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Dr. William Ritchie is an Australian wildlife artist with a PhD in Biology who combines his deep understanding of the natural world with a lifelong passion for wildlife and its conservation to create detailed artwork that captures the unique character of his subjects.

William works in numerous mediums including oil, watercolour and gouache. He also creates sculptures from recycled materials, including scrap metal and recycled timber. His artwork has received numerous awards and commendations.

William currently lives and works as a wildlife artist and art educator in the Macedon Ranges of Victoria.

Artist Statement

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it” – Salvador Dali

I find inspiration comes in many forms, it is almost always from a personal encounter or experience. The initial spark of inspiration can be a fleeting moment, an expression, an interaction or perhaps a chance encounter. You know it when you see it and it lights an irrepressible spark that forms a captivating mental image. As the image is turned over in the mind it is deconstructed, refined, and reconstructed to plan a process. When the image is held in the mind in a solid state and the construction path is clear, work can begin. In all my artwork, I try to create a feeling or invoke an emotion. I believe this adds a personal aspect to my work, one that reflects who I am and my experience. I believe this is essential to creating truly original artwork that accurately represents the subject and experience. If indeed perfection is unobtainable, that does not diminish the reality that it is worth striving for.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding" – Leonardo da Vinci

I find it is an essential part of my process to directly observe my subjects and I very seldom work on something I have not seen. This process of observation allows me to not only understand the form, anatomy and physical attributes of my subjects but to also gather an understanding of their personality, behavioural characteristics and how they interact with each other and their environment. For all my artwork, I generate my own reference material which can range from notes, sketches and photography to simple observation and memory. While I often aim for a highly realistic aesthetic to my work, I rarely work exclusively from photos but they are definitely a useful and important resource. I find that understanding the subject is far more important to a great artwork than a photo. I seek to capture my chosen subject as I have experienced them, full of life, personality and character, evocative and/or emotional, yet artistically complex and considered. With every new painting I aim to try something new, to challenge myself, push personal limits and extend my capability, both technically and conceptually.

A critical part of my creative process is study. I am always poring over books and any available information that explores the techniques of the masters, the principals and design elements behind what makes a great artwork. As part of this process I take time to examine the works of my favorite artists and read whatever they have written regarding their creative process, ideas and techniques. I find this highly beneficial to refining my own techniques, methods and ideas.

“Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso

For me, art started early. I would spend hours as a boy drawing and painting all sorts of things but my favourite subjects were certainly animals. At the age of seven, I was most fortunate that my mother saw potential in my drawings and took me to see renowned local wildlife artist the late Robert Ulmann. Robert was a bright light and fantastic mentor who was instrumental in inspiriting me to continue with my passion. Under his continual guidance my ability and enthusiasm only grew.

Sadly, Robert passed when I was a teenager, but again my mother intervened and introduced me to the highly regarded birdlife artist Richard Weatherly. Richard was and continues to be a great mentor and sounding board for my artwork. His artistic and technical knowledge is invaluable and has aided me in refining my skills and processes to this day. Today, I am fortunate enough to continue with my artwork and have met some amazing artists along the way who have been kind enough to share their insights and approaches. This is something I relish as it offers up all kinds of opportunities to grow as an artist.

“Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

All my life I have been fascinated by the world around me, by the natural environment and all its inhabitants. This quest for information and understanding has, for as long as I can remember, been my passion.

As a child, I would get home from school and flip every rock and log in my Mum’s garden to see what kind of bugs and grubs were there that day, and delighting at a frog or lizard. Every time it rained at night, I would pester my dad to drive very slowly down the road so I could collect the frogs and record the species and tally them in my frog log book. Whenever the weather was good, I was outside exploring and discovering and whenever it was bad, I would be indoors drawing and painting. One of my favourite rainy day activities was to sit at the kitchen table and sketch the superb blue fairy wrens as they hopped past the windows along the veranda. I could spend hours watching them scooting along picking up insects and nesting materials as they go. This fascination extends to the ocean and sky and I am to this day always trying to identify and learn about the animals I encounter.

“Art and science encounter each other when they seek exactitude“— Étienne-Jules Marey

As an adult my fascination with the natural world took an academic turn, taking me on a university odyssey that resulted in a biology PhD. Interestingly, the connection between art and science is not as obscure as it may appear. I believe it is the underlying curiosity and zest for understanding that underpins the two. In practice, both are reliant on methodologies, procedures, attention to detail and governing principals.

I see art as an expression of my understanding and in this context the science certainly plays a significant role and was critical in steering me to this point in my creative journey. I see an artwork as a way of celebrating what I have learnt and at the same time testing my ability to communicate it visually. This challenge has been a constant motivation and driving force behind my art and my learning about it. Exploring the works of artist I admire, and learning through observing all art, seeing how an effect was achieved, a composition arranged or how an artist has used light and tone to create form and contrast. When looking at artwork I am always asking myself: What can I extract from this piece that would benefit my artwork? A lot can be deduced form this process and I hope it has resulted in marked improvement in my own work.

For these reasons I see realism as the ultimate test of skill and expression of understanding. It is a way of incorporating science into art. I believe that realism offers the opportunity to showcase understanding, skill and attention to detail. Moreover, I see realism as a way of incorporating and combining a multitude of artistic disciplines and theory. This certainly holds true for composition, as consideration of abstract elements such as shape, form, line and colour are critical.