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Ian Lewington

Wild Artist, January 2014

One of the new features on the Birding Frontiers blog gives us the chance to showcase the wonderful variety of bird and wildlife art, and especially hear from the artists themselves. We beginwith Ian Lewington, who’s juvenile Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier) is the Birding Frontiers symbol.

Ian Lewington

Ian Lewington driving a team of huskies in the Taiga Forest, Arctic Norway, March 2013

Ian Lewington driving a team of huskies in the Taiga Forest, Arctic Norway, March 2013

… has been watching and drawing birds for as long as he can remember. His fascination was kindled at the age of five when his father began taking him on nature walks in the Berkshire countryside close to his home. As he became more familiar with the species he saw, the diversity of birdlife, subtleties of plumage variation and the unending learning curve of birding captured his imagination. Encouraged by his elder brother Richard, an illustrator of entomological subjects, Ian set his sights on following in his brother’s footsteps.

Grey Phalarope. Svalbard, June 2004. Loved the perfectly still conditions (rare on Svalbard) and reflections on the water.

Grey Phalarope. Svalbard, June 2004. Loved the perfectly still conditions (rare on Svalbard) and reflections on the water.

“I hesitate to write this but . . .

 anyone can draw – and that includes you. There’s no gift, no talent, just a bit of an aptitude fed by hours of practice. That’s my theory anyway. Drawing is just like football, tennis, dancing, magic . . . . it’s a learned skill. If you do anything for long enough you will improve. I’m in the in the Matthew Syed school of achievement. Practice, hard work and will/obsession. I’m not a fan of innate ability. It excludes people too easily.

As a small boy my interest in natural history was kindled by my father and I was inspired to draw what I was passionate about by my much older brother (Richard) who by the time I’d reached eight years old was already illustrating entomological subjects professionally. I thought lots of people must do this job so at 14 I decided I would be a bird artist when I grew up. After ‘A levels’ my brother studied fine art and illustration at Maidenhead and Reading Art Colleges, however, during this crucial time when you would endeavour to hone, develop and perfect the techniques that would hopefully propel you into the world of field guide illustrating, his progress was somewhat stagnated by the time spent being ‘loosened up’. Anyway he turned out alright in the end but advised me not to go to college and stay at home and draw birds all day. This I did and have been doing so ever since. Thanks Rich.

If you think you can’t draw then I’m afraid you’re wrong. Please take time to have a go. Choose a subject matter that you’re passionate about. If it’s a bird, not only will you nurture an understanding of avian anatomy but the mere physical process of trying to reproduce what’s in front of you (regardless of what the finished product looks like) will make you a better observer through learning to see . . . . another acquired skill.

My wife illustrates this perfectly. Up until about three years ago she’d never entertained the thought of picking up a pencil but after a little encouragement from me (but no tuition) and a lot of practice drawing subjects that grabbed her imagination she has produced some really nice pieces and has sold more exhibited work in the last year than I have! So go on . . . have a go”

Ian Lewington, December 2013

Kentucky Warbler. High Island, Texas, April 2002. I really love the shapes created when certain species with 'masked face pattern' look directly at you.

Kentucky Warbler. High Island, Texas, April 2002. I really love the shapes created when certain species with ‘masked face pattern’ look directly at you.

Scops Owl. Cornwall, 9th April 1995. This is a field sketch of a vagrant half way down a cliff, which is why it looks ball-shaped. The bird's appearance was foreshortened as I was looking down from above it.  Due to the constant movement of birds, field sketches normally consist of a just a few lines. However the subject sat perfectly stationary for 2 hour only a more 'finished' and detailed drawing.

Scops Owl. Cornwall, 9th April 1995. This is a field sketch of a vagrant half way down a cliff, which is why it looks ball-shaped. The bird’s appearance was foreshortened as I was looking down from above it. Due to the constant movement of birds, field sketches normally consist of a just a few lines. However the subject sat perfectly stationary for 2 hour only a more ‘finished’ and detailed drawing.

 

Taiga Flycatcher from forthcoming 'Rare Birds of North America' by Princeton, with Steve Howell and Will Russell. I love'em- saw the male at Flamborough and seen lots in China.

Taiga Flycatcher from forthcoming ‘Rare Birds of North America’ by Princeton, with Steve Howell and Will Russell. I love’em- saw the male at Flamborough and seen lots in China.

 

Skylark. A little inkwash drawing for the Oxford Annual Bird Report in 1995

Skylark. A little inkwash drawing for the Oxford Annual Bird Report in 1995

Pied Wheatear. One of several I have seen on the Isles of Scilly in October (me and Debs have been  regular visitors there since 1984).

Pied Wheatear. One of several I have seen on the Isles of Scilly in October (me and Debs have been regular visitors there since 1984).

King Eider. Svalbard, June 2004. Ice and King Eiders just can't help but present themselves as an ultimate arctic image.

King Eider. Svalbard, June 2004. Ice and King Eiders just can’t help but present themselves as an ultimate arctic image.

 

Broad-billed Sandpiper from forthcoming 'Rare Birds of North America' by Princeton, with Steve Howell and Will Russell. I like anything with stripes and this is one of the stripiest shorebirds in the world (probably).

Broad-billed Sandpiper from forthcoming ‘Rare Birds of North America’ by Princeton, with Steve Howell and Will Russell. I like anything with stripes and this is one of the stripiest shorebirds in the world (probably).

Goshawk. I see this species annually. This was an experiment for me. It's my one and only ever oil painting and I really enjoyed the exercise. I hope to do more. Normally I only work with gouache.

Goshawk. I see this species annually. This was an experiment for me. It’s my one and only ever oil painting and I really enjoyed the exercise. I hope to do more. Normally I only work with gouache.

 

Ian’s main interests continue to be the identification and taxonomy of holarctic birds.

He enjoys foreign birding (when time allows) and has traveled widely throughout the Western Palearctic as well as to North America, South America, India, China, Antarctica and Spitsbergen in search of birds.

Published Work: Field Guides and Publications:
Rare Birds of Britain and Europe with authors Per Alstrom and Peter Colston (Collins 1991)
Auks of the World (OUP 1998)
Birds of the Western Palearctic
Handbook of the Birds of the World (Lynx Edicions)
Ian has also contributed to guides covering the birds of Southeast Asia, India, Madagascar, and Malaysia and produced plates for identification articles and papers describing species new to science for a variety of journals.  These include Birding World, British Birds, Dutch Birding, Limicola, Var Fagelvarld, Ibis, The Auk and the Wilson Bulletin.
Current work:
Ian is currently working on a new field guide to the Birds of North America. He has recently completed the Rare Birds of North America with authors Will Russell and Steve Howell for Princeton Press (due out March 2014).
Awards
British Birds Bird Illustrator of the Year 1985
Richard Richardson awards 1985
Other Activities
County Bird Recorder for Oxfordshire since 1994
Former Member of the British Ornithological Union Records Committee
Identification consultant to Birding World

Visit Ian Lewington’s website.

 

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