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Martin Woodcock - Bird illustrator



When you started on Birds of Africa, did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?
I was initially invited to contribute some illustrations by the project`s godfather, Leslie Brown, who had seen my work in a Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia. There were two other illustrators engaged at the time. The project rapidly ran into organisational problems - people not delivering etc and Leslie asked me to take on the all the colour work (This is dealt with in the preface to my new book). I had to think hard before accepting, but even then we did not know that the projected four volumes would grow to 5, 6 and then 7, and that it would take over 20 years. So the answer to the question is NO!

You became a full time painter in 1974, but when did you take it up as a hobby?
I began painting birds when I was about 10, and completed my first book (see above) in 8 years of spare-time work when I had a (semi)proper job in the City.

Birds, and wildlife in general, are in serious decline in many parts of Africa - What are the long term prospects for Africa's wildlife?
Grim is the short answer to this. Poverty, corruption, degradation of habitat, political mayhem and too many people. Not to mention the cage-bird trade, illegal hunting for bush-meat etc.

Many countries, including the US, still allow the import of wild birds for the pet trade. Is this detrimental to wild bird populations, or an important revenue source for the rural populations that collect them?
The trade in wild birds for zoos especially is highly detrimental to some species. Birds like Crowned Cranes and Shoebills are becoming alarmingly scarce. If anything, the situation is worse in Asia.

You are very well known for your bird painting, but I have seen many other subjects that you have painted. Are birds your main love, or do you paint them as there is less demand for mammals & landscapes?
Birds have always been my main love and what I am known for, and therefore my bird paintings sell more easily (though still very slowly) than other things. I much enjoy landscapes and have painted several portraits recently. I do also enjoy painting mammals but have not developed a market for them.

Most of your work has been in East Africa. Have you painted in South America?
If you mean field work, I have lots of stuff from South-East Asia, Jamaica and Oman for book research, and also from trips to Costa Rica and Paraguay, plus all the sketching I normally do in the UK and Europe.