Duncan Butchart Artist

Duncan Butchart

Born in England to Scottish parents, Duncan Butchart began drawing and painting as a young boy, with birds being his main field of interest. Inspired strongly by the bird illustrations in field guides as well as the painting of Raymond Ching, William T. Cooper, and Robert Bateman, Butchart followed a traditional path with a focus on accuracy. Later, captivated by the delicate work of Leigh Voight, he concentrated on black ink drawings and in submitting these for publication in ornithological bulletins and nature journals, so his path as an illustrator began. By 1989 Butchart released his first limited edition set of ink drawings entitled “Four Small African Owls”

In 1990, Butchart began work on the illustrations for a book “The Vultures of Africa”: twelve color plates and over 100 pencil drawings. At the launch in 1992, these artworks were on show at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg where they were purchased by private collectors and First National Bank. Soon after, Butchart participated in two group exhibitions of wildlife art at the Everard Read Gallery in 1993 and 1994. Around this time he also studied life drawing techniques with acclaimed South African artist Gregory Kerr.

Barred Owl
The Vultures of Africa
Duncan Butchart

Throughout this period, Butchart was an active volunteer in the conservation and research work of the Vulture Study Group and began his career as a freelance illustrator, photographer, publication designer, and writer.

Since 1996, he had worked closely with premier safari group &Beyond (formerly CCAfrica), developing innovative resources that enriched the wildlife experience of guests and supported the local guides. The widely acclaimed “Ecological Journal” project published the observations and findings of over 200 &Beyond guides in six countries and led to Butchart being awarded an honorary doctorate in science by the University of the Witwatersrand in 2014.

It was also through connections in the vulture work during the 90s that led Butchart to meet and fall in love with his beautiful wife, Tracey. And later, what led to their daughter, Julia Lily. Butchart would bring his family to accompany him on many of his incredible journeys and together they would explore locations such as, Borneo, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Thailand, whilst Butchart contributed to conservation, illustrated guides, designed maps, and wrote books.

Duncan and Tracy Butchart
Duncan, Tracy and Lily

Duncan Butchart had always been absorbed with the tradition of “natural history art” which dates back over 17,000 year of the prehistoric rock paintings in the caves of Lascaux in France and the 3,000 year old petroglyphs at Twyfelfontein in Namibia: animals, including birds, have
always been subjects for artists. Further inspired by the lively field sketches of European artists John Busby, Lars Jonsson, and Bruce Pearson, Butchart worked increasingly in watercolour throughout the early 2000s, culminating in his working under Thai artist Kamon Kamolphalin in 2006, where he travelled across the rainforests of Thailand, painting the woodpeckers, hornbills, and other birds they encountered.

A long time admirer of the American landscape painter William Hook, Butchart also attended this artist’s week-long workshop in Arizona in 2013, wherein he sought to learn Hook’s bold brushstrokes and strong sense of design to bring into his own paintings.

After this, in 2016, Butchart began to experiment with flat colour in the ‘ligné claire’ style of Hergé (Georges Remi) who created the fabled comic-book character Tintin. Hergé’s striking graphic work of the 1940’s and 50’s had elements of Japanese simplicity and both Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein recognised Hergé as an inspiration for their Pop Art movement. As a boy, Butchart had been spellbound by the “Adventures of Tintin”, so there seemed to be a sense of serendipity in him creating bird paintings in a similar style.

African Oystercatcher Pair
gurneys pitta

To create this style, Butchart worked initially with acrylic and oil, but then moved onto digital painting. The almost complete abandonment of detail, while still retaining accuracy of form and movement based on his field sketches and years of observing bird behaviour, means that his paintings now had more in common with ancient rock art and pop art, than they did with the almost photographic realism of most present-day wildlife artists. From owls to oystercatcher, and from detail to simplicity, Duncan Butchart’s depiction of birds was a journey of constant discovery and change.

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