Hand Lettering

I’ve found that a six millmetre x-height seems about right for the size of pen that I’m using and the proportion of the lettering that I’ve got in mind.

I’ve got a great excuse for practising hand lettering: I’ve been asked to prepare some wildlife sketchbook pages for publication. Although we’re going for a sketchbook format, the spreads need to tell a story, rather than being presented as artwork.

I want to try and evoke the spontaneity of a sketchbook page but without the false starts and my occasionally indecipherable field notes but it’s difficult to strike the right balance and not to end up with the page looking too concocted.


My captions set in the hand-lettering typeface Maryland on a spread in InDesign CC 2017.

Before I start on the time-consuming task of hand-lettering my captions, I set up a page in Adobe InDesign with illustrations and text boxes in place, to check that I can fit all that I want to fit onto the page.

I like the hand-lettered typeface Maryland (above) which is a change from Comic Sans, the go-to typeface for this kind of thing. Maryland is available to subscribers to InDesign CC as what they call a Typekit font, which users are licensed to download for use in the program.

It’s a livelier typeface than my own hand-lettering and I guess that I could use it for the page but nothing is going to look more at home with my drawings than my own hand-lettering, drawn with the same pen and ink: a Lamy Vista fountain pen with an Extra Fine nib, filled with a mix of Noodler’s brown and black inks.

Lamy Vista



Drawing Letterforms

I’m careful to refer to the typeset version of the text for each line, e.g. line one: ‘Nibbling a pine cone’, and not to be tempted to squeeze in the odd extra word. I rule lines seven millimetres apart for my text and, unlike the titles, I don’t find I need to draw a line for the x-height. My letter spacing closely matches the set type in the Maryland font.

My text might be wobbly because of my shaky hands but that applies to my drawings too, so the two complement each other.

I feel that the process of lettering is similar to drawing and I find myself thinking about shapes and rhythm; it’s so similar to when I’m drawing a fence, the branches of a tree or the fronds of a fern: I’m looking not just for the individual shapes but also the spaces between them.

So far I’m doing better on my text than my main titles (top) but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to improve with practise.


Adobe InDesign CC

Meet the Author

It’s our great nephew Henry Roman’s christening today and I’ve been collared by Oliver, aged eight, and Ted, aged six. Oliver asks me to draw a snake – I’m going to need a bit more practice with that – and Ted requests a husky, which again I struggle to draw from memory; I definitely wouldn’t trust that character to pull my sleigh.

Oliver, who has been reading my Deep in the Wood, which he claims is his favourite book, asks me which was my favourite out of all the books that I’ve written. The Britain sketchbook, I guess.

“Did you write all the books in the world?” asks Ted.

“There are a few that I didn’t write.” I explain.

He’s asks me to draw a Dalmatian (and also could I write a book, just about dogs for him).

“What’s it’s name?” I ask him, having been slightly more successful than I was with my drawing of the husky.



Another Waiting Room

Another waiting room, another chair, but, at last, I’m getting signed off after the temporary loss of vision in my left eye six weeks ago. It was most probably caused by a very small stroke, otherwise known as a TIA (Temporary Ischaemic Attack) so now, apart from taking the tablets, I can get on with my life again. 

Chair at Wetherspoon’s

My appointment was in Pontefract so, while we were here, we took the chance to revisit the castle, the museum and the library.

The new visitor centre at the castle includes portraits of some of the more colourful characters from its past drawn by John Welding. An exhibition at the museum features a hundred year’s worth of posters and other ephemera from Holmes Printers of Gillygate, Pontefract.

And just one more chair . . . this one was on the terrace at Betty’s, Harlow Carr, Harrogate, last Friday.

Squirrel Sketches

I’m drawing some illustrations of red squirrels for my next Dalesman article but, when I visited the red squirrel feeding station at Snaizeholme last October, I concentrated on taking photographs.

My aim is to give the impression that my sketches were drawn from life. I don’t think that I’d ever be able to achieve the same feeling of spontaneity by working from a photograph, but I’ll try to suggest character and movement rather than getting too involved in details such as the texture of the fur.

I’m drawing direct from a photograph on the screen, rather than starting with a tracing, which would be a sure way of getting the proportions right. My inevitable second attempts at lines give a similar effect to when I’m drawing a living animal and it moves slightly, adding a degree of animation. That’s the theory, anyway.

Squirrel-nibbled Cones

grey squirrelSquirrels will make an appearance in my Dalesman nature diary this autumn, so I picked up these squirrel-nibbled cones at Nostell this morning to illustrate the article. I’ll be writing about the red squirrels of Snaizeholme near Hawes but these cones have been nibbled by greys.

An ecologist recently told me that the last red he’d seen near Wakefield had been running down the road at Newmillerdam; I think that this would have been in the late 1970s or possibly early 1980s.

