Suffolk’s Birdman: Artist Terance Bond’s 65th birthday celebration

It’s a rare old time for Terance Bond, with a limited-edition biography out, a major exhibition opening and lots of new paintings to be unveiled – all to mark his 65th birthday. Steven Russell finds out more about the man his friends call Britain’s best-loved bird artist

PAINTING has been his life’s work, and Terance Bond is very proud of the images hanging in people’s homes, preserved for posterity in books and printed on calendars. However, he reckons the money, time and effort spent on creating the perfect wildlife habitat in his native Suffolk is arguably a greater achievement. Over 30 years or so the artist and his “long suffering” wife Jill have transformed and added to the land around their bungalow near Hadleigh. Today, Little Paddock is a 10-acre sanctuary.

“From almost every vantage point we can see trees, water and so many birds. It doesn’t matter if it is a visiting Pheasant fleeing the gun, an opportunistic Kingfisher raiding the pond or our regular nesting Kestrels and Tawny Owls – there is always something to see. Bringing your subjects to your back garden has many advantages,” writes Terry in a new biography celebrating his 65th birthday.

Creating and maintaining this haven is a major undertaking, “but Jill and I hope it represents a suitable recognition of our debt to the environment”. More about Little Paddock later. First, the “often irreverent character” about to stage his first exhibition since 2006 – again at The Wildlife Art Gallery in Lavenham. There will be 38 or so new paintings on show, with prices from �1,250 to a cool �30,000.

As well as the exhibition, there’s the accompanying book A Bond With Birds – A private view of Britain’s best-loved bird artist, with “the man behind the bow tie” allowing his life story to be told in print – “or at least some edited highlights”, says Alan Marshall, who with Marion Scott designed the volume.

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Terry says the paintings featured inside are some of the most challenging he’s attempted. “Big pictures, not always containing big birds, are a joy and a curse for an artist. The freedom to create on a large scale is wonderful. Then again, the sight of a large blank board on the easel can be intimidating, and the pain on the faces of would-be buyers when told the price is a heart-rending experience!” The Terance Bond story begins in the September of 1946. He spent 11 years on his mother and stepfather’s 200-acre farm near Sudbury and much time watching birds in neighbouring woods.

The ability to draw seems to have been there from the start. The book reveals: “In his final year at Bures County Primary Voluntary School, Terry was entered for and won a nationwide painting competition sponsored by tea supplier Brooke Bond.

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“Given the entirely predictable subject chosen by the sponsor, namely ‘The Tea Party’, he promptly flouted convention and chose to use animals rather than people as his subjects. Even at the tender age of nine, he clearly had his priorities sorted.”

Terry says: “I can recall as a fledgling living with my grandparents while we were awaiting completion of a new bungalow on the farm. They ran a public house in Bures . . . The building was rendered in a material that the local House Martin population found much to their liking. The whole undereave frontage was festooned with their nests. One of my childhood memories is of lying in bed early on a summer morning and listening to the twittering of the birds.”

Encouraged by art teacher Mary Chamberlain at the new secondary modern school in Stoke-by-Nayland, Terry honed his skills and made his first sale at the age of 13: a watercolour of pheasants, sold to a farmer for seven shillings and sixpence.

He later swapped school for the engineering industry and a likely career as a technical illustrator – joining an earthmoving equipment firm near Halstead – but found himself on the production line and given other manual tasks. These were designed to give him an understanding of the manufacturing processes involved, but the teenager swiftly became disillusioned with his lot.

He got a job in an Ipswich drawing office, working on central heating systems. His eye was one day caught by Jill Wright, who was visiting a friend there, and Cupid was soon pinging his arrows around.

He moved on to Hadleigh storage vessel firm Cookson & Zinn but continued to paint in his free time, and in 1969 had some paintings in a show at Jack Haste’s Ipswich gallery.

“Terry retains a vivid memory of nervously entering the gallery with Jill on a Saturday morning,” writes Alan Marshall. “His three paintings (Hedgehog, Stoat and Red Squirrel) hung proudly with the other exhibition entries, but they had seemingly been defiled by the addition of red spots. Asking for the offending dots to be removed, the young artist was informed politely that they signified a sale! His first ‘show’ was a sell-out, with the pictures realising five pounds apiece – dwarfing his wages of three pounds and ten shillings a week.”

Terry and Jill married in May, 1970 – at St Augustine’s church in Ipswich, with a modest reception at the Golden Hind pub – and found a bungalow in the Norfolk Brecklands. The following May saw his first one-man show in Ipswich: The Haste Gallery arranging a private view. All 25 pictures sold immediately.

The couple moved back to Suffolk and pondered: should Terry take the gamble and chance his arm as a professional artist?

“Fortunately, Mrs Bond took matters into her own hands, committing herself to many more years as a ‘wage slave’ so that he could swap the drawing board for an easel. She had an absolute belief in Terry’s ability, confident that his paintings would continue to sell – and in greater numbers and for higher prices.

“Perhaps as a reward for her brave decision, Jill went on to forge her own successful career in engineering, eventually becoming a director of a local business – before setting that aside to manage Terry’s life, their home and his business affairs.” The artist confesses he owes his sweetheart, “domestic goddess and pillar of strength” huge gratitude. “Many would consider wildlife art to be a shaky foundation on which to build a loving and longlasting relationship.”

