Skokholm Island Diary
choughsea campion

Easter Island

Wednesday 3rd May 2000
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grey seal
SKOKHOLM is an island where, while you're watching the wildlife, the wildlife is watching you. There's a wonderful feeling of being on something of an equal footing with nature.

herring gull Grey Seals watch me as I sit and sketch on the cliff top. A Herring Gull at the kitchen window eyes me, (the 'whites' of its eyes are pale yellow) from behind the glass as I do the washing up. A Manx Shearwater gives me a glancing blow to the head as it comes in to land in the darkness (it didn't appear to be injured as it shuffled into a the nearest burrow, emerged again, then returned to the same burrow).

sea campion I first visited Skokholm Island thirty years ago, over Easter. Then, twenty years ago, when on the road working on my Richard Bell's Britain sketchbook (published by Collins in 1981), I had the excuse to visit again. In 1990 Barbara and I visited together and, here I am back again, after another decade. I wonder if I'll be back in another decade?

Mad Bay, in brush pen It's reassuring that, in essence, the island hasn't changed, although the feral goats and the lighthouse keepers have long since gone. Visitor numbers are up, but, surprisingly, the island isn't now open to visitors until after the Easter holidays, so this was the nearest date I could book to Easter.

On my first visit in 1970, as an art student, I brought both still and ciné camera with me, as well as my sketchbook. This year I've brought;

  • Rotring Art Pens with sketch nibs
  • Pentel brush pen (as used in this sketch of Mad Bay)
  • an A4 Daler-Rowney Brilliance cartridge pad (the whiteness of the pages makes it easier to scan)
  • a pocket-sized, A6, Goldline fine grain cartridge pad
As luck would have it, I omitted to pack my small watercolour box. My great thanks to island worker Christine Barton for the loan of her box of watercolours.


I'm watching what I take to be a Cormorant. Looking at my drawings later, I realise that it is a Shag, which is very similar to the cormorant but has no white on its head. It comes up with a fish. Immediately a Herring Gull swoops on it. The cormorant dives but the herring gull makes off with the fish, a pale grey flatfish no bigger than a credit card.

rocks, Crab Baywavesrocks
The colour on these art pen sketches was added using a little set of children's crayons that I'd bought in Milford Haven (I couldn't track down any watercolours there). The crayons are certainly better than nothing for colour notes, but I don't find it easy to make small changes in colour, and, constantly changing crayons, I find it more fiddly than watercolour. You can see why I was so glad of the offer of the loan of a paintbox.

When working in crayon, I prefer my water soluble crayons. I never actually add water to them to get the watercolour effect but I find them slightly softer than the normal artists crayons so it seems easier to get the pigment on the paper. But they come in a large box of 42 colours, so they're not suitable for clifftop sketching.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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