Friday, 23 October 2015

Cheese and Ennion - Where it all began

Visiting family in Sunderland always gives me the opportunity to look around the town centre to see what's changed (a lot), or which of my old haunts (pubs) are either still there, have changed name (again) or closed down altogether (plenty), or take in the latest exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery or Museum and Winter Gardens.
Last week saw me partake of a must see exhibition at the latter where a display of over 40 Eric Ennion originals is currently residing.

Eric Ennion (1900-1981) was a British naturalist, author, radio presenter, and of course artist and illustrator, specialising in birds. He had strong north east connections, founding the Monk's House Bird Observatory at Seahouses in Northumberland in 1950 and spent most of the decade there studying migration, ringing birds and writing field studies and ornithological reports.

Many of the paintings and sketches on display in Sunderland are from his time in Northumberland, beautiful field studies of seabirds and waders in pencil and watercolour, made on the spot or from memory with the aid of his notes and sketches.

In this way he captures the very essence of the birds in simple pencil sketches, and creates beautiful and inspirational finished pieces which (as a keen observer of birds myself) invoke memories in the viewer of similarly observed scenes.

The exhibition 'Ripples from the House on the Shore' is running until December 13th at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and is well worth a look, with a display of original LS Lowry works on one wall and some beautiful historical works in an adjacent room.

In fact the museum on the whole is a cracking day out with plenty of local interest, the winter gardens attached, and an excellent cafĂ© overlooking Mowbray Park pond, famous itself in birding circles for the mega-rare tiny Baillon's Crake back in 1989.

It was actually Mowbray Park where I 'saw the light' which started me off bird watching, eventually leading me to my chosen path as a natural history artist/illustrator. The story goes something like this :

Back in April 1997 work was badly stressing me out (I eventually left in early 2000 after depression set in, went to University where I got a BA hons in Illustration which set me on my way), I took time off and sat in my misery one sunny day in the park eating a Greggs cheese and onion pasty (yum). A brightly coloured blue tit and a splendid male chaffinch in his spring finery came down at my feet to eat the crumbs; I'd never seen them so close before or noticed how colourful they were, and I immediately wanted to see more so walked straight along to Argos and bought a pair of pocket-binoculars, then spent the rest of my week off in parks and at the coast exploring bird-life in the sunshine. The stresses of work were forgotten, and I'd found an interest in which I could lose myself, and set on a fantastic journey of seeing and knowledge-gathering, where I would want to learn to draw and paint those colourful birds I observed, and start to care about them as I realised their everyday struggles against both nature and (especially) the destructive behaviour of mankind. Today I see my art as a way of bringing our common birds to the attention of folk by portraying them in a cute and colourful way, hoping I can spark an interest in anyone to want to see and learn for themselves, and eventually care and want to protect.

Getting a bit heavy there, but that's my philosophy. And just to finish, my Mowbray Park birding highlights include tawny owls, nesting woodpeckers, grey wagtails and waxwings.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A North East Welcome to Scotland

With the Rugby World Cup visiting Newcastle over the next two weekends and Scotland the visitors twice I'm sure they'll be well supported here (after all we're much closer to Edinburgh than we are London (in many ways)).

To commemorate the visits I've come up with a second Limited Edition Print featuring the very Scottish bird the Crested Tit, which in Britain is only found in the Highlands.

A very limited edition of 20 prints (like the England Robin) numbered and signed by the artist (that's me)
No 1. is on display at the North East Art Collective in Eldon Gardens, Newcastle, and orders can be taken from there.   

Good Luck to Scotland the Brave !!!