‘Gulls make grey beautiful again..’


I have developed a fascination with gulls since my close encounters with nesting ones on the Bass Rock last month. They are easily overlooked because of their ubiquity, or even worse because people consider them pests or struggle to live alongside them.

Mark Cocker’s Country Diary extract about common gulls talks about how the aesthetics of gulls are often overlooked and he is absolutely right (thanks to him for the title of this post – ‘gulls make grey beautiful again’). They are majestic birds – they make striking shapes both in the air, on land and on sea. I find their adaptability and endurance encouraging and inspiring too.

As part of The Written Image project, a collaboration between printmakers and poets, I found myself on a boat heading to Inchcolm Island on Sunday morning with poet, Vicki Husband (and some bleary eyed tourists).

Inchcolm Island is in the Firth of Forth, close to the Fife coast. It has a rich cultural history  but I’m afraid I was more interested in its wildlife on this trip! As I hoped it was covered in gulls – mostly lesser-black backed gulls and herring gulls. The gulls were surprisingly threatening as Vicki and I headed to the west end of the island. Apart from paths which had been cut in the grass the area was mostly covered in tall grasses, cow parsley (or a similar umbilifer – will endeavour to find out) and the occasional small tree (elderflower and sea-buckthorn mostly). Amongst this abundant foliage were lots of adult and juvenile gulls wandering around and flying up noisily as we approached. Hitchcock’s film The Birds was brought up more than once in our conversations!

We settled down on the path and I started some drawings.


I was very taken with the juvenile gulls, many of which were as big as their parents and have these strange wizened old faces but make small rasping ‘cheep cheep’ noises and often hound their parents, bobbing their heads up and down and cheeping imploringly at them for food.


I attempted to get the amazing shapes this lesser-black backed gull was making as it was preening.

We then moved to the East end of the island where hundreds of gulls were hanging off the wind beautifully. I was determined to capture some gulls in flight:Image



This drawing was unfortunately cut short as we had to head back to the boat. I hope to continue developing it in the studio.


And finally, the most sustained drawing I managed to do – a lesser-black backed gull, framed against a sunlit Firth of Forth, with its young poking a curious head up to the left of it from the grassy cliff top.


Here is Vicki, writing notes in the sunshine. It was great to share the day with her, it was nice working alongside a poet, occasionally talking about ideas and things that inspired us but mostly just sitting and working away on our own thing. I am excited to see how we will bring our ideas together over the course of the next few months.

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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3 Responses to ‘Gulls make grey beautiful again..’

  1. Leo du Feu says:

    I really enjoyed this post Kittie. highlighting the wildlife that many people overlook is a very worthwhile thing. Excellent capture of flying gulls and I’m really pleased you’ve made it to Inchcolm, a great place. My own trip there – but I’m afraid I paid little attention to the gulls that time http://landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/inchcolm-island-in-firth-of-forth.html?

  2. markcocker says:

    Hi Kittie

    i thought you might be interested in this longer fragment from Birds and People in which i say this (I cribbed that Guardian sentence from me own book!): “The smaller terns have long been praised for beauty, a quality that seems implicit in their old nickname, ‘sea swallow’. Yet it is sometimes easy to overlook the aesthetic qualities of the larger family members. We are so habituated to images of gulls roiling over fish guts sluiced from rusty trawlers, or hungry mobs swaying back and forth with a dozer as it drives the moraine of trash across the dump that we forget what glorious creatures they really are. At first glance the chromatic range in both gull and tern plumage seems narrow – usually some tone of grey mingled with white. Yet the birds redeem these colours from their common associations. To see a flock of Whiskered Terns, dipping to feed in wild free sorties over a nest marsh, or a flock of Herring Gulls afloat on updraughts above sea cliffs, the birds rising in long loose shoals high into the blue, is to appreciate grey unlocked from any residual sense of concrete, bureaucracy, conformity or boredom. Gulls and terns make grey beautiful.”
    Love the gull pic

    • Hi Mark, Many thanks for your comment – by a strange serendipity I had just read your entry in Birds and People about seagulls whilst eating my breakfast that very morning! I was at the talk you gave at Waterston House in Aberlady which was great and I’ve been dipping into the book a little bit since and thoroughly enjoying it. Birds Britannica is a much thumbed reference source of mine, I tend to use it to read up on a particular bird that I’m focussing on before heading out for a day of drawing or studio-ing! I’m sure Birds and People will be a valuable addition to that. I think what you say about the importance of birds entering our lives through the arts and through personal experience and not just the sciences is spot on (a balance of both I think is important). It was through my artistic practice that birds started to take on meaning for me and it is wonderful to know how much more I have to learn and experience of them. Good luck with the global book tour (eek!) and I look forward to seeing what your next book brings…Best wishes, Kittie

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