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Art Masterclass            July 2005


Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.


Art masterclass

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;

This month: an Art Masterclass featured in the current edition of The Artist, the magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters.


Out in the Natural World

Passionate about wildlife, Bruce Pearson has developed habits of observation and recording to underpin his evocative paintings of animals and birds, and their behaviour



Bruce Pearson describes himself as "obsessed by the natural world". From his childhood he has always had a particular interest in birds, but this has since developed into a passion that is sensitive to the full diversity of nature. Moreover, his view of the natural world is one in which he accepts and appreciates what he calls the totality: the interaction between wildlife, landscape and man.

"As an artist the aspect that most fascinates me is the rhythm and restlessness of the natural world," he says. "This is the quality that I try to capture. But there's an interest, too, in life forms and their processes, so sometimes a little bit of the inquisitive naturalist creeps into my work as well."




 Hummingbird and Bees, mixed media 401/2x243/4in. (103x63cm)

Another distinctive feature of Bruce Pearson's work is his overriding aim to

capture the action and feeling of a certain event or scene, rather than being

solely concerned with the type of information and detail that you would find in

a field guide. His response is not merely that of an observer, nor indeed a

naturalist. "I am trying to make an artistic contribution. Always my first

reaction is to let rip at the emotion of the moment. The artistic expression is

the more dominant force."

Work produced from such a response can only be successful if informed by a

depth of knowledge and suitable techniques, of course, and as a professional

artist who has been drawing and painting the natural world for over 30 years,

Bruce has acquired a wide range of skills and experience. At the beginning of

his career, for example, he worked as a freelance illustrator for a variety of

natural history books, magazines and journals, including writing and illustrating

An Artist on Migration, a section of which was subsequently produced as a film

for BBC2 television.

He has also travelled extensively: to the Arctic and the Antarctic, Africa, many countries and regions of Europe, the Caribbean, and North and South America.

This wealth of experience feeds through into his work, allowing him to express

ideas freely, with an emphasis on his personal impressions and reactions.

Drawing from observation

It is undoubtedly a privilege to witness scenes such as a daylight-hunting barn owl or a circling hen harrier against a stark winter sky. "I find subjects like these tremendously exciting," Bruce says, "and it is that sense of excitement that I want to convey and share in my sketches, paintings and prints. However, that is not to say that I choose only unusual, dramatic subjects. And I certainly do not believe that wildlife flourishes in some rosy nirvana, where everything is sitting sideways on a branch against a blue sky, with the edges conveniently faded out! The natural world is all around us — the bluetit on the bird feeder in the garden, the line of homeward-bound rooks that we see one evening as we come out of Tesco's, and so on. These subjects can be equally challenging and effective."

An essential asset for any wildlife artist is the ability to observe and assimilate different subjects and ideas. The most important skills to concentrate on initially, Bruce advises, are looking at a variety of wildlife subjects and gradually building up a depth of understanding and, through sketches and notes, a valuable resource of information.


 Arctic Pool at Midnight, oil on paper, 29x45in. (74x114cm)



Marsh Harrier, field sketch

111/2x161/2in. (29.5x42cm)


"I started by drawing dead creatures that I had found by the roadside," he

explains. "From an early age I admired Tunnicliffe's studious drawings and I was hugely impressed by the exhibition of his work that I saw at the Royal Academy

in 1976. I would carefully check each subject I had to draw, and examine how

the bill of a bird opened, for instance, or the way that the joints in its claw

worked. It is rather like an artist who is interested in life drawing wanting to

inform his work by studying anatomy. By so doing you develop a specialist 'vocabulary'. There is no substitute for learning how to see."


Books, photographs and magazine cuttings can be useful as aides-m?oires and sometimes for initiating ideas.

"I certainly keep a cuttings file," says Bruce, "but relying only on that would mean the experience of nature is secondhand. Someone else has done the learning, had the creative fun, seen the creatures and been to the place! More importantly, copying excludes surprise opportunities, chance encounters and simple, spontaneous wonder. I don't use a camera, partly because it is yet another piece of kit to carry. But in any case, I would rather just sit, watch and make my own notes. Personally, I think that one thumbnail sketch can be more valuable than a whole roll of prints."



Controlled Burning, Fritham, New

Forest, watercolour, crayon and oil pastel 241/2x29in. (62x74cm)


Field trips

For his field trips Bruce takes a small (A6) sketchbook, a compact watercolour

box and a few large brushes (with their handles shortened), plus pencils,

charcoal, crayons and oil pastels. His travel bag will also hold an A3 sketchbook, an A5 notebook and, of course, he carries binoculars and sometimes a telescope.

Back in his van there is other equipment, such as a field easel and large sheets

of watercolour paper, to use if the conditions are favourable for more resolved


"The best way to start," Bruce advises, "is to get a feeling for the location. Go

for a walk and just let the landscape and whatever is happening speak to you.

If you are patient and observant, something will happen, offering you the

chance to make some quick sketches and notes. Then, if things look promising

and the weather is settled, you can add to those preliminary sketches, perhaps trying other media and techniques to help you capture different aspects and characteristics of the chosen subject.

"So, for me, a good day might result in a handful of drawings or a few small paintings of animals and birds and their behaviour, or maybe a landscape study or two. If it has gone particularly well, or if the light and place were inspiring, then the conclusion might be a larger and more considered drawing or painting, in which I would hope to distil something of the day's experience.

"Occasionally I strike it lucky and one or two pieces straight from the field begin to express some of that hope. Those works can be framed and exhibited when the opportunities arise.

"On site you have to respond quickly to what is in front of you and not worry too much about technique. After a while, as you gain experience, you instinctively know which media and techniques will work best for the subject and effects you have in mind. In addition to the pencil sketches I often work in watercolour and pencil, or use mixed media in a similar way, such as watercolour and oil pastel or charcoal, watercolour and crayons.

"In the studio there is scope to include oil paintings, more resolved watercolours, and various printmaking techniques. The starting point for this work is the material compiled from the site visits, although I believe there is no point in merely copying such information. One has to accept that the initial, inspirational moment has gone, and therefore I think it is better to use the field studies in a different way  to search for other interesting or significant elements they might contain and also consider a fresh medium and approach. For instance, a particular aspect of a drawing or written idea might suggest that a woodcut, monoprint or oil painting would be an exciting starting point or a more creative route to take."




Otters and Rocky Shore, Western Isles, watercolour and crayon, 28x44in.



Svalbard Sketches, two sheets field

sketches, each 111/2x161/2in.



Brown Hawker Dragonflies, Autumn Evening, above right, is a good example of the way that Bruce likes to develop ideas in the studio. For this, he used a monotype process (a one-off impression produced by applying ink or paint to a sheet of glass), working from field studies made in watercolour, pencil and crayon.

"With monotype, the outcome is an unpredictable range of marks and textures that are characteristically different from those drawn directly on paper," he explains. "However, this method excludes one of the main purposes of printmaking, which is to obtain multiple impressions of a single image. Instead, this versatile printmaking process ends with a single image of painterly textures and surface effects that could not be achieved any other way."

The result, as in all his work, is imagery that is original, evocative and full of interest. He seeks the truth, rather than merely the outward appearance of things, and always evident is the passion he has for the natural world and the desire to share and express his view of it through his art.

"Sing with your own voice," he advises, "and don't be afraid of creating work that is raw and honest."



Brown Hawker Dragonflies, Autumn

Evening, monotype, 32x241/2in.








Dry Forest, Peru, mixed media,

40x43in. (102x86cm)



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