From the introduction
…At art college, I learned the value of objective study – it was hard at first to rein-in the freedom to invent. But one learns too that it is not enough to be just an objective eye – a visual accuracy machine. One has to see behind the surface of things, to reveal inner strengths of form and hidden rhythms, and to translate what one sees into marks on a page, marks which must have their own rightness for being there. However complicated artistic thought at become, I think is it necessary for an artist to retain that childlike passionate identity with whatever is being drawn. Only then will a drawing begin to communicate something worth saying. I say ‘begin’ deliberately, because a good drawing can go on ‘talking’ for years and come to mean as much to the viewer as it did to the artist.
Today, when most of our visual experiences can be recorded instantly by camera or video, it is a wonder that such a laborious activity as drawing still exists; even more so, that it can be applied to the portrayal of birds. It is perhaps the only activity that can match their vivacity in the speed and energy of its execution. While the camera can instantly freeze-dry movement and detail beyond the perception of the human eye, drawing ability takes years to develop and is the result of a lifetime of learning to see.
The artist’s eye does have several advantages over the camera: focus is not a mechanical problem but a matter of thought and concentration: time is not measured in hundredths of a second but can seem to stand still. A drawing can include events happening over a long timespan, nor is it even confined to what is there. I find, especially when painting, that I bring in association from previous experience, and as I get older it is more difficult to be entirely objective. Making connections is very much the business of art…
What matters when sharing moments with wild creatures is to keep a truly receptive mind to whatever is possible as a drawing. Wildlife is often unpredictable and however familiar the species there is always something new to see and draw – a particular behaviour or an unusual appearance – that ‘strangeness’ which the philosopher Francis Bacon spoke of as being essential to beauty.