When it comes to capturing the wildlife of north Norfolk, it is the wildlife art of Robert Gillmor that comes most readily to mind. Robert’s work, which has graced over 150 books and hangs on many a birdwatcher’s wall, has charted the changing nature of our wildlife over many decades. His images of avocet and spoonbill, for example, reveal the return of these former breeders to our coast and his local patch.
Robert’s field sketches underline an eye for detail and the patience of the watcher, seated in a bird hide at Cley or elsewhere along the coast. It is these field sketches that I admire the most; that ability to capture the essence of a bird as it goes about its business. It is about the looking and I suspect that a good birdwatcher and a good wildlife artist will look at a bird in a similar way to one another. While the artist is looking to capture the shape of the bird’s head, the profile of its bill or the curve of the wing feathers over the tail, the birdwatcher will be looking at the same features to secure an identification.
There is, of course, an additional layer to the way in which an artist (or for that matter a photographer) looks at a bird and that is to do with composition. It is not just the nature of the bird that makes a good picture but how it is placed within the frame, the landscape or in relation to other birds. Wildlife art is not mere description, the transcription of what you see in front of you onto paper. Instead it requires interpretation and the correct treatment to deliver a picture that is pleasing to the eye. Great wildlife art delivers this, whether it is a detailed portrait of a bird or a more abstract piece portraying, for example, the moment a flock of geese takes to the air.
Examples of the Robert Gillmor’s work can be seen at several Norfolk Galleries, including the Pink-foot Gallery at Cley and the current Wonder of Birds show at Castle Museum. It also features in a new book of bird sketches, published by Red Hare Publishing.