Curlews & Creating with Confidence

Curlew Study (watercolour and gouache), by Kat Healy, 2023

Autumn is upon us, and I’m making headway with my VACMA project, ‘Cry of the Curlew’. I’ve spent the summer studying and sketching Curlews, getting to know them as subjects and their ‘character’. 

Reflecting on their behaviour, habitat and history as a breed has allowed me to form an attachment to them emotionally and creatively. 

So far, it’s an enjoyable experience, taking the time to observe, reflect, and try new things. The goal, always, with each piece, is to find a way to express myself in a unique, interesting way. Interesting for me, as much as the viewer.

I can feel the drive to overcome self-doubt in the same way I approach writing songs and poems.

So much of the work as an artist is trusting your creative voice.

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UAL, Contemporary Painting and Drawing

Thanks to the VACMA funding, I completed a contemporary painting and drawing CPD course at University of the Arts London in April/May, led by artist and tutor Guy Noble.

The experience was definitely rejuvenating! The bibliography, lectures and lesson worksheets were extremely valuable. We all received detailed feedback and support throughout the course, with a final critique of some of our work and how we might take things further, including some suggested artists to research for inspiration.

If you’re looking for an art book to add to your collection, I recommend Guy’s ‘Drawing Masterclass, 100 Creative Techniques of Great Artists’ (Thames & Hudson, 2017). It’s excellent and packed with plenty of insight and examples you can dig into.

I’ve been using what I learned during the course to push myself beyond my preferred use of charcoal, graphite and watercolour. I’ve enjoyed letting loose with mixed media, including oil pastels, acrylic - even Crayola wax crayons!

Curlew Study (mixed media) ‘Next to the Petrol Station in North Berwick’, by Kat Healy, 2023

Regarding CPD, the course was highly beneficial and perfectly timed before facilitating two summer ‘Make Your Mark’ sessions at the Recreation Hall in Gullane. I supported two enthusiastic groups over four days to explore mixed media, gel plate printing and some intuitive abstract painting. Seeing the incredible work produced and the confidence gained was a delight, and I can’t wait for the spring sessions.

Incorporating the Landscape

For me, reflecting on the East Lothian landscape in this project and the connection between Curlews and their habitat is vital. We are incredibly fortunate to have Curlews here, returning each year to breed. Yet, this breeding cycle remains precarious when considering the threats to their survival, which includes the evolving landscape. 

‘Curlews Feeding’ (watercolour) by Kat Healy, 2023

One of the first and most memorable times I spotted Curlews was in the open field in front of the Esso Petrol Station in North Berwick. It was a jarring juxtaposition of infrastructure and nature. The Curlews were quietly, methodically grazing, with their emu-esque strut and unmistakable curved beaks.

For years, I’ve enjoyed singing about these mythical birds in folk songs like ‘Highland Lullaby’ and listened online to their infamous haunting cry, only imagining its piercing resonance.

Suddenly, I was gaping at them for real. It was beautiful and sad at the same time. “What if they build houses on this field, too?” I had thought to myself. 

Maybe they will. I hope they don’t. I hope I can keep returning to the same field, observing and reflecting on a creature long carved into Scottish folklore and beyond.


He Reproves The Curlew

O CURLEW, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind.

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Thursday, 7th Sept — a short piece on my YouthLink Scotland project, for which I’ve recently been awarded funding.

Friday, 8th Sept — the first piece from my new series, ‘Ripening’. This month, I’ll be sharing extracts and reflections from my first poetry pamphlet, ‘Ripening,’ due out in early 2024.

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