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Painting Badgers

painting of a badger having a scratch by Irene Brierton

Crich Wildlife artist Irene Brierton talks to Andrew Auld about her interest in the natural world and badgers.

Painting of a hare by Irene Brierton

What was it that got you interested in the natural world?

I was already a country girl through and through having moved to Buckinghamshire from my birthplace in Belper when I was seven. From an early age I was fascinated with plants, insects, birds and animals. My sister and I ran wild in the surrounding woodlands with the glorious freedom experienced by many of our generation.

How did you start drawing and painting?

As well as being fascinated with nature I had a natural talent for drawing that was given great encouragement at primary school by my teacher, who herself happened to be a keen amateur naturalist.

Then towards the end of my school years, strong family connections led me back to Derbyshire, where I spent a few years in the art room at Denby Pottery.

There, under the supervision of designer Glyn College I learned to wield a paintbrush with the same dexterity as a pencil and began to absorb a true feeling for colour.

When did you start to exhibit?

I met and married my husband Robert and then left to raise a family and it was at this time my career developed. 

I discovered that the strong application of watercolour was my perfect medium, with wildlife as the obvious subject.

I started exhibiting alongside professional artists and then in 1983, when we moved to Crich I began to seek a wider audience for my work.

This led to my first London exhibition in 1985 at the Mall Galleries with the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour and the Society of Wildlife Artists.

I went on to become a member of the Society of Women Artists and later I was granted membership of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.

This was after being persuaded by a London gallery to try my hand at the miniature format to participate in their specialist exhibitions. I love to capture in detail the nuances of behaviour I see in wildlife.

Painting of a Morehen by Irene Brierton

So how did the interest in badgers evolve?

Well in 1987 I was given the opportunity to be part of a new BBC wildlife series accompanying wildlife presenter Simon King, badger watching on a private nature reserve in Somerset. I was hooked.

As soon as I returned home a close friend and I were out badger watching. I became quite nocturnal!

I joined the Derbyshire Badger Group (founded in 1985) and later helped to form the Mid Derbyshire Badger Group and took the helm as its chairperson. For a time I was also a council member of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and a trustee of the NFBG (Badger Trust).

Painting of three hares by Irene Brierton

Have you been involved in caring for badgers directly?

Yes, I’ve handled a great many live badgers over the past 30 years, have been called upon to rescue them, sometimes from very unusual predicaments and removed dead and injured ones from our roads.

Our house has seen quite a few temporary residents, rabbits, hedgehogs and badgers at various times. I have introduced many individuals to the delights of badger watching and been called upon for advice, assistance and given many talks over the years.

painting of a morehen by Irene Brierton

Has the art taken a back seat in favour of the badgers?

Not at all, my life has been a balancing act, see-sawing from badgers to art with exhibition dates to fulfil and family, always at the heart of everything.

I no longer chair the badger group, so my art can now revert to centre stage. We’ve always loved our regular visits to Somerset and the Isle of Mull which provide great inspiration, as of course does the wonderful countryside around Crich.

The ‘Birdfair’ held at Rutland Water each August has for a long time been an important date in my calendar, providing the opportunity to exhibit alongside the community of nationally recognised artists and conservationists.

Not in 2020 of course, but we will have to see what happens in 2021.