June Japes

The first half of June was a slow month for me artistically, a combination of creative burn out and busy-ness at work meant I didn’t get much done. This all changed on Saturday 16th June when I set out to North Berwick to meet the group who would be my companions for the week on the Sea Bird Drawing Course which has been run by John Busby since the mid-1980s.

And what a fantastic, eye-opening week it turned out to be!

Some early sketches of the kittiwake colony

The first day we went to Dunbar harbour where there is a kittiwake colony situated on an old castle overlooking the harbour. There was a cacophony of noise as these birds flew back and forth from the scratty, seaweed nests they had built precariously on the sides of the ruin. Fluffy babies were revealed as the birds stood up to shuffle around – regularly two birds would show huge red gapes as they had a go at each other – perhaps one of them had got too close…

I was particularly taken with this bird, who had found a perfect spot to press against whilst it surveyed the world of the busy harbour in front of it…

The next day we went to the Bass Rock on a little boat from North Berwick harbour. It has been a long held ambition of mine to go to this historical gannet colony and it certainly came up to expectations. As we got closer, the density of flying gannets increased, many of them intently carrying bits of seaweed in their beaks as they headed for the rock.

When I arrived on the Rock I realised where the seaweed was getting delivered – this bird would have been looking for its partner and nest for whom this gift is intended.

Where we landed near the lighthouse I could already see guillemots, puffins, shags and gulls. We were told to hold our umbrellas above our heads to ward off angry gulls as we zig-zagged up the path avoiding the large brown spotted eggs and the equally spotty young as there parents circled noisily above us.

Drawings of Gulls Eggs by Henry Seebohm an early British naturalist.

Then we got to the castle ruins which are now overgrown with Bass mallow – an amazing shrub which looks a bit like a giant purple geranium plant. Running the gauntlet again past more worried parent gulls, the ground became increasingly squidgey underfoot – a combination of mud, guano, dead birds, smashed eggs etc – you can’t imagine the powerful smell of the place – a smell which can, apparently, carry far up the Firth of Forth – I’ll have to keep my nose peeled for it at my studio in Leith!

The climb up the path began, and as the terrain turned into terraced rocks the gannet colony came into view. Consisting of nesting birds and other birds stood amongst them, it is this extensive colony of large white birds that makes the rock look white. Amazingly the colony has been growing consistently over the last century – wikipedia tells me the colony is 150, 000 strong! The overcrowded nature of the rock meant we got as far as the ruined chapel which is about half way up and found a small patch of bare ground to settle down for the day.

The chapel is directly up and left from the lighthouse. Apologies for the wonky horizon!

And so the drawing begins –

And developed over the two days…

And then some colour…

It was a surreal and all-involving experience been in amongst this vast gannet colony. A humbling experience being surrounded by the busy comings and goings of these strange birds with their reptilian heads. Fascinating to watch the gannets living their lives – greeting their partners, feeding their growing chicks, locking beaks with any bird that gets too close to them, delivering gifts of seaweed and twigs for their partners to gently find a place for in the nest. It was noisy and smelly and busy and for a moment it filled my head.

More sea bird drawing course words and images to come soon.


About flyingcreature

I'm a Cumbrian born painter and printmaker based in Scotland. My work is inspired by British nature. I studied on the Foundation Course at Leith School of Art in 2003 before going on to take the MA Fine Art degree at Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University graduating in 2008. I now make my work from my studio in Coburg House and teach drawing, painting and printmaking at Leith School of Art and around Scotland.
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11 Responses to June Japes

  1. Jim Stirk says:

    Hi Kittie. I too am keeping my nose peeled here in Glasgow…..I thought I caught a sniff just then. It must be lovely to be surrounded by these creatures….your wonderful drawings make me feel like one of the birds. Jim…x

    • Jim! Thanks for your comment – sadly I think you won’t get whiffs of gannet guano as far as Glasgow – I’ve not washed my waterproof trousers yet so I could always bring them through for that authentic Bass Rock smell! Glad you liked the drawings… Kittie x

  2. Funky Aunt says:

    Kittie looks like you had a lot of fun drawings brill and more to come no doubt. Glad you had such a good time next time try Crawton near Stonehaven!! lots of love F.A. XXXX

  3. MB says:

    Thanks for sharing, enjoyed your tales and drawings Kittie!! I recall you witnessing carnage and brutalities amongst the colony. Any thoughts on how this may change or add to your art work?
    mb xx

  4. Debra says:

    Kittie, this sounds a great experience and your drawings really capture gannet-ness. I’ve been to Bass Rock and looking at these images takes me there again!
    All best from your old Art History tutor–

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