PowerShot

HERE’S ANOTHER camera that I decided to sell on eBay; a Canon PowerShot G5, my first serious digital camera. My little Olympus Tough hasn’t replaced it as such but it does cover most of what I need a camera for. I might go for something more ambitious in the future, one of the so-called ‘super-zoom’ cameras, so that I can attempt to photograph birds, but at the moment there’s a big overlap between the capabilities of my two digital cameras so I’m afraid it’s time for one of them to go. I rarely set out without the bar-of-soap-sized ‘Tough’ in my art bag, so that’s the one that I’m sticking with.

But I haven’t had time for photography or even for much drawing during the last week. It’s got to that stage where I’m going to have to give the book that I’m working on my undivided attention (undivided, that is, apart from umpteen other commitments that I can’t get out of, even when my workload is at its most pressing).

Special Delivery

Our travels this morning included taking my mum to the dentist’s, which gave me a chance to draw the resident school of goldfish there then, after lunch, I sketched the back of a building (top, centre, above) as I waited for Barbara on a book delivery errand in the centre town. Our next delivery, just ten minutes drive away, offered more impressive scenery; we dropped off a batch of my Sandal Castle booklets at the visitor centre there and took a walk around the earthworks.

Some of my friend John Welding’s Battle of Wakefield drawings are currently featured in the displays there, with more of his artwork on banners near the memorial to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, nearby at Manygates.

Curtains for the Squirrel?

It was a week ago this morning that I had a surprise encounter with a Grey Squirrel. I was taking the tray of coffee cups into my mum’s front room when I heard an urgent scurrying and scrabbling. As I entered, an alarmed squirrel bolted for the top of the curtains in the lofty bay window and did its best to conceal itself, not very successfully with that bushy tail poking out.

Barbara and my mum stood ready to usher the intruder out through the open front door while I used the perfect humane squirrel shepherding device, my mum’s outrageously over-the-top feathery cob web brush – it’s like one of the fans that Cleopatra’s servants waft around her throne – which soon persuaded it to scurry back outside.

My mum naturally is alarmed in case she finds herself with another intruder. This week when she was sitting by the front door a squirrel came right up to the doorstep, oblivious of her presence. A family of them have made a home in the roof, climbing the Virginia creeper to gain access via the guttering.

We’re hoping that, rather than getting in the pest control experts, we can persuade my mum to have the Virginia creeper cut back, so that squirrels no longer feel that the house is their home territory. But I suspect that they might be equally adept at climbing the drainpipes.

Pentax Spotmatic

IT’S A BIT of a wrench, parting with my Pentax Spotmatic 1000 and its Takumar Macro lens but I’ve gone over to