At the end of October the annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists, The Natural Eye, will be returning to Mall Galleries. We spoke to Fran Giffard about her recent trip to Réunion Island.


It’s been a busy and exciting year for artist Fran Giffard. Drawing penguins for a corporate commission, showcasing her art at solo exhibitions and travelling overseas to sketch exotic wildlife are just some of things she’s been doing. 

Earlier this year she was invited by TV production company Endemol to go to Réunion Island to be part of a short tourism film promoting the country to holidaymakers. The organisers wanted footage of various people at their professions on the island – there was a chef, singer, scuba diver, hang-glider and Fran, who took on the role of a hiking artist at work.

Sun Conure by Fran Giffard

She thoroughly enjoyed the experience, delighting in the lushness and exoticism of the island and its indigenous wildlife. Being asked to sketch naturally as they filmed, she saw birds she hadn’t come across before, and ones she had – Fran was pleasantly surprised to see birds similar to those in her homeland Bermuda, like the White-tailed Tropicbird.

Fran usually works in her South London studio, using photographic material for reference, so drawing out in the open from direct observation was an exciting new challenge for her. The birds would only be in sight for a few seconds as they flew overhead between the trees, but Fran says she managed to catch fantastic glimpses of their colourful underbellies. She was able to combine these moments with her prior knowledge of bird anatomy, obtained while working on previous commissions, to create her sketches.

Cockatoo by Fran Giffard

Fran had used this direct observational technique when taking part in what she names her favourite ever commission – the imaginative project for the Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC) who had asked Mall Galleries for artworks of penguins, the company logo.

She says she was a little nervous at first at the prospect of drawing the black and white penguins, as bright colouring and birds in flight are usually the focus of her work. However, she found that the dynamicity of penguins’ fluidly moving bodies was fantastic to sketch, as they look as if they’re flying when swimming in water.

Gentoo Penguins over Moleskine Diary by Fran Giffard

Fran says that the PIC commission has fuelled her inspiration for further artworks by widening her artistic vision of different potential subject matter, such as the monochrome penguins.

Interviewed by Jess Baxter


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