John Busby: Nature Drawings & Illustrations

RSA Friends Room


A selection of drawings, paintings and illustrations selected from John Busby's studio, celebrating his long-held interest in the natural world. John has illustrated some 35 books, and two books about Drawing Birds for the RSPB. Some of these books are on display in the Friends Room.


Our family moved from the City of Bradford to rural Wharfedale when I was seven. Birds gripped my imagination from that moment.


There were few guide books in those days but I taught myself to identify birds by drawing them, first in the garden then beyond, in the fields and woods, and on the moors above our village where curlews and merlin nested. The Children's Hour radio programme "Out with Romany"- a dramatised nature walk - was a highlight of the week. At kindergarten I drew animals and more animals - highly imaginative fights between big cats, and other beasts that I knew only from picture books.

In art classes at Grammar School we were encouraged to work from memory, a great asset for any artist watching wildlife.


Later at Art College, though paintings and drawings were mostly figurative, I kept my nature sketch books on the go. The exciting ideas of expressionism and abstraction coloured my more formal creative work, but field notes became the basis for all the illustrations I have drawn for naturalist authors and publishers over the years since.


Illustrators usually work to a brief. In my case this nearly always involves bird behaviour, movement and posture, (which birders call 'jizz'), rather than detailed feather maps. This takes my childhood love of action a stage further and sharpens my observation - what is the animal doing, and why? I aim to combine accuracy with artistry and to be true to whichever species is being depicted, using the language of drawing expressively and allowing the composition to come from the experience and be true to the moment.


I have been fortunate to watch and draw nature in many parts of the world and to experience many moments of rare delight. One can hardly imagine a richer vein than nature for ideas. The interaction and inter-dependence of all living things has enough human significance to satisfy the concepts of any artist.

A shark encountered while swimming among a coral reef is a sensational presence that re-defines ones own importance or lack of it. Encased in the safety of formaldehyde, it is reduced to a lifeless object devoid of its own meaning and true relevance to us.


I hope this collection of drawings and paintings will convey the excitement of 'being there', and enhance your enjoyment of wild creatures and the places where they live.


John Busby


All works for sale. The RSA is part of the Own Art scheme, offering interest-free credit for people to buy contemporary art and craft.