’ to Ellsworth Kelly’s impressive collection of plant drawings, sombre landscapes by Courbet, marines and watercolour ‘paintings’ by Nolde…
I was also encouraged to find “resonances” with artists in modern and contemporary art: Mark Dion’s “Archaeology”, Richard Long’s “Herbariums”, Matisse and Kelly’s Plant Drawings, David Hockney’s sketchbooks…
And I realised that one of the fallbacks of being a so-called “hyper specialist” had been (in my case at least) a preponderance for referring too much other wildlife artist’s work.
Oil paintings, artist’s books, plant line drawings and shadow paintings have flourished from these years of study and they are bringing fresh colour to my published books, contrasting with and complementing the more realistic sketches and studies of wildlife.