Jessie Bells and Baby Toys (c) Ann Johnson~ Jessie Bells and Baby Toys, acrylic on paper

An exhibition of paintings and drawings by QCA member and correspondent for Sussex East Area Meeting, Ann Johnson, of rescue exotic birds at The Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare.

Date: 9-17 August            Opening times: 10am-4pm daily

Aviary, collage and mixed media (c) Ann Johnson

Aviary, collage and mixed media (c) Ann Johnson

Parrot Study (c) Ann Johnson







                                                                                                                Parrot study, mixed media


Although Ann has had a life-long involvement in animal welfare, with a special concern for captive animals, she rarely depicts them in her art. However, on a chance visit to the Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, she encountered a totally beguiling cockatoo called Ice Cream. When she paused at his aviary, he hurried down his walkways to the mesh as though bearing an urgent message. Ann says, “I was totally enchanted by this wonderful little bird and knew immediately I had to work creatively with him and his companions.”

For the past 18 months, with the valued support of aviaries sanctuary manager Sarah Gorringe, Ann has regularly visited to draw and photograph Raystede’s community of exotic birds.

The results of her work to date will be exhibited this August at the sanctuary as part of Exotic Bird Week. On show will be original drawings and paintings, plus prints and cards. All will be for sale with a percentage of the proceeds donated to Raystede. General information on Raystede’s exotic birds will be available, together with a range of special events for the public.

Ann says, “I hope this exhibition will help raise awareness of the plight of many exotic birds caught up in the pet trade.”

Raystede’s feathered residents have a broad range of past histories. Some were have trapped in the wild, before 2007 legislation banned the import of wild-caught birds into the European Union. Others arrive as regretted impulse buys, as strays – escapees or intentionally abandoned. Among the saddest arrivals are those who have been incarcerated for years in small, barren cages. Others have been much-loved companion birds whose human guardians could no longer care for them.

Birds hand-reared by breeders to supply the expanding ‘exotic pet’ trade present a different set of behaviour challenges, such as over-dependency on humans. This can result in jealous, sometimes aggressive actions and also unwillingness to live with others of their own kind.

Raystede Aviaries Team Leader, Sarah Gorringe, has worked with these birds for 20 years and developed a deep understanding of her charges. She says: “Parrots like ours are essentially still wild. They are not domesticated to the extent of dogs and cats and are much more difficult to understand and care for. Great consideration must be given to providing varied enrichment while embracing the reality that each bird is uniquely intelligent and beautiful, with individual and complex needs.”

Being birds, parrots are active, acrobatic and brim with curiosity, bobbing and twirling as they seek to engage with others. Naturally, this means practical challenges for the artist, necessitating speedy drawing from life over many hours. Further in-depth drawing is achieved with the help of reference photographs. Ann explains, “I work mainly outside the aviaries since parrots are brilliant at destroying objects. If I enter the bird’s space, I stand to exit minus earrings, watch and iPad.

“My experience at Raystede is endlessly absorbing as these beguiling, complex and mysterious beings slowly reveal their many sides. I owe much to the staff, but also to the birds. Like all non-human beings, they have much to teach us – if only we let them. These aviary residents continue to guide me in developing my work as an artist and, after 18 months, I still feel this has only just begun. I am very grateful to Raystede for their on-going help with and support for this project.”

* Ann Johnson pursued a successful career in journalism before painting full time. Her paintings have been hung at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and her work features in arts magazines and on book covers as well as in galleries both locally and nationally. She will be at the exhibition most days to talk about her work with the parrots.

Contact: Ann Johnson

T: 01323 644083     E:


Ann will be present most days and is happy to talk about her work with the birds. All work and cards for sale with a percentage of proceeds going to Raystede.

Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare,

The Broyle, Ringmer, East Sussex BN8 5AJ

Admission free (donations welcome)