John Norris Wood combined artistic skill and scientific knowledge to become a distinguished natural history illustrator. A committed conservationist, with a passionate love of animals, he has undertook many expeditions and supported various environmental associations. An influential teacher, he pioneered courses on scientific and natural history illustration at Hornsey College of Art and the Royal College of Art.
The son of the eminent physician, Wilfrid Burton Wood, John Norris Wood was born in London on 29 November 1930, and grew up in Shalford Green, near Braintree, Essex. His parents – and their gardeners – encouraged his early love of nature. Educated at Bryanston School, he was influenced by the art master, Charles Handley-Read who, in turn, introduced him to Edward Bawden.
Bawden invited him to dinner at Great Bardfield, gave him some lessons, and allowed him to use his studio whenever he wanted, as long as he didn’t speak. Wood studied at Goldsmiths’ College School of Art, under Clive Gardiner and teachers who included Sam Rabin, Adrian Ryan and Betty Swanwick. He went on to the Royal College of Art, where his teachers included Edward Ardizzone, John Minton and, most significantly, Edward Bawden; while there he won a silver medal for zoological drawing. During the late 1950s, he also spent periods at the East Anglian School of Painting and Design, run by Sir Cedric Morris and Lett Haines at Benton End, Hadleigh, Suffolk. Wood taught at Goldsmiths’ College School of Art (1956-68), Cambridge School of Art (1959-70) and Hornsey College of Art, founding the Scientific, Technical and Medical Illustration Course at the latter in 1965. In 1971, he returned to the Royal College of Art to found a course on Natural History Illustration and Ecological Studies, later collaborating with Professor Christopher Cornford of the General Studies Department on a Conservation Study Course. Becoming a Fellow of the RCA in 1980 and an Honorary Associate in 1996, he has been a visiting Professor since 1997. The John Norris Wood Natural Forms Drawing Competition is awarded in his honour. In 1962, Wood married the designer, Julie Corsellis Grant (the daughter of the distinguished designer, Richard Guyatt, who taught alongside Wood at the RCA). Living at Garretts, Shalford, Essex, they later had two children. Wood became a freelance artist and illustrator, working for a variety of book and magazine publishers in Britain and America. His series for children, ‘Nature Hide and Seek’, which he wrote and co-illustrated with Kevin Dean, was designated best children’s books of the year by the US Association for the Advancement of Science. The series has sold over two million copies, and has been translated into 10 different languages. He has also worked extensively for London Zoo and the Natural History Museum, providing illustrations to explain animals’ behaviour, anatomy and appearance. Wood has been on many natural history expeditions across the world, visiting the United States, Belize (with Programme for Belize), Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela (with Living Earth), the Galapagos Islands, and Zaire and Rwanda (with the Fauna Preservation Society). Writing and broadcasting for television on a number of natural history subjects, he acted as a consultant on the 1979 BBC television series, Life on Earth, presented by David Attenborough. A passionate conservationist, he has been involved with Friends of the Earth, the World Land Trust, Fauna and Flora International, the Programme for Belize, the Egyptian Tortoise Appeal and the Environmental Investigation Agency. Wood has exhibited his paintings, drawings and prints widely in London and the provinces, and also internationally. His solo shows include those at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden (2001), the Chappel Galleries, Colchester (2002) and the Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge (2004). He became a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists in 1997, and has also been a member of the Society of Authors and the Thomas Hardy Society.
His work is represented in the collections of the Fry Art Gallery (Saffron Walden).