You’ll find the starfish rosettes of greasy-looking yellow-green leaves of butterwort, just an inch or two across, dotted around on boggy ground. Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris, is a small carnivorous plant which traps insects on the sticky surfaces of its yellow-green leaves. The in-rolled margins gradually curl around to digest the prey. It’s a member of the bladderwort family, found on heaths, moors and in bogs, in damp, acid habitats where nutrients are in short supply.
In 1635 the herbalist Gerard wrote:
“The husbandmans wives of Yorkshire do use to anoint the dugs (udders) of their kine with fat and oilous juice of the herbe Butterworte, when they are bitten by any venomous worm, or chapped, rifted, and hurt by any other means.”
I drew this on my iPad, using the program Clip Studio Paint, from a photograph that I’d taken in May last year, by the track up onto the moor at Moss End, Oughtershaw, in Langstrothdale.
This Down-looker Snipe-fly,Rhagio scolopacea, was keeping watch from a fence-post at the edge of the parkland alongside Top Park Wood, Nostell, in May last year. It habitually rests facing downwards and it will dart off on short flights, like a snipe.
This was probably a male defending a territory as it waited for a female to appear but this common species of snipe-fly has occasionally been recorded snatching insects in mid-air. The larvae are predators, feeding on small earthworms and insects in leaf litter and in decaying wood.
Despite its impressive appearance, it is harmless to humans.
I like a bit of challenge, so I’m composing my first movie score. It might be just a two-minute film of frost-covered plants in our back garden, but it’s taken me several hours at the keyboard and computer so far!
It was an article in the latest copy of iCreate magazine that got me started; they demonstrate how easy it is to drop your movie into Garageband, Apple’s music-creation software. I plugged in my midi-keyboard, set the film going and played the simplest of chords as carefully as I could.
Just how difficult can it be to compose a snippet of wintery background music?
You Know the Score
You can watch the score appearing as you play, which is astonishing, but, as you’d expect with my shaky hands, it does end up looking rather messy, with my pauses there for all to see, marked with dots and squiggles. In the stave above, the hash mark reveals that I accidentally hit one of the black notes, F sharp (this is the lower, bass clef, normally played with the left hand).
On a Roll
This is where Garageband comes to the rescue: having mapped out a sketchy version of my idea on the keyboard, I can switch from the intimidatingly professional-looking Score view to what they call the Piano Roll. This gives a visual representation of the notes that I hit, which I’m much more at home with.
I can see where I’ve failed to hit all three notes of a chord simultaneously but it’s easy to click the offending note with a mouse and adjust its length, so that it’s perfectly synchronised. I don’t mind the playing being slightly ragged, but I definitely need to be more consistent in hitting the beat, which is indicated by the bolder vertical lines on the graph. I’ve got a lot of clicking and dragging to do to get this score into shape.
Back in Score view, can see that I’m clomping across from one bar to another, without any sense of the four-beats-to-a-bar rhythm that I’m supposedly playing in. I’m learning so much from the process.
A small group of birdwatchers have spotted a party of bearded tits by the path to the Reedbed Hide at RSPB Old Moor Reserve. At first I don’t spot them because I’m looking up amongst the seed-heads of the reeds, but they’re down on the ice at the the foot of the stems.
Soon they’re up feeding on the seeds and their colours harmonise perfectly. There are three males with moustachial stripes and three plainer-looking females, or possibly juveniles. I don’t hear any calls, but there’s a busy road not far away, so perhaps I missed the chirrs and pings that are usually the first sign that they’re around.
The lagoon that the Reedbed Hide overlooks is mainly ice-covered. Coot, dabchick, gadwall, mallard and a couple of female tufted ducks are making the most of the open water alongside the far edge. Shovellers are resting close to the reeds.
There’s an even greater expanse of ice over Wath Ings, alongside the River Dearne, with wildfowl confined to a small pool. On the river embankment, wigeon graze alongside Canada geese. A green woodpecker calls from the woods on the far side of the river.
The bearded tits were a new bird for me, I’ve looked for them before, but I don’t remember ever seeing them; I certainly haven’t seen them showing as well as they did today in the low winter sunlight. Lesser redpoll is also a new species for me – or at least it is under that name. It doesn’t appear in my older field guides because, when they were published, it was considered a subspecies of the North European common redpoll. It’s now a species in its own right and I like its Latin name, Carduelis cabaret: ‘cabaret’ is the French name for a kind of finch. The word cabaret also refers to a small chamber, so perhaps this was meant to refer to the kind of finch that was often kept as a caged bird at the time the German naturalist Müller gave it its name, in his translation, published in 1776, of Linnaeus’sSystema Naturae.
