Obituary: John Busby, 87

John Busby
John Busby
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John Busby, an artist, teacher, writer and naturalist, has died, aged 87.

John was born in Bradford in 1928, before the family moved to Menston, a village in the heart of Wharfedale, where his passion and love of the outdoors blossomed.

He attended Ilkley Grammar School and followed his love and talent for drawing and painting, leading him to study at both Leeds and Edinburgh Colleges of Art, though first he completed two years of national service in the RAF.

At the end of his studies and a postgraduate travelling scholarship, John was offered a teaching post at Edinburgh College of Art, which he enjoyed from 1956 to 1988. He was a natural teacher, with a never-ending patience and generosity; he had an ability to lift the room, in his quiet and unassuming way.

John also chaired the committee that ran the 57 Gallery in George Street, Edinburgh, was president of the Society of Scottish Artists 1973-75, a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour and of the Royal Scottish Academy.

John was a pioneer of working direct from life and he had that exceptionally rare talent of making the most difficult seem easy. His drawings flowed with life and character, his birds and animals deftly flew and skipped across the page with a movement seldom achieved before.

In 1988 he started an annual, week-long seabird drawing course, based on the East Lothian coast, which still continues to this day.

He was a founder member of the Society of Wildlife Artists, and a key member of the Artists for Nature Foundation.

In 2009 he was declared Master Wildlife Artist by the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, in Wisconsin, USA.

He exhibited widely in both his adopted Scotland and his native England, with solo exhibitions in Edinburgh, Lavenham and Dumfries, as well as a major retrospective at Bradford City Art Gallery in 1999.

Of his own books, the first, published in 1982, was The Living Birds of Eric Ennion. This was John’s tribute to an artist he much admired and whose approach, through meeting in Northumberland in the early 1950s, had been a revelation of what was possible in the difficult art of portraying birds.

More books followed – Nature Drawings (1983), the influential RSPB guide Drawing Birds (1986, 2004), Land Marks and Sea Wings (2005) and Looking at Birds – An Antidote to Field Guides (2013). His final book, Lines in Nature, will be published by Langford Press later this year.

He was a committed Christian and classical music was another love. It was while singing in the Edinburgh University Singers that he met a young mezzo-soprano called Joan. They married in 1959, and had three children, Philip, Rachel and Sarah, and nine grandchildren.

DARREN WOODHEAD