James Ferguson was a natural philosopher, an inventor of astronomical instruments and a painter of miniatures. Born in Banffshire to a poor family, Ferguson soon developed a keen interest in mechanics and astronomy. While in the service of Sir James Dunbar of Durn he educated himself in a variety of subjects, including how to draw miniatures in Indian ink. After studying in Edinburgh, in 1743 he moved to London, where he lectured on natural philosophy, designed scientific instruments and wrote books on mechanics, astronomy and perspective drawing. Meanwhile he continued to supplement his income by drawing portrait miniatures in ink and wash. Ferguson was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1763, though curiously he was exempted from paying the annual fee.