Painting Puffins: Northumberland’s Quirkiest Bird

Painting Puffins: Northumberland’s Quirkiest Bird

Posted by Joanne Wishart on

Painting Puffins: Northumberland’s Quirkiest Seabird

The puffin is synonymous with Northumberland’s beautiful coastline. One of the world’s most unique seabirds, they’re known locally as “Tommy Noddys” and commonly nest on the Farne Islands.

Puffins are one of my favourite things to paint, which is why I have quite a few puffin art pieces on my site, including my new Flying Puffins Tea Towel, showing a host of the colourful birds in flight! 

A lilac blue coastal tea towel featuring Puffins flying in a pattern.

Puffin facts

Between mid-April and late July, puffins head to the Farne Islands to breed. Tourists can visit the islands and see their nests - burrowed into the peaty ground of the islands. Puffin chicks are known as… prepare yourself for the cuteness...  pufflings! 

Puffins are long-lived birds with lifespans in excess of 20 years, with some UK birds living for three decades! They are entirely sea-based over winter but return to land to nest in the summer season. The Northumberland puffins we’re discussing here habitually return to the Farne Islands to nest. Unfortunately, they are a red-listed species that is in decline. 

It’s also during these breeding seasons that their bills are at their shiniest! During winter at sea, puffin bills turn a cold grey. When back on land, their colourful rainbow pattern returns. Though even on land, Puffins head to the water to hunt their prey. They are carnivorous and can dive up to 60m to retrieve fish. 

With such beautiful colouring, it’s easy to see why puffins are so beloved - but if you’ve never seen them on land then you’re missing out on just how endearing they are. On land, the puffin is a clumsy bird - hopping and stumbling around in a way that is reminiscent of penguins. At sea, or in their dashing aerial dives, they become agile and dextrous. This transition between awkward land bird and maverick sea bird makes them all the more amazing to watch. 

Not only are puffins a breath-taking spectacle, but they also have a fascinating story. Did you know that puffins typically mate for life? Making an original puffin greetings card the perfect way to mark a special anniversary for your other half or another couple in your life. 


A greetings card featuring a flying puffin over a turquoise sea.

Painting Puffins in Northumberland

Plus, thanks to their friendly nature, puffins are also easy to study. Tourists can visit Seahouses then hire a boat to visit the Farne Islands. Once the boat completes a tour around the islands, tourists are allowed to dismount and then walk around the island to get up close to the birds. You should never get close enough to touch them - but taking photographs is encouraged! On your return to Seahouses, don’t forget to pop by independent art shop Drift to purchase some of my unique art?

A mounted print of a scene of Seahorses harbour with colourful red boats and Bamburgh Castle and beach in the distance.  

I love painting puffins - and you can probably tell why. They’re not only beautiful birds in terms of their colouring but also in terms of their unique personalities. Of course, their association with Northumberland and the Farne islands also makes them dear to me. 

Using inspiration to evolve as an artist

Puffins are exactly the type of inspiration an artist needs to help come up with new ideas. Their cheeky personalities and mixture of beauty, grace and clumsiness are so endearing. Coupled with how easy it is to visit the Farne Islands by taking a boat from Seahouses, it’s no surprise I have lots of Puffin related art on my site. 

During the lockdown, I could no longer visit the Farne islands or other Northumberland areas I love. Resigned to life at home whilst I homeschooled my children, I decided to take an online course to rejuvenate my skills in surface pattern design (which was my degree subject). I’ve been creating new wrapping paper designs as a result of this training and I’m delighted to share this one with you today whilst we’re on the subject of puffins! 

 Puffin Gift wrapping paper and matching labels by Joanne Wishart

Have you ever visited Seahouses and the Farne Islands to see the puffins? Such beautiful but sadly endangered birds deserve all the attention they can get. Shop my art prints online now if you’d like greetings cards, tea towels or wrapping paper featuring the cheeky seabirds. 

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