Clinging to the cliffs at St Abbs

Kittiwake looks down on guillemots and razorbills assembled on a guano covered platform on the cliff

For three days running I perched on the narrow ridges atop steep spurs of rock running out from St Abbs Head into the sea.  The cliffs below and facing me and the tops of isolated stacks were carpeted with nesting birds.  The upper airs were torn by kittiwakes looping in and up to their mates.  Below, the stubby auks, guillemots and razorbills, with fast wings, flew in and out from sea surface to cliff face.  There was constant, compelling noise, the rising and falling crescendo of the guillemots’ harsh croak, the kittewake’s onomatopoeic greetings as they returned to the nest and the threatening cackling of the sweeping watchful herring gulls.

This was my opening sketch, in pencil on cartridge paper.  I was seated awkwardly looking along the side of a rocky spur, close enough the draw partly by eye, partly using the telescope.

4 responses to “Clinging to the cliffs at St Abbs

  1. What incredible art. Your work has greatly influenced my decision to begin painting and sketching from the photographs I have taken. I especially appreciate what it must take to do some of those sketches in the field! wow!

    • I’ve just been to look at your site again. Your photographs of wildlife are just stunning.

      I am really honoured by your comment.

      I am not presuming here to offer advice but reflecting on my own experience. I do take photos, really nothing like as good and professional as yours. However, I learned that drawing is very different. I no longer take a proper camera with me because otherwise I focus (excuse the pun) on getting good shots. I do however sometimes take quick aide memoire photos with my phone, even through the telescope, but these are technically poor and simply help in later building on the sketches. I often find points of interest in these simple shots that I missed when drawing, like the heron’s reflection and tracery of the foreground plants in the recent canal pictures. Even so, I start with the drawing.

      I think the cognitive process in drawing and photography are different although perhaps the motivation is the same. Faced with the awesome scale and beauty of the natural and built worlds, it is a way of responding and making sense of it all. I know you draw from your own photos. Similarly, I realised some years ago that it feels sterile to work from other people’s “reference photos”, however beautiful. Now, though, I am reluctant even to work from my own photos unless I attempted some kind of sketch on site at the same time, because the thought processes are so different.

      This is very much a personal view and a cause of much frustration.

      • Thank you so much for sharing your process with me. I am definitely going to set aside some nature time to feel and sketch the setting. I always wonder what an artists process and thoughts are when working through.
        Your pieces stir great emotion within. Such that I have not felt with very much art in the past.
        Thank you for sharing some of yourself with all of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s