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Isle of May 2018

Isle of May Trip 23rd-30th June with 5 other artists staying in the Bird Observatory ‘Low Light’, (Scotland’s oldest Bird Observatory- 1934). A spectacular island with high rising cliffs, rugged edges and more birds than I could cope with... This was my first visit to the island and with impending exhibition deadlines coming up I tried to make the most of it... With nearly ¼ of a million seabirds occupying every ledge, rock and hole on the island I had to make some decisions on what to work on over the week! This wasn’t difficult as I was so excited to be able to study the Guillemots and Puffins up close.


Puffins at our door step :) ...


This was my first Puffin painting, I began with an easy target, a dozing Puffin on a rock, after a quick sketch I began another study in oils on canvas sheet, the Puffin despite looking asleep kept shifting on its rock, one eye open at all times.


The weather was mostly blissfully sunny with a couple of days shrouded in an atmospheric sea mist. This offered some respite from capturing the drama of colour and light. I love an overcast day to focus solely on drawing form, movement and the behaviour of the birds, since I’m not missing the excitement of the ever shifting light effects and interplay of colour.


I began sketching the Puffins they progressed to oil on paper then oil on canvas.

I enjoyed using oils straight onto paper after making rapid sketches. This was a great way of studying the light on their forms without being too concerned with the end result.
tried to do as much sketching as I could as I hadn't had this kind of opportunity to draw Pufffins before.


This was one of my favourite moments, it had been a perfectly sunny day and I was pretty tired by this point but the cliffs were set alight by the setting sun with these beautiful pale purple shadows on the ledges. The lovely glow of guano! The rich browns of the guillemots were revealed and exaggerated too by the setting sun.  

Guillemots. Isle of May, June 2018.JPG

I really enjoyed drawing Guillemot leg/feet positions, they cling so well to impossible looking ledges and their feet were so expressive of the varying postures and stances. This was exaggerated even more so on the adorable chicks, when they splayed their large feet out sideways, planted firmly on the ledges as they peered out. They would stretch and edge outwards peering over, but then after a short while they'd turn to face and hug the wall. 


I waited until the shadow was at the angle I wanted before beginning this painting, the water was incredibly beautiful, the air swarming with sea bird life. I went for a bigger canvas and worked as fast as I could!

A real highlight of the week was  on a late evening at Cornerstone, watching and listening out for signs of young guillemots beginning to fledge. A new term was coined: Jumplings! Describing their first leap into the big wide world. The sun had set leaving the colour spectrum across the sky, the dark cliffs silhouetted against this softly coloured backdrop. After much noise and commotion, we watched a chick tumble a couple of times onto nieghbouring guillemot ledges below. Sadly neigbours were not so hospitable and were easily agitated even by a cute little imposter and so the poor chick put up with some grief. The parent Guillemot followed the youngster on its steady and traumatic descent until finally the chick took a small leap, flapping furiously it cleared the cliff and fell down into the darkening sea below! It was joined by both parents. This was by far the most memorable moment observed on the island, witnessing such a critical time in a young guillemots life!

Ringing Puffins!


I'm not used to having so many birds to hand to work from, it was a great privilege to be so close to the seabirds, in and amongst their breeding grounds. The island air has a constant activity of birds in flight and the surrounding sea was dotted with birds. Looking down from the cliffs on a sunny day, the water was clear and Guillemots could be seen swimming under water, their wings and bodies angular and streamlined, darting through like arrows.

It was an intensive week, a kind of drawing and painting marathon! Being on an island offers the great opportunity of following the light around the island over the course of the day. It was an incredible opportunity for developing my art, given the ease of having so many subjects literally at our doorstep. It is so refreshing and revitalising to immerse yourself into the world of wildlife existing simply in a rugged and wild setting.

We did an end of week exhibition in the Light house to share what we'd been up to with all the staff on the island:


Another incredible evening with the sun going down, I tried to take a rest beforehand to ready myself for it! I went for capturing the distant rock, it was low tide and the Guillemots were resting on it until a large Gull came and landed and off they all went. There would have been many more on my painting but I suppose the lack of them tells the story!

Kittiwakes. Isle of May, 2018.JPG

Oil sketch on paper.

Some Guillemot sketches done at Lady's Bed, a very close up spot to work from.


The very last of the evening light, I loved this spot on route to the Low Light after an evening spent at Alterstanes. I enjoyed capturing some of the flight activity which didn't cease whilst I worked after sundown. I caught a young gull chick on a rock doing their jumping wing flaps!

Kittiwake sketches:

Kittiwakes. Isle of May, 2018.JPG
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