Hand lettering the title of my next Dalesman article, it takes a few attempts to get the ‘S’ of Semerwater looking just as I’d like it. It needs to snake around in a relaxed manner but it shouldn’t slouch or look as if it’s putting on weight.
Getting the right degree of slope of the strokes of the A and the W also makes a big difference; my first ‘W’ ends up too wide, the second looks rather undernourished.
I try drawing the letters just as I’d draw anything else, for instance a plant. The serifs should look as if they’ve grown from the letter, rather than been stuck on as afterthought.
I’d like the letterforms to look as if it they’d grown naturally so I draw them as I would, for example, a winter hedgerow: I’d be as interested in the spaces between plants as I was in the shape of individual trunks and branches.
I decide that I’d like the main stems to taper slightly towards the base, as the stems of hedgerow shrubs often do.
So much for the titles; I’ve had a bright idea for the text too: I put the lined sheet that came with a Basildon Bond writing pad under my layout paper. That saves a lot of drawing parallel lines, then rubbing them out later . . . and often then having the clear up the smudges where the rubber caught the ink that hadn’t quite dried.
I’ve been drawing this outline lettering – and filling it in – with my Lamy Vista fountain pen, filled with a homemade mix of Noodlers brown and black inks.
Three years ago, my mum, then ninety-six year old, was still with us and we used to take her to the shops every Thursday morning then, if she was feeling up to it, which she usually was, we’d set off to Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Whitley, for coffee and scones. She so appreciated this view.
But we always gave the long summer holidays a miss because, by the time we would be arriving the place would be a bit too busy and bustling for my mum.
It’s good to have the excuse to return here as it’s one of Barbara’s brother John’s favourite places so we bring him here most weeks. He’s better at getting up and off than my mum ever was, so we always get here for a short walk along the hillside before the parlour opens and we’re always in time to get a table with a view.
For these three sketches draw during the summer vacation I used fibre tip pen and watercolour (top), watercolour with no preliminary drawing and brush pen, adding watercolour the following week. I’m already looking forward to our next visit (and the scone).
The end of the long summer holidays seems like a good time to catch up with my online diary. It reminds me of my school and college days, when I realised that it was time to wind up my summer projects and aim to be freshly productive in the autumn term.
These sketches are from my Leuchtturm 1917 pocket book. The paper is thin, like a pocket diary, so the fibre tip Pilot Drawing Pen which I’ve been using blots right through the page, leaving a few stray dots of ink.
I thought that a good way of getting back into the sketching habit would be to draw whatever was in front of me when we paused while out visiting or stopping somewhere for lunch or coffee.
The dog with the poodle-like wavy coat in the local bookshop proved a patient sitter for me while it’s owner sat on the floor with her grandchild reading Room on the Broom.
It’s been good to see so many parents and grandparents taking their children out into the countryside during the summer holidays. When we were down by the canal yesterday, one dad took a leaf from a dandelion and explained to his young son how the plant got its name:
“Dent-de-Lion: can you see how the edge of the leaf looks like the teeth of a lion?”
On a consistently fine bank holiday weekend, we took advantage of the welcome shade of the woods on Saturday afternoon to walk up through Coxley Valley to Stoneycliffe Wood Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, pausing for a drink at a bench.
I started a drawing of an oak tree (above), which is growing out over sandstone outcrop at the edge of the stream. On our return journey, when we stopped at the bench for another break, I added more to the drawing.
Ten Thousand Steps
Following my suspected TIA (mini-stroke) two or three months ago, I bought myself a Fitbit Charge 2, which keeps track of how many steps I take a day and also monitors my heart rate. I’m pleased to have kept up my 10,000 steps a day over the six weeks that I’ve been wearing it and it describes my heart rate as ‘excellent’ for a man of my age.
Barbara bought herself a Fitbit a year ago and I reckoned that if I stuck with her I could be sure of getting my 10,000 steps. I hadn’t realised that as I’ve got longer legs than she has I was only managing 8,500 steps for every 10,000 that she clocked up!
The Fruits of our Labours
We haven’t found a way of growing kiwi fruit (left) in the garden but we’re certainly self-sufficient in autumn raspberries at the moment. From a patch the size of a dining table, we’ve had enough to add a small handful to our porridge at breakfast-time plus a surplus which we’ve been using in batches of muffins.
The courgettes have been even more prolific and they’ve been a part of almost every meal for the past ten or eleven weeks.
I’m hoping that having started to get back to normal and having made a bit of an effort to get back into drawing, that it will be second nature to me when we start the new season and autumn, meteorologically speaking, starts on Friday.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
12.30 pm, 23°C, 71°F: On a visit to the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr, Harrogate, I spend half an hour drawing some of the insects that are visiting the vegetable patch.
At first, it’s the fly, a house fly or one of its close relatives, basking in the sun on the arm of the garden chair that attracts my attention but apart from going through a grooming routine, as flies habitually do, it’s isn’t engaged in any interesting behaviour.
A drone fly visits a yellow tagetes flower, as does a small white butterfly.
Bee on Sweet Pea
A black bee on a sweet pea flower bends its abdomen upwards, takes the stamen between its back legs and transfers its white pollen to the underside of its abdomen. It appears to be sipping nectar simultaneously.
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.
Squirrels 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.