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John Philip Busby (1928 - 2015)

Artist, writer, teacher and naturalist

photo of John Philip Busby
photo by Hallgeir B Skjelstad

John Philip Busby was born in Bradford in 1928 and attended Ilkley Grammar School. After National Service, he studied at Leeds College of Art and then at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) where he was awarded post-graduate and major travel scholarships. On return from France and Italy he was invited to join the staff of ECA, where he taught drawing and painting from 1956 until 1988. In 1959 he was commissioned to paint the mural Christ in Glory in the Scottish Episcopal Church, St Columbas-by-the-Castle in Edinburgh.

by James McCallum


For many, the name John Busby is synonymous with acute observations of nature and an enviable ability to capture character, light and movement in just a few simple lines and washes. His work was born from first-hand experience of nature and, as is the case with the very best artists, it encourages fresh ways of thinking and seeing.

"...His concept of landscape extended to rock pools for which he had a fascination, resulting in a series of oil paintings from the shore at Tyninghame, near his home in East Lothian. In them, said the naturalist Mark Cocker, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, "he explores not only the way in which light is refracted in these basins of shallow water, but also the swaying shapes of weed or micro-formations of subtly patterned sandstone. as if they were woods and fields across hillsides and valleys..."

By Stephen Moss

" 'My work is rooted in landscape and in the living birds and animals as they are part of it. I aim to show how creatures move and to express the visual delight they bring. I try to combine accuracy with artistry.' So the wildlife artist John Busby, who has died aged 87, summed up his approach. As well as portraying the natural world in his inimitable style, Busby also inspired several generations of leading artists: not simply through his drawings and paintings, but also though the more direct medium of teaching...."

"...Landscape, and particularly the abstract geometry of landscape, was always the main focus of his work, but meeting Eric Ennion in Northumberland in the 1950s turned his bird watching hobby into what became a major part of his artistic output. He was a founder member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA)

by Darren Woodhead

"...John was a pioneer of working direct from life and he had that exceptionally rare talent of making the most difficult seem easy. His drawings flowed with life and character, his birds and animals deftly flew and skipped across the page with a movement seldom achieved before. His landscapes and rock pools invited you in to explore and discover, with beautiful balances and harmonies of colour – reflections on the natural world. Only the best of artists can lure you in to see and feel this way..."

BUSBY, John: ‘My Art’

The local wildlife artist, John Busby, died in 2015. He was a talented bird artist and his works are now in public galleries and in private collections.   In his book, ‘Drawing Birds’ (2004) published by Christopher Helm and the RSPB, John Busby wrote about his instinctive approach to painting bird life (pp.18-20)...