Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Born Norman Arthur Arlott in Reading, Berkshire, on 15 November 1947 and educated at Storeham Boys School. In a biographical sketch, Arlott once said that he became an illustrator by luck by being "the right person in the right place at the right time". His skills as an artist were already apparent at school and he was encouraged to study art at University; however, Arlott did not fancy four more years of schooling and instead embarked on a five-year engineering apprenticeship.
Already interested in birds - both for watching and egg collecting - his big chance came after he met bird photographer Eric Hosking. A fan of Hosking's An Eye for a Bird, Arlott wrote to the author and was surprised to find himself invited to tea. Hosking mentioned that John G. Williams, a Welsh-born naturalist and ornithologist who lived for many years in Africa, was looking for someone to illustrate an updated version of his 1963 book A Field Guide to the Birds of East and Central Africa. Arlott submitted a specimen plate which was forwarded to Williams. "Three months later, I was in Nairobi."
By taking a mixture of paid and unpaid leave, Arlott was able to stay in Africa for three months, eventually illustrating over 600 species in colour for A Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa (Collins, 1980). For Williams Arlott also illustrated A Field Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Europe (Collins, 1978) and other 'Field Guides' for Collins. In all he has since contributed to over 100 books on birds, including the multi-volume Handbook of the Birds of the World. He rarely has less than half-a-dozen projects on the go at any one time and sets himself a target of at least three colour plates a day.
In the 1980s he began working on various projects for the Natural History Museum, including a series of wall charts depicting the different birds to be found in a variety of coastal, mountain, woodland and estuary locations. He has also designed over 20 special commonwealth stamp issues featuring birds for the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Seychelles, Christmas Island, the Gambia, Malawi and the British Virgin Islands as well as paintings reproduced on place mats and pottery. He has also led ornithology safaris to East Africa and never felt the need to return to his engineering apprenticeship.
In 2001 Arlott discovered a new subspecies of Colomian bird which lived in the Andean forests. His discovery was made amongst the million-strong collection of birds at the Natural History Museum in London where the bird had been kept unrecognised for 120 years and which was immediately declared extinct. An example of Antioquia brown-banded antpitta (Grallaria milleri gilesi), a thrush-sized ground-living flightless bird, had been collected in 1878 by British ornithologist Thomas Knight Salmon. As there were no guides to birds at that time, Salmon sent specimens he collected to scientists in the UK; this particular one had curiously been overlooked before being donated to the Natural History Museum until it was spotted by Arlott, who drew it to the attention of doctors Robert Prys-Jones and Paul Salaman of the Museum.
Arlott was married to Marie Ellen Bott in 1968 with whom he has one son and two daughters. He nowadays lives in Norfolk.
Examples of his work can be found for sale here.