Issue 206
Winter 2018/19

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Mar 20, 2019

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Graphic results from a bird artist's press

Mary Gladstone visits a Galloway artist who specialises increating striking images of the birds around her

Lisa Hooper – bird artist extraordinaire

SPOTTING a wild animal in its habitat is one thing. Capturing a bird in flight on film, sketchpad or with paint, is another. Generally, wings are faster than legs. Galloway attracts bird artists. Before the late ornithologist and conservationist Peter Scott founded the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust in Gloucestershire he toyed with the idea of establishing a bird reserve in southwest Scotland and often visited the Solway to paint wildfowl.

When the author Gavin Maxwell discovered that Scott was looking for birds for Slimbridge, he gave him some wild geese from the White Loch on the Maxwell's estate at Monreith.

The author/illustrator Donald Watson (1918-2005) arrived in Galloway shortly after WWII to study and paint birds and in 1964, he provided illustrations for the British bird section of the Oxford Book of Birds.

With a play on her surname, bird artist and print-maker Lisa Hooper from Port William, Wigtownshire, has named her enterprise Hoopoe Prints, which is neat but optimistic as this Afro-Eurasian bird with its 'crown' of feathers and curved beak, is very rarely seen north of the Border!

Lisa's art is impressionistic and concerned with design. Bird artists fall into two groups: the photo-realist, keen on accuracy and colour, often insisting each feather lies 'just so', and the 'wacky ones' like Lisa who, in photographing her subject, ponders over the image, waiting for an idea to emerge for a print.

It's about synthesis, discarding irrelevancies and keeping essentials, in a similar way that the cartoonist (observes jokingly your AW reporter) depicts Theresa May with jumbo necklace, bling shoes and caved-in slouch.

While Lisa who, incidentally, is no fan of our PM, doesn't need to portray exactly what she sees, the photo-realists paint what they see and avoid reducing their image to a few lines and a limited number of colours.

Born in Hampshire, Lisa Hooper lived in the south of England and Wales before settling in Galloway in 2006. At first she drew plants and insects, but birds always interested her, particularly the patterns of their feathers, especially in shore birds like waders and ducks.

While living in Gloucestershire, she joined a university evening class to learn to etch and in 1998 she bought a printing press. She employs a variety of techniques. Etching is graphic and excellent for linear and subtle tonal effects, but not so effective for colour. Many of Lisa's bird prints are etched, like her recent Guillemot with chick and a Red-throated Diver. With etching, physical constraints imposed by the plates' size, determine the subject.

She also works in linocut. Involving hard, flat areas of colour, the technique allows the practitioner to create a strong design by introducing contrasting coloured areas. Linocuts, however, provide less tone and quality of line than etching so they are ideal for panoramic views of townscapes and large groups of birds.

After attending a summer school course at Edinburgh Printmakers, Lisa also began to practise Japanese wood-block printing, done with a brush applied to extremely thin, damp paper.

Inspired by the wild life and countryside, Lisa chose to live in the coastal village of Port William because Galloway has a strong art community and is relatively unspoilt. There is a gannet colony at Luce Bay and an RSPB bird reserve at the Mull of Galloway with the odd puffin and guillemot.

In winter greylag geese and whooper swan fly in and curlew, eider duck and plovers frequent the area.

Lisa is modest about her ornithological knowledge, but can identify birds by sight and sound.

"You've got to know what bird you're looking at and get it exactly right on paper, especially if you're exhibiting and selling."

Naturally, she is concerned about the decline in bird numbers in the past fifty years and regrets the loss of habitats and biodiversity, not to mention some modern farming methods and global warming.

Sea, estuary and song birds are her usual subjects, but Lisa has created a woodcut of three red kites. "I'm not artistically turned on by birds of prey," she says, "partly because it's hard to photograph them." However, the kite feeding station at Laurieston in the Ken valley enabled her to make a woodcut of these birds.

For almost 13 years, Lisa has lived entirely by her print-making, but being based in a remote region has presented a challenge, not least in accessing materials. After 9/11, it became impossible to get nitric acid for etching through the post, although copper sulphate is still available.

She has had to apply ingenuity in keeping her studio going and taught herself to make lino and woodcuts. Until she bought her new printing press 5 years ago, she coloured her work by hand. The new press has increased her output and enabled her to print in more than one colour and she now uses more modern technology for her art, like her iPad, to draw and create images.

In winter, she holds classes in print-making in her studio, sells online her cards, unframed prints and copies of her two books on printmaking, published in 2014 and 2016.

She exhibits regularly at McGill Duncan Art Gallery in Castle Douglas, Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries and at galleries in Norfolk, Oakham, Oban, Stromness and Shetland.

Lisa has also won a number of national prizes for wildlife art and enjoys solo exhibitions at the Scottish Ornithologists' Club every other year.

For her 2019 will be a busy year. She's exhibiting at: McGill Duncan Art Gallery, Castle Douglas, until April 30; Ottersburn Gallery, Dumfries, until April 22; at Spring Fling Open Studios, when she will talk about her techniques, and at Birdscapes Gallery, North Norfolk and the British Birdfair, Rutland Water.

She will show at Harbour Cottage Gallery, Kirkcudbright from October 6 - 12

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