Darren Woodhead1st February.
‘ What a day, Blizzard conditions and total white out. Did not risk the hills but instead drove as far towards Eastside as I thought manageable. Weighed my drawing board down with rocks but even that wasn’t enough. At one point both board and palette flying to the other side of the track, my metal palette coming off worst and snapping into two. Ice and snow gathering on the painting, with the occasional sounds of cracking branches and mewing of desperate Common Gulls, buffeted by the onslaught. The sheep tight in a group and when the tops of the Kips visible, amazingly snow less, violently blown drifts forming neat triangular shapes below.’
Extract from ’Up River, The Song of the Esk’ by Darren Woodhead, published by Birlinn 2009.
If I can introduce myself, my name is Darren Woodhead. My passion and life are the outdoors, painting purely in Watercolours and direct in brush, the natural world around. I exhibit as well as lecture, hold demonstrations and workshops. I teach at several Edinburgh locations including George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, Loretto School, Musselburgh, Edinburgh College of Art and privately. Originally from West Yorkshire, my family and work are firmly based in East Lothian and have been now for many years. Recently I have produced two solo books on my work, ‘Up River, The Song of the Esk’ published by Birlinn in 2009 and ‘ From Dawn Till Dusk’, Langford Press 2005. I have also been fortunate enough to be invited onto many Artists for Nature Expeditions to help create awareness and conserve threatened areas in India, Israel, Peru, Ecuador, Spanish Pyrenees and the Portugese Algarve as well as areas closer to home.
If I could summarise the driving force behind the way I work, it would be the excitement and exhilaration that comes from being out in the field. Whether it is a fleeting encounter with a wild animal or a precious light through a woodland glade, as an artist this is the challenge. I have and always will work outside in the field. It is the way I grew up and developed my passion for learning through observation. Every painting and drawing you see, is painted direct from life, whilst observing the subject in its environment.
It has been a long journey to this point. Most of my childhood was spent around local reservoirs or in the Yorkshire Dales, barely at home during daylight hours. I was surrounded by paintings that although technically excellent, lacked the excitement and feeling we witnessed as enthusiastic beginning young Naturalists. They were lifeless and still, contrived and forced in many ways. It was not until I saw the work of Eric Ennion, the drawings of John Busby, sketchbook work of Charles Tunnicliffe and of course the masterful paintings of Bruno Liljefors that something clicked. That was it, the life of the natural world outside captured on paper and canvas, convincingly.
I began, tentatively. My early attempts at drawing outside were hidden in tiny notebooks but it was a start. After school and a first College, I left home and moved to south-west Wales. I devoted all my time to field work around the coast and Islands, especially Ramsey Island, which I have a very soft spot for. I then graduated from the Royal College of Art in London before moving to Scotland.
Working outside obviously has its pitfalls but many advantages. Rarely do birds or animals stand on plinths and pose. They are feeding, migrating, resting and surviving. I am also at the mercy of the elements, but rather than this been a hindrance I see it as a positive. Watercolour by nature is such a fragile medium that it always reflects the atmosphere I paint in. By rain and snow being able to stipple the paint, ice rosettes decorating a surface or buffeting the page, you have a medium that can bring to a painting much more than just a sense of colour. In many ways my paintings are diary pages, of the animals, insects, birds and of course, those elements.
As a Wildlife Whisperer
I would like to invite you into my world, and to the subjects and paintings that I am producing throughout the weeks ahead.
As my work is mostly based around the near hills, coast and rivers of my adopted home, I will aim to bring you closer to the light, mood and atmosphere of East Lothian, as well as to my ventures abroad.
Communicate my experiences. For example on one memorable recent occasion I painted a very atmospheric Long-eared owl sat high up in a snow covered Pine, only to see the image disappear not once but twice during the double onset of heavy snow showers. Snow acts like salt and sucks any wet paint up like a sponge. Only my vivid memory of those two owl paintings remain and of course my desperate attempt to save a sinking ship!
I will also aim to share the beauty and possibilities of Watercolour, the medium that is so close to my heart. And I hope to encourage you to take up venturing out and recording, however simplistic, images and events you have witnessed.
I hope to share film footage of me out in the field, and of course discuss any area that may arise.
Lastly to encourage and invite your comments and thoughts, and to invite you through to my website.
‘A good drawing will go on talking for years’ John Busby, Nature Drawings
More info about Darren...
For more information about Darren and his work why not check out his website...