Redpolls are happier in the tree-tops, nibbling at birch cones, as the three that we saw were doing today, next to the Visitor Centre at Old Moor, as we made our way out.
In his latest book The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee describes the ‘Micro Stress Dose’ that you’re likely to get when you check into your Facebook feed and see your friend enjoying the holiday of a lifetime, when you’ve recently returned from yours. There’s your friend, sitting by the pool with a pina colada in their hand, while . . .
“you’re looking out of your office window watching a pigeon drink out of a dirty puddle on the roof of a vandalized bus stop.”
That wouldn’t be a problem for me of course, because being forced to sit by a pool with a pina colada would be my idea of purgatory; I’d be much happier drawing that pigeon!
I’m lucky that my day job includes many of the elements that Dr Chatterjee suggests for trying to combat stress: a daily dose of nature, getting out on a walk or just staring at a tree.
Ideally, he says, you should be trying to find what the Japanese call your ikigai, which translates loosely as ‘a reason for being’, but it’s something more than that. It should be something you love – yes, drawing is definitely that for me; something that you’re good at (OK, the jury’s still out on that one in my case) and, ideally, something that you can make money from. Well, I’ve survived for forty years as an illustrator, so I can tick that last box.
It should also be something that the world needs. Does the world need illustration? I can’t speak for the world in general, but I know how much I feel the need for art and illustration in my life.
It seems that learning to paint is good for you. In an experiment on last week’s Twinstitute, on BBC 1, one group of volunteers were given a month to learn to paint, draw and throw pots on the wheel. This resulted in a reduction in their brain age of, on average, six years, with one of the participants reducing her brain age by nine years. A control group of twins who went on a diet of ‘brain-boosting’ foods for the same period saw no change in the their brain age.
A study by psychologist Myra Fernandes and colleagues at the University of Waterloo, Canada, suggests that the act of drawing something has “massive” benefit for memory compared with writing it down, so getting into a habit of drawing might help people who suffer from dementia.
One Small Step
But being an illustrator brings its own problems and Dr Chatterjee’s previous book, The 4 Pillar Plan, convinced me that it was about time that I did something about my posture. The hours that I spend hunched over my computer or my sketchbook aren’t ideal. He suggests plenty of simple solutions to bring movement into your daily routine and, in particular, his exercises for reawakening ‘lazy glutes’ convinced me that I should buy an exercise step. It’s in the corner of my studio so, once or twice a day, when I need to take a few minutes break, I can go through a short, simple work-out. No aerobics involved, thankfully, just getting those neglected muscles into action again.
I like the use of graphics and photography in Dr Chatterjee’s books which (along with his clear explanations) gives them an accessible, friendly feel. I’ve tried to echo that by using Adobe Spark Post to add some suitably inspirational captions to my photographs of Newmillerdam Country Park, all but one of them taken on Monday morning. Newmillerdam is always suitably inspirational whatever the weather, but the winter sun on Monday gave it an extra sparkle.
Drawing and memory: a study by psychologist Myra Fernandes and colleagues at the University of Waterloo, Canada
With wintery weather expected, we’re fitting all our errands in this morning. As we come down Daisy Hill into Dewsbury, a skein of grey geese is flying high over Batley. They must have some advance warning of the change in the weather and they’re heading in the direction of Martinmere or Morecambe Bay.
They don’t stick rigidly in formation and the pattern changes continuously, forming barbed arrowheads and an elongated stick-man. This makes them difficult to count. Barbara thinks about 200, I think probably 300 or more.
More chevrons on a grey ground: this is a swatch of 100% pure wool Harris Tweed in a design called Winter Check. We always find strolling around the Redbrick Mill, Batley, rather inspiring and I loved the variety of colours and textures in the fabric swatches, lined up in pigeon-holes, in Sofas & Stuff. Apparently turquoise and teal are popular colours at the moment, but for me these Harris Tweeds, in natural colours are timeless.
