True to Form
LANGFORD PRESS IS known for producing quality art books. As well as publishing the work of established wildlife artists, it seeks out material from people whose talent has yet to achieve widespread renown. David Bennett qualified with a masters degree in natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art in the early 1990s. Since then he has travelled widely and his work is regularly featured in the Society of Wildlife Artists’ annual exhibition.
This book, his first, looks at British wildlife and is filled with lively crayon sketches, often augmented by watercolours covering whole pages or even double-page spreads. The illustrations are often unlabelled, but sometimes field sketches are accompanied by notes. There’s no index and the sheets are not numbered, but every few pages there’s a handwritten section in which the author explains what’s coming up next and what fascinates him about each group of animals he has studied.
The Nidd Gorge in Yorkshire is David’s home territory and has provided hours of sketching opportunities, Goosanders and Kingfishers on the river vying with Badgers and Roe Deer for his attention. We are taken to the nearby Derwent Valley to watch Brown Hares in the fields and wildfowl on the floods. We visit the Pennines to see Ring Ouzels and Black Grouse, then across to Bempton for seabirds. Morecambe Bay and Leighton Moss, with their waders and statuesque Bitterns, are the next locations. We then head east, to Lindisfarne in Northumberland and Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. Our final destinations are in Scotland, where Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and Cairngorms feature Red-necked Phalaropes, Corncrakes and Ptarmigan respectively. Here the mammals include Mountain Hare and Pine Marten.
David’s style is dramatic, almost chaotic. Every illustration is packed with movement. He explains: “Fieldwork makes you see form rather than detail, it encourages a more concise, spontaneous approach.” I particularly enjoyed his sketches and overall I am warmly inclined towards his work with mammals. If you like fine detail, you will probably not appreciate this book as much, but if you want action there is plenty to enjoy here.
• True to Form by David Bennett (Langford Press, Peterborough, 2007).
• 176 pages, numerous illustrations.
• ISBN 9781904078302. Hbk, £38.
Available from Birdwatch bookshop
First published in Birdwatch 187:47 (January 2008)