For the past two years I have regularly visited to draw and photograph the community of exotic rescue birds at the Raystede aviaries sanctuary near Lewes.
Raystede’s feathered residents have a broad range of past histories. Some were trapped in the wild, before 2007 legislation banned the import of wild-caught birds into the European Union. Others arrived as regretted impulse buys, as strays – escapees or intentionally abandoned. Among the saddest arrivals were those who have been incarcerated for years in small, barren cages. Others have been much-loved companion birds whose human guardians could no longer care for them.
Being birds, parrots are active, acrobatic and brim with curiosity, bobbing and twirling as they seek to engage with others. Naturally, this means practical challenges for the artist, necessitating speedy drawing from life over many hours. Further in-depth drawing is achieved with the help of reference photographs. I work mainly outside the aviaries since parrots are brilliant at destroying objects. If I enter the bird’s space, I stand to exit minus earrings, watch and iPad!
To date, three paintings of Raystede's birds have been short-listed for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 2014 and one has been selected for 2015.