I had a reputation as a naturalist amongst the local children; once I was presented with a specimen of a dragonfly that had been trapped in a conservatory and on another occasion a neighbour’s son reported seeing a large black cat near the quarry in the wood, at a time when ‘The Black Beast of Ossett’ was roaming the nearby countryside.
Children assumed that I’d know what to do with orphaned or injured birds. In fact the only birds that I ever kept, two Bengalese finches that I bought, hoping to breed, when I worked on the illustrations for Ways of Drawing Birds, died when I allowed them to feast on too much lettuce. The best I could do was to phone a friend, a headmaster who lived in Horbury, who kept silver pheasants and owls in an aviary. I didn’t record in my diary what became of the hapless nestling.
Walking along the road in April that year, I was recognised by two skateboarding children. The girl pointed me out to her companion: “It’s Richard Bell, he’s an artist.” The boy must have confused me with another artist, perhaps the only one he’d so far learnt about at school . . .
Frost whitened rushes, dark iced water, isolated in the mist in warm winter sun the Strands looked at its best
Calder Valley, Addingford, 26 January 1997
Twenty-two years ago this weekend, in 1997, I was busy painting the scenery for the Pageant Players’ production of Dick Whittington at Horbury School but, instead of driving there, I put on my wellies and walked through a pristinely frosted Calder Valley, following first the canal, then the river.
In my a new page-a-day diary I’d decided a that I was going to try, every day, to make a note of the wildlife I’d seen and to add quick sketches in colour. In the following year this diary became the basis of my online Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, which was originally intended to be just one strand of a more ambitious website, which would include sections on geology, history and villages.
I was keen to immerse myself in natural history because for the previous seven years I’d been working pretty intensively on geological projects. I was just finishing my illustrations for Steve Cribb’sWhisky on the Rocks and I’d also made a start on an educational publication, What is Coal? for the National Museum of Coal Mining but I was starting to get further afield as I set about planning and testing out the routes my first walks book, Village Walks in West Yorkshire.
A couple of weeks later, I sold my first computer, an Amstrad 386, to friends and upgraded to what then seemed like a suitably powerful PC but my self-publishing business, Willow Island Editions, didn’t get going until after I’d invested in my first scanner, a Umax Astra 1200-S. I remember that it cost hundreds of pounds, £350 I think, but included in the package was a full version of Adobe Photoshop 4.0, so it proved to be brilliant value.
It’s strange to look back and read a note that I received my first e-mail, from a birdwatcher friend in Plymouth, on the second of April, 1997. However did we manage before that?!
The day started with a frost but by lunchtime that had melted away as a warm front came through, although it didn’t turn mild enough to melt the ice on the pond.
As a change from the iPad, I’ve gone back to a real sketchbook, a Pink Pig with their own brand of 270 gsm watercolour paper, Ameleie. Also as a change, I’ve gone for a fibre tip, a 0.1 Pilot Drawing Pen in brown, and my larger studio set of Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours.
There’s been a good variety of birds coming to the feeders this afternoon including long-tailed tits, nuthatch and two pairs of blue tits which seem ready to start falling out over the nestbox. We recently replaced the old blue tit nesting box with a sparrow nestbox, which is designed for three pairs to nest in. I can’t see the blue tits ever settling down in adjacent nestboxes, so my guess is that eventually the house sparrows will take an interest and move in.
Here are a few quick sketches from my A6-size pocket sketchbook. Barbara was asking me which I preferred, drawing on an iPad or drawing in pen and watercolour. For pleasure, pen and watercolour are what I feel most at home with, but I always like learning something new. I think of iPad drawing as being something akin to printmaking, it’s undeniably drawing but with technical considerations which might be considered limitations but which can also contribute to the character of the artwork.
The original of this sketch of the old scouring mill at Horbury Bridge is just two inches, five centimetres across. Seen in close-up, the unpredictable effects of real ink and real watercolour on the slightly textured surface cartridge paper are, I feel, more convincingly organic than anything that I could have concocted on the iPad.
All these sketches were drawn as we paused for a coffee. When no view was available, when we sat in the corner at the Filmore & Union in the Redbrick Mill, Batley, last week, I attempted to draw a chair.
Inspired by a video I’d been watching of a virtuoso South Korean comic artist, I attempted to increase my speed when I drew the timber framework of the barn at Blacker Hall Cafe this morning. I’d normally try to keep my trembling hands under close control but it’s good to try and let myself go occasionally.