A celebration of Christine Isherwood’s talents

A prolific and successful artist and illustrator who loved Scotland, is having her work celebrated in a new book.

Christine Isherwood, who died two years ago, was a trained botanist who switched to art while bringing up the her three children with her husband.

Using her encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and birds, she used her painting and line drawing skills to illustrate numerous guide books and magazine articles.

Most famously she worked in collaboration with writer Mary Welsh on around 30 walk guides, including a series of 21 books covering the whole of Scotland. For these she produced front covers in full colour and maps, vignettes of flowers, birds and other interesting features in pen and ink.

Although a resident of Cumbria, she spent nearly all her holidays in Scotland, mainly on Speyside and in the North West Highlands, climbing all but 30 of the 282 Munros.

Her husband, naval architect Mike, who since Christine’s death has identified as a woman and is now called Rachel, wants to celebrate her talent.

She has worked with fellow artist Sally Bamber to produce the book: Inspired by Nature: The Life and Art of Christine Isherwood.

Rachel said: ‘I want to record and make available to as many people as possible the body of artwork that Christine left.

‘She produced an enormous number of very beautiful paintings and supplemented that with a vast array of pen and ink work for book illustrations.

‘Scotland was Christine’s spiritual home. She had a special affinity for the wildlife of the Scottish highlands and coasts as the book shows.

‘When you live closely with someone for a long time, it is easy to become blasé about their work, but as I’ve worked on the new book, I’ve been more and more impressed by the sheer quality of her art. I would like her output to be more widely appreciated and enjoyed.’

Christine was born in Burnley on 19 November 1946. When she was nine-years-old, her father was posted to the north east and the family moved to Whitley Bay, where she attended the local grammar school.

Christine was encouraged to apply to Cambridge, and was offered a place at Newnham College. She went up in 1965 to study Natural Sciences, which for Chris meant botany, zoology and geology. Queens’ College Chapel Choir was where Christine met her husband-to-be, Mike. In June 1969, they were married in Hexham Abbey.

Chris and Mike went to live in Hertfordshire, where Christine taught biology at Hitchin Girls Grammar School.

After a few years Chris and Mike moved to Kirkby-in-Furness on the edge of the Lake District when Mike transferred to the Vickers Shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness.

Christine was then pregnant with Isabel, her first child. Catherine followed a couple of years later, then after a long break, Patrick completed the family.

Moving to the Lake District and starting a family were the triggers that started her drawing and painting.

Rachel says: ‘As a stay-at-home mum in the early 1970s, Chris needed some intellectual stimulation to supplement the emotional stimulation of a small baby, and she turned to painting, which has the advantages that you can do it at home, and break off when the baby cries.

‘Her early works were botanical illustrations of wild flowers, done in water colour, but as a trained biologist, her interest in the natural world did not stop at flowers and she soon began to paint other subjects – animals, birds and then landscapes.

‘Meticulous accuracy was her way. But accuracy alone was not enough. The finished picture had to look beautiful, as things in nature do.

‘She held numerous exhibitions locally and took on many commissions, including a very impressive Triptych in the form of a church window commissioned by Barrow Borough Council to commemorate the centenary of the Town Hall in 1987.

‘She was a superb field naturalist, with a phenomenal knowledge of the British flora and fauna and identification skills few could match.

‘She knew the critical field marks of just about any bird one cared to mention and she could identify many birds by their songs – a rare skill. Botany was her special subject and it was unusual to find a plant she couldn’t identify.

‘The early 1990s saw the start of a long association with Mary Welsh which lasted until Mary’s death in February 2017. Together, they produced 21 books of walks covering the whole of Scotland; 40 walks in each book; 840 walks in total.

‘For each walk, Chris produced a large pen and ink illustration, several smaller ones usually of the local wildlife, and an immaculately drawn map. Chris and Mary’s books bear comparison with Wainwright’s Guides.

‘About the same time, Christine began taking an art class in Kirkby, then a few years later, another class in Woodland.

‘Chris came from a musical family and singing was an important part of her life. Almost the first thing she did on moving to Cumbria was to find a choir – the Ulverston Bach Choir (now Furness Bach Choir). She sang alto with them from 1974 until shortly before her death in 2017.

‘Until the cancer caught up with her, Christine was an enthusiastic walker and hill climber. Chris was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004.

‘Sadly, the cancer recurred and she died on 5 August 2017. She is buried, as she wished, in Woodland churchyard, surrounded by her beloved daffodils.’

Inspired by Nature: The Life and Art of Christine Isherwood is available from see http://www.christineisherwood.com.  The book is priced at £15 RRP, and it is also available from local bookshops and other outlets.