David Attenborough opening the 50th annual SWLA exhibition at the Mall Galleries in 2013
I am delighted and honoured to have been elected a full professional member of the Society of Wildlife Artists. The SWLA has been on my radar ever since I took part in the Seabird Drawing Week back in 2012 where I met a number of SWLA members including all four tutors on the course at that time John Busby, Darren Woodhead, Greg Poole and John Threlfall.
For the last four years I have been submitting work to the annual show in London and managing to get down to see it most years. The times I made it for the private view at the Mall Galleries I was bowled over by how welcoming everyone was. I was guided around the room to meet various artists, all of whom greeted me with enthusiasm and interest. I suppose the reason I mention this is because this feels quite unusual, a lot of private views can be nerve-racking events for artists, especially if you are just establishing yourself. Often you don't know many people, you are unaware of any underlying politics, you are nervous about your art holding it's own, you are hoping there will be a response to your work. Not always much fun (although wine helps)!
And so it was that I found myself making connections with SWLA artists, realising with some relief that I had begun to build a network of artists, all of whom were keen and interested in spending time outdoors making work, responding to the idiosyncrasies of the natural world, just like me. Plus, they lived across the UK and further afield, meaning I had an instant connection to the natural world in these places through their work and a wealth of experience to draw on if I was bold enough to ask.
Two years ago I was elected an associate member of the Society. I remember discovering it because the Mall Galleries put it out on twitter and I was so excited, but then I got nervous that perhaps it had been a mistake. I was reassured when a letter came through the door addressed to Kittie Jones ASWLA, a bit of a mouthful it has to be said!
This year's Seabird Drawing Week group on the first day at Dunbar harbour's kittiwake colony (Photo credit: Bruce Pearson)
I have been lucky enough to join the teaching team on the Seabird Drawing Week, a great honour and something I look forward to every year. Not only is the week an opportunity to make work in some amazing locations (the Bass Rock and St Abb's Head) but it also introduces a new group of people to the wonders of working outdoors, drawing birds and the potential for working alongside peers.
I recently took part in a three-day residency at Wallasea Island in Essex, a new RSPB nature reserve under-construction. Organised by the SWLA in collaboration with the RSPB this was a great opportunity for me to make work in a very different landscape to my local Scottish haunts, as well as meet and work alongside five other SWLA artists. Myself, Ben Woodhams, Greg Poole, Nik Pollard, Brin Edwards and Richard Allen spent the time making work and having stimulating conversations around the dinner table each day, questions such as: what did everyone see? How were people approaching the place? What medium were people working in? Where was the best spot to draw hares/egrets/stonechats? It is such a privilege as an artist to work alongside others – somehow it helps to stimulate new directions and inspiration in your work.
Mixed media drawing made at Wallasea Island RSPB reserve, October 2016
It seems that the SWLA is forging a path for artistic and educational opportunities to get people out in the world, thinking about nature in new and innovative ways and I am fully on board, looking forward to what I can contribute to it all in time – watch this space!