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My Paintings of 2017: 15 Animals In Art
As I look back at the pictures I’ve painted in 2017, I’m reminded of all the adventures I’ve had out watching wildlife this year. It’s been incredible. My personal highlight was watching kingfishers inside their nest and as you can see by the pictures posted below I was so inspired by the experience I produced a flurry of paintings of these beautiful birds over the year. But it hasn’t been just about kingfishers. The stoats living in my garden have continued to inspire me and this year the way that different animals raise their young has been a theme that has sparked a number of new compositions. Below I’ve listed all of this year’s original paintings. Click on each painting to read the full story about my experience watching each of the creatures featured. You’ll notice that some of the paintings are of animals I began watching the year before. This is because I tend to spend so long out in the field by the time I finish painting a subject, months will have passed since I first began to watch it. So here’s my year in paintings.
The painting above has got to be the highlight of the year. It captures the moment I had been hoping for after a bitterly cold February building an artificial bank to attract kingfishers to nest inside it. I had built the bank onto the side of my hide and rigged it up with cameras so that I could watch what happened. It was my most ambitious wildlife project yet and I could hardly believe my luck when a kingfisher pair took to my artificial nest within weeks of my finishing it. I went on to watch these beaurtiful birds through their endearing courtship process to the instant their first egg hatched. Watching a kingfisher lay its eggs was absolutely amazing since this is an event that normally happens underground. This was the painting that expressed it all! My footage was so ground breaking that it also featured on BBC Springwatch.
I learned so much about kingfisher behaviour this summer. This painting was inspired by the courtship of the pair that nested inside my artificial bank. I spent many hours in my hide watching their interaction. The female was young and inexperienced and seemed to know very little about the proper rules of kingfisher courtship. She was always a touch too forward, demanding that the male hand over his love tokens of fish before he had had a chance to offer them to her. I was enthralled at how polite he seemed, compared to her brashness.
I actually began watching kingfishers in this spot the winter before I built my hide, when I was staking out potential places to attempt my project. The painting above, which I completed in time for my Christmas exhibition this year, was inspired by those early days of watching this beautiful bird against at snowy sky, its blue plumage off set against the red of the rose hips. The kingfishers at my hide will no doubt continue to inspire more paintings in years to come as I hope that a pair return to the nest site again this year!
2 Pine Marten
Although strictly speaking this painting was inspired by a family of pine martens I watched on the west coast of Scotland in 2016, it wasn’t until this year that I finished this painting. I enjoyed reliving my experience as I went through the many photographs I had taken to work on the composition. It had been an incredible experience and was the first time I had had the opportunity to watch pine martens up close. This endangered mammal visited the cottage I was staying in every day to feed on tit bits that I had put out for it in the garden. It was mesmerising to watch this large creature scrambling over rocks and up trees to feast on raisins, peanut butter and jam. It was particularly partial to McVities Jaffa Cakes!
The experience went on to inspire another painting, pictured above. I completed this one in time to hang in my Christmas exhibition. Fot this picture I used pencil and acrylic to really bring out the brilliant white bib on the pine marten I had watched. I think it expresses the character of this creature very well.
3 Great Crested Grebe
I painted this picture of a great crested grebe carrying its young for my summer exhibition, which was centered on the theme of how animals bring up their young. I had a fascinating experience watching this particular pair of grebes as they taught their chicks to dive in the water. Whenever the tiny chicks tired, their parents carried them across the water on their backs. It was such an endearing sight and the painting it inspired became the signature image for my exhibition.
I love watching grebes and this year I returned to the subject again for my winter exhibition, this time using pencil and acrylic to paint a grebe I had watched perform its incredible courtship dance. Known as the ‘reed dance’ this is one of wildlife’s most romantic courtship displays and involves male and female birds treading water bolt upright, breast to breast with beaks full of weed whilst also shaking their heads from side to side.
The above painting was also produced for my summer exhibition to fit the theme of how birds raise their young. I love the iridescent feathers on the female lapwings upper body. I was able to watch this bird brood its chicks thanks to a stewardship scheme on a farm in East Yorkshire. Lapwings lay their eggs on arable fields and their nests can often be destroyed by farm machinery. But thankfully this female bird chose to nest in set aside land and protected from the drills. Lapwing nests are so well camouflaged it took me some time to find the nest, but once I had located it I was able to put up a hide from which to watch as the new hatchlings emerged.
No yearly round up of my wildlife paintings would be complete without a badger or two. The painting above and the following three paintings are this year’s contribution. I visit a badger sett every night during the summer from a hide I built directly above it. I’ve been going there for so long now that I’ve been accepted as part of the clan. I know each of the badgers by name and can’t wait to find out how many cubs have been born each spring. I also lead a series of guided walks to see badgers as part of my annual summer exhibition. There is nothing quite as rewarding as seeing these gentle creatures emerge into the evening twilight and quietly begin to forage. When I am lucky enough to see the cubs playing with one another in early summer, it really is special.
I watched the badgers featured above as they emerged out of their sett at dusk. But I painted the picture from a photograph I took at Cropton Forest in North Yorkshire. This badger was just foraging outside the sett when it caught my scent and popped its head up to look who was there.
6 Red Squirrel
Red squirrels are one of my favourite subjects to paint, they are such energetic creatures and bound along so effortlessly. This picture was a commission by a customer living in the Lake District and I painted it from a photograph of one of the red squirrels that visit him in his garden. It was fun to see this rare creature posed on his garden wall and I was happy to oblige!
