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This book covers over fifty years of Donald's work, and includes a stunning collection of Harrier paintings, individual studies and sketches, along with related informative text. The book also includes a fine selection of paintings depicting associated species, for example species of prey.
In Search of Harriers
by Keith Betton in UK
If I had to pick my five favourite bird artists, Donald Watson would definitely make the final cut - following Archibald Thorburn, whose work influenced Watson in his early days as an art student. Both of these men loved raptors, and Watson's particular fascination with harriers has resulted in this splendid book. Watson had in fact completed writing the text before his death in 2005 and his friend and publisher, Ian Langford, has now ensured that the book has made it into print.
Watson illustrated over 30 books, and his characteristic scraperboard images of birds are really memorable. This drawing technique requires the artist to use sharp knives and tools to etch the image into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black ink, and for me Watson used this technique to great effect. A few examples are in this book, which mainly features his watercolours that again are so distinctive. While his individual bird paintings can be very pleasing, personally I prefer his landscapes in which the birds are not the main feature. They are really evocative, and for me nobody's art can better the way he conveys the dull light of a cold Scottish moorland where you can spend hours seeing nothing, and then suddenly a Hen Harrier or a Merlin appears before you, and the long wait is worth this reward. If that's the kind of birding you enjoy, then I think you'll like this book.
Watson's interest in harriers dates back to the mid-1940s when in India he was lucky to watch Pied and Pallid Harriers at close quarters. Back in Scotland he then began studying raptors in detail right up to his death. This book takes some excellent examples of his work, and paintings appear on almost every page. Hen, Montagu's and Pied Harriers share the space with others including Short-eared Owl, Merlin, Peregrine, Kestrel, Golden Eagle and Whooper Swan, with a few smaller sketches of passerines thrown in.
Of course each painting has a story behind it and often we are told this together with other information based on the author's extensive knowledge based on fifty years of study. Watson's fascination for the Hen Harrier led to his monograph of the species published in 1977 by Poyser. While that book was mainly fact with a few images, this book is lavishly illustrated on quality art paper. This would make a great present for a raptor enthusiast, while those who love wildlife art will enjoy the images, most of which have not been published before.