It sounds as if the unfortunate creature had an inkling that the greys had taken over and was heading off like a lemming on one last desperate migration. Lets hope it finally arrived at Snaizeholme.

Old School Chair

We believe that this old school chair was made by one of Barbara’s mum’s uncles. It looks handmade; slightly less regular than you’d expect if it had been the product of a workshop where hundreds were made.

My office chair is beginning to look worn, as the fabric on the seat begins to tear. It’s a look that is very much in fashion at the moment, at least when it comes to jeans.

Wing-back Chair

I know that, when the next person walks into the waiting room, out of all the chairs, they’re going to go for the one that I’m drawing.

She does, but luckily by then I’ve drawn the chair itself and I can move on to the houseplant and the drawer unit next to it.

It’s a chair that would go well in the consulting room at 221b Baker Street.

Back at Barbara’s brother’s, I draw the end of the sofa that sits next to the laid-back armchair that set me off sketching seating last week.

It isn’t Holmesian like the wing-back, but it’s got enough character to be the centrepiece in a set for a retro situation comedy.

There are some drawable dining chairs at Filmore and Union in the Redbrick Mill in Batley but how can I resist drawing the box of fruit (and a head of broccoli) behind the counter.

I take a photograph, so that I can add the colour later (although I think that I could have managed perfectly well from memory this time).

This old car – a Morris Oxford? – brings back distant memories for me. That shade of pale green was popular in the late 1950s and early 60s; as I remember it, our Austin A40 was a similar colour.

Drawing Chairs

Drawing this relaxed-looking armchair set me off; whenever I’ve had the odd moment during the last week, I’ve looked around for a chair to draw.

At Frankie & Benny’s, I focused on the chair itself and omitted the surroundings, such as the table leg in front of it.

As has so often happens, I started at the top but didn’t appreciate that I’d need to draw at a slightly larger scale to accommodate the detail of the chair’s back, so it has turned out taller and narrower than it should be.

Every detail of Frankie & Benny’s has been chosen to evoke the atmosphere of a 1950s New York Italian American diner: furniture, fittings and cut-out metal lettering. The F&B logo is brush-lettering, similar to the Walt Disney signature of the same vintage.

In a local independent cafe, Rich & Fancy on Queen Street, Horbury, the lettering on the blackboard is hand-drawn, and the chair is less chic and cosmopolitan.

Pizza Express goes for a retro style that might have earned a Design Council label in the 1960s.

Back in the studio, I was at last able to study a chair which wasn’t partially obscured by a table, a customer or a waitress.

The folding Ikea chair gives me a better chance to observe the negative spaces between the tubular metal framework and the plastic seat and back: triangles and shapes that remind me of a wedge of cheese with the nose cut off.


Back to Basics Booklets

Placeholder image for my speed test booklet.

It’s frustrating at times, but I have to admit that I’m enjoying going back to basics with my printed booklets, doing a bit of detective work to see where the hold up in printing speed is creeping in. So far, so good: this ultra-simple booklet with placeholder text prints out in a couple of minutes and it makes no difference if I use GIF images or larger format TIFs, which are about twice the size.

It’s such a pleasure to construct a really simple booklet, dropping little rough sketches in wherever I please, that it makes me want to design another booklet for real, perhaps taking a sketchbook and scanning the illustrations separately then typing up my handwritten notes.

I’m using Adobe InDesign CC 2017, a program which seems to have its quirks if, like me, you’re more used to Microsoft Publisher or Serif PagePlus.

Image manipulation and booklet printing get me every time: I always grab the frame rather than the image itself when I want to change its size, but surely by now I’ve learnt that you don’t select ‘Print’ if you want to print a booklet!

I’m steadily getting there.

Mini Meadow

When I bought three packets of different kinds of meadow seed mixes three months ago, I wondered if I would ever end up with anything resembling the colourful photographs on the boxes. I’m delighted that all three mixes have done well, sown, each in an area roughly a metre square, on the raised bed behind the pond. On a sunny day the flowers are popular with hoverflies.

I’ll definitely repeat the experiment next year. I think that a lot of these flowers will seed quite freely around the garden, so I’ll try leaving a few bare patches here and there to encourage them, but for the raised bed itself, I’ll sow a fresh seed mix.

What appears to be an all-black bumblebee visits several flowers in the mini meadow, bending the slender stem right over when it lands. A smaller gingery ochre bumblebee is more suited to the size of the flowers.

Amongst the hoverflies is one of the familiar species with the boat-shaped striped abdomen and a small, duller-looking spindle-shaped hoverfly.

I’m typing this post on my iPad as I sit on one of the stones at the corner of the raised bed. It’s the first post that I’ve ever typed, drawn, photographed (using the built-in camera on my iPad) and uploaded entirely on location in the back garden. I wonder how far I can get from the house and still use the wifi in my studio.