In 1981 he was invited to submit work for an exhibition staged by the RSPB in London. The showcase led to his paintings being used on fine art business calendars – a relationship with Bemrose of Derby lasting almost 30 years and proving he didn’t have to rely totally on commissions or occasional exhibitions.

Since Terry’s first one-man exhibition in 1971 there have been a further 21 shows. His work has also featured on bone china plates produced by Wedgwood. He explains he has no particular thread for this exhibition. “I don’t do themes. Instead, I try and paint the best pictures I can of popular species so that as many people as possible will see something they like. In addition, there are a few self-indulgences, such as the very large works featuring a Tawny Owl, Goshawk and Little Owl. I hope that these provide the ‘wow’ factor, as they are among the most demanding pictures I have ever created.

“Each of my paintings takes a surprising amount of time to complete, with the gestation period matching the size of the work and the degree of complexity.”

After starting with watercolours, Terry moved on to gouache – a more opaque version. Then, talking to American publishers in the late 1980s, he was introduced to US acrylic paints. “These were to have a profound effect on his work,” says Alan Mitchell. “Being more transparent than gouache, the change meant much more brush work to build up layers of colour. However, few would disagree that his colours brightened and textures deepened using the new medium.”

Terry’s paintings start with detailed pencil drawings on boards he’s hand-coated with gesso, which primes surfaces so paint adheres more readily. He will then “line out” the work with black paint, using a fine sable brush. Next are several opaque coats that create an approximation of the desired colour.

Detail is then built up – the most time-consuming stage, demanding thousands of strokes of very fine sable brushes.

“Perhaps uniquely, the TJB approach is to save the principal subject to last – the bird. He sees this as a treat after weeks of crafting a background of twigs and branches, or bark and barbed wire. Terry always begins his birds at the tail, and works up to the head. The eye is often the last thing to be painted.”

The artist admits to increased selfishness as theoretical retirement looms. “If I am to paint fewer pictures as the flesh becomes less willing, I want to concentrate on favourites or opportunities previously missed.

“The list of ‘birds to paint’ doesn’t seem to get any shorter. Announcements such as ‘I want to do a Golden Eagle’ are greeted with horror by Jill and gallery alike. They aren’t quite brave enough to say that half-a-dozen Kingfishers would be easier to sell (and to paint) . . .”

The story of Little Paddock

THE land around his beloved Suffolk home is still the greatest source of inspiration for Terance Bond. He and Jill came to the hamlet of Wickerstreet Green, between Kersey and Boxford, after homes in New Buckenham (13 months there) and Elmsett (much of the 1970s). However, they always dreamed of Little Paddock.

During their courtship, when they lived 25 miles apart, they’d pass on their travels a property being built on the outskirts of Kersey. Twice, over the years, they missed out narrowly on buying the white bungalow and its three quarters of an acre.– and then struck lucky in the summer of 1977.

Resolved to turn the land into an attraction for birdlife, they planted many trees and shrubs. In 1982 they bought an adjoining two-acre meadow and dug their first pond.

The great storm of October, 1987, wrecked an acre of poplar plantation and mere next to their land. Their elderly neighbour offered to sell them this area of devastation and they soon set about restoring the site, de-silting and digging out the mere, adding 2,000 tonnes of topsoil and re-planting trees and shrubs.

Then, some years later, the couple were offered about five acres – the chance for a small lake, some woodland and wild flower areas.

“Securing the additional land had cost the Bonds more than twice the original price of the house and gardens,” reveals A Bond With Birds. “Adding in the money spent on equipment hire, labour, trees and plants, the overall investment dwarfs that of their initial outlay. However, it has given Terry his trees, his water and far more than the modest one acre he dreamt of.”

The ponds are home to at least six varieties of dragonfly. There are also great crested newts, frog and toad tadpoles, and many other invertebrates. “The bird count is in excess of 100 species, including occasional VIP visitors such as Red Kite, Little Egret and even a juvenile Osprey that took a fancy to some of Jill’s larger goldfish.”

Enjoy the paintings, savour the book

THE Terance Bond exhibition at The Wildlife Art Gallery in Lavenham runs from September 25 to October 16 and features about 38 new paintings.

The association between artist and host goes back to its first exhibition in 1988. Andrew Haslen and Graham Barker write in the biography, published by their gallery: “Terry’s passion for birds shines through in his paintings, but the hidden side of TJB is his deep-seated commitment to the countryside and its inhabitants that have provided him with a living for more than 40 years.

“Like a good farmer nurturing his land in order to produce the best meat or crops, Terry ploughs time and money into his Suffolk acreage in order that he (and we) can reap the rewards of the wildlife on his doorstep.”

The artist will be at the gallery on September 25 to sign copies of A Bond With Birds, which has a limited print run of 1,000 copies. It costs �25, plus �5 postage, and can be ordered from the gallery. (01787 248562. – email

Alan Marshall says one aim is to give readers a better understanding of birds’ habits, habitat, diet and conservation status.

“There is simply no room for complacency when it comes to Britain’s wild birds.

“As in the sad case of the House and Tree Sparrows, once-common species can become rarities seemingly overnight . . . Terry refers often to the changes in farming practices since his childhood. Pressure on farms to produce food in greater volumes isn’t conducive to habitat preservation. Yet, a balance must be achieved if many of the birds illustrated in these pages are to survive.”

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