By Lara Lambert

There is a weasel scampering along the top of Robert Fuller’s shoulders. Sleek, alert, and impossibly cute, the creature slips behind the wildlife artist’s neck, stretches momentarily to peak out over the top of his head, darts down his arm and on to a paint pallet.

Then it’s pandemonium as quick-step paw prints appear behind the scurrying animal’s feet and spread across the artist’s easel. Quick as a flash, Robert scoops it up and encases it gently in one hand.

“Working with animals can be challenging,” he laughs, rubbing tiny green paint prints from his drawing board.

Robert typically paints from photographs and video taken of animals in their natural habitat, rather than live models in his studio.

But the artist is clearly smitten by this unusual pet, which he took in after it was found as a tiny kit on Walmgate Stray, and it often scampers about his person as he paints. He has named it, aptly, Fidget.

“Animals are so engaging,” says Robert, who plans to share his obvious joy in the company of wildlife at an exhibition at his gallery in Thixendale from next Saturday until December 4. Entitled Animals Do The Funniest Things, it features paintings, photographs and video footage of amusing animal behaviour.

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Fidget the weasel

The film clips of animal slip-ups play like an animal version of You’ve Been Framed.

Among them is footage of a weasel stumbling out of a hole in a drystone wall and accidentally tumbling headlong into a pool of water.

Robert’s footage of weasel behaviour, taken from surveillance cameras hidden in his garden, is so rare it ranks among the only studies of its kind.

“Weasels are notoriously difficult to watch in the wild and it took me months of careful surveillance to get these images,” says Robert as he points to a clip of young kits chasing one another around in circles. “Weasels are ruthless killers and whilst these two look cute, they are actually learning to hunt.”

Meanwhile he tips their tame counterpart Fidget, who is chittering contentedly in his palm, on to his back to wipe the clotting acrylic paint from each miniature paw.

You should never work with animals, goes the saying. “And this little sausage proved that the adage is right by upstaging me when Springwatch came to film the weasels here,” laughs Robert.

“The producers were so taken with Fidget they asked if I could bring him down to the studio to join Chris Packham on the sofa.

“I got myself all excited about appearing on the Springwatch set and even got as far as selecting what I would wear when they told me that they didn’t want me on the show, they just wanted Fidget.

“When I told them Fidget might escape into the audience if I wasn’t holding him, they decided they’d rather not have Fidget at all if it meant having to have me!”

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Drenched: young tawny owl after a downpour. Photo: Robert Fuller

Robert’s video research isn’t confined to following the everyday lives of weasels, but is a collection of soap opera scripts of all the wildlife in his North Yorkshire garden.

One film tells the story of a kestrel pair choosing a nest site. “These two were like newly-weds touring real estate. The female kestrel was so fussy. She nit-picked over each prospective site with such a show of dissatisfaction that it was difficult not to laugh out loud,” explains Robert.

“In the end she chose a nest site she had rejected a week earlier. The nest had since been filled with twigs by jackdaws and of course she left her browbeaten mate to sort out the problem of how to remove the criss-cross of sticks.”

This film goes on to show a side-splittingly funny scene of the four chicks this kestrel pair went on to produce. The eldest sees its reflection in the lens of the camera hidden in the nest and walks up to it, beak open begging for food while the others follow in a line like storm troopers marching in formation.

Alongside the video footage is a collection of Robert’s photographs of animals in uncompromising or amusing positions.

There is an engaging series of a drenched young tawny owl caught in a downpour and then puffed up after being dried with Robert’s wife’s hairdryer and a funny shot showing a flightless young little owl using its beak and claws to clamber up a sheer tree trunk.

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Young tawny owl puffed up after being given a blow-dry. Photo: Robert Fuller

The paintings on show gain their inspiration from Robert’s amusing observations. One features a herring gull glaring haughtily down its beak at a puffin; a scene Robert witnessed: “I was watching a group of puffins on a rock when this gull landed amongst them. All, bar this brave one, flew off in fear – after all some species of gull will swallow a puffin whole.

“But this plucky puffin held its ground until the gull cocked its head menacingly at it. Then it rocked back on its heels momentarily before fleeing. It was like something out of a Laurel and Hardy sketch. I named my picture Size Matters.”

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Haughty: a herring gull looking down its beak at a puffin. Painting by Robert Fuller

While the amusing behaviour of animals is bound to lighten most people’s day, Robert’s forthcoming exhibition also reflects a deep respect for nature.

“Who knows, if people see that animals are not so different to humans and occasionally slip up just like we do, they might go away and feel more inclined to want to cherish them,” he says.

  • Robert Fuller’s exhibition, Animals Do The Funniest Things, runs from November 12 to December 4 at his gallery in Thixendale. It includes guided walks to see rare birds, falconry and a talk and slideshow by the artist at 7.30pm on November 19. For further details see