7 Short Eared Owl
This painting followed a dramatic five days in deep snow and sub zero temperatures watching a battle between a short eared owl and a kestrel. Both species were trying to survive with more than a foot of snow covering their prey and one had realised that it was better to be patient and wait for the other to do all the hard work. In fact kestrels are renowned for pinching prey. Being the smaller and more agile bird, the kestrel quickly snatched the vole. But the prey was still in the tight grip of the owl’s talons. The two birds of prey began twisting and spiralling down to the ground, which I have captured in this painting.
It’s not always easy to watch woodpecker chicks because these birds tend to nest in dark woodland or high up inaccessible trees. But one year a friend of mine told me about a woodpecker nest in an isolated tree and I decided to build a hide to photograph it. I stacked potato boxes on top of one another and then placed my hide on the top of this tower, at eye-level to the nest. It was fascinating watching the parent birds feed their chicks on a diet of insects and worms. But the most incredible moment of all was the day the chicks fledged. I watched the adult male refuse to feed its chick until it took its first hesitant flight, and then after it had taken the leap of faith and flung itself into the air, the male rewarded it with a meal.
Sparrowhawk in pursuit of Great Spotted Woodpecker
Original Acrylic Painting by Robert E Fuller
Framed Size: 26.5″ x 21.25″ Image Size: 14″ x 10″There was more drama in the skies to paint before the year was out. This picture was inspired by a photograph I took some years ago of a sparrowhawk sitting on top of a fence post with a woodpecker perched on the same post, just centimetres below it. The woodpecker held itself stock-still and in this way it escaped detection. Moments before I took the photograph, the sparrowhawk had been chasing this woodpecker. In this painting I wanted to capture the drama of that chase: just as the two birds clashed in mid-air, before the woodpecker made its escape.
The painting above captured the spirit of this Christmas and headlined my winter exhibition which was all about how wildlife cope in winter. I was inspired to paint the scene by one very cold winter when I watched these three drakes and a mallard jostle for jostle for position on an old post and rail fence. They were so comical, I thought they were asking to have their story told!
10 Red Stag
I finished this painting in time for my Christmas exhibition this year. It is the second picture inspired by an incredible experience I had of following a red stag through the stunning Scottish mountain range of Glencoe. I shadowed the stag for four days, trailing it on foot from dusk to dawn. I crawled through rough bracken and stumbled down steep rocky slopes to keep up with it until it eventually accepted my presence. By the end it let me come withing 30 yards. This gave me a fascinating insight into the red stag rut. With this painting I wanted to capture the stag with the stunning mountain range behind it.
A litter of stoat kits were born in my garden. In the autumn one of the males took up territory here. I trained him to climb up this stick for tit bits of food. I used a CCTV camera system to alert me when he arrived so I could take photographs of this unusual composition. I’ve been watching stoats in my garden for some years now and am constantly amazed by their intelligence and agility. I was even featured on TV after I built a maze to test their skills.
I’ve got to know the stoats so well now I can now recognise individual animals in my garden by fleck markings on their face. It was so funny watching the youngsters experience their first winter. I couldn’t resist painting this young male as he bounded across the snow. I was inspired to paint it after being asked to come up with an idea for a mythic animal for Springwatch’s behind the scenes TV show, Unsprung, and I decided on a ‘Super Stoat’.
Avocets are such graceful birds to paint. This composition of just three birds wading was a delight. I enjoyed picking out their features using a palette of blues, greys, blacks and whites.
13 Long Tailed Tit
I was exhibiting my work at Birmingham NEC one year. On my way into the show I noticed a pair of long-tailed tits building a nest by the main lake. I returned a week later and immediately went to see how they were getting on. They hadn’t finished building their nest yet and kept returning with extra nesting material. I managed to get some photographs of these fast-moving little birds, which led to this painting. I’ve painted long-tail tits many times before. They are very early nesters and they use cobwebs to build soft, springy nests which can expand to fit their growing broods. I once watched a pair collecting cobwebs in my greenhouse. After that I stopped spring cleaning.
14 Barn Owls
Barn owls are my favourite bird of prey and I have painted them again and again. This painting is of a pair using an old plough as a perch. Here on the Yorkshire Wolds barn owl populations can plunge in prolonged snow spells and I never take their presence here for granted. One year the population living near my in Thixendale was almost wiped out during a long, bitterly cold winter.
Here again, my love of barn owls means I’ve always got a painting of a barn owl on the go and this year was no exception. Thankfully the barn owls are doing well here on the Wolds now and it is a joy to watch them gliding over stubble fields in the winter.
The painting above was inspired by an incredible trip to the Galapagos Islands. Frigate brids are usually quite ordinary looking birds, but during the breeding season the males suddenly swell out their red crops like balloons to attract females. It really is quite extraordinary to see and something I felt that had to be painted to be believed!
This painting follows one of the most remarkable wildlife tours of my life. The trip to the Galapagos Islands fascinated at every turn and this painting of a grand old giant tortoise named Super Diego is representative of the whole trip. Super Diego is more than 100 years old and is said to be so virile that he alone is responsible for bringing his sub-species back from the brink of extinction. I was in awe of his stately grace as he slowly moved about the island.
Author: Robert E Fuller