Our January 2023 Creator of the Month, Colin Woolf paints the minute intricacies of our natural world in his pin-feather paintings.

Colin Woolf has a strong visual memory. It is not hard for him to recall the sight of an adder coiled next to his tricycle wheel, aged three, on an exploration of the English countryside. This ability, Colin tells The Great Outdoors, is particularly useful in his work recreating moments of natural wonder from his time in the mountains on canvas, particularly when it comes to his astoundingly intricate pin-feather paintings.

Words: Francesca Donovan | Images: Colin Woolf

Since walking out of his full-time job over four decades ago, he has made a living painting the landscape and inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands that he calls home in handmade oils and watercolours.

Watching butterflies hatch and examining stag beetles as a boy, nature has always inspired Colin, now 66. With such wild subjects, he says, no two of his paintings could ever be the same. But birds in particular make his brush fly over canvas and come alive. He used to rescue injured birds growing up in the New Forest, collecting feathers and even dreaming of being able to soar through the sky. It’s their freedom he admires.

Highlander oil on gesso board. A painting by Colin Woolf.

‘Highlander’, oil on gesso board. A painting by Colin Woolf.

He also defies anyone who has hiked through a Cairngorm winter and spotted a Ptarmigan to not be impressed by their resilience in such a harsh environment. “The vastness and the beauty of snow-covered peaks and constantly changing light is enough,” he says, but throw in the chance of spotting a golden eagle, and Colin is enthralled.

The provenance of pin feather paintings

While he embraces the challenge of painting their plumage – “nature’s symmetry with that touch of randomness” – Colin’s pin-feather paintings take this skill to the next level. Despite receiving no formal artistic training, Colin has been painting with Woodcock’s pin-feathers for 30 years in what began as a “light-hearted experiment and developed into an all-consuming passion.”

'The Secret', one of Colin Woolf's pin-feather paintings of a Woodcock in sepia.

‘The Secret’, one of Colin Woolf’s pin-feather paintings of a Woodcock in sepia.

These minute feathers repel water and are unpredictable with paint. Their tips wear down quickly and shed at random, too. No wonder this artistic practice is practically defunct, relegated to history but for Colin’s revival.

He enjoys the provenance of creating pin-feather paintings, always including the feather itself in the frame of each artwork. It is his trademark; a nod to the exquisite beauty of nature itself as Colin continues in his pursuit to replicate and honour it through art.

Read more in the latest issue of The Great Outdoors and visit Colin’s website at wildart.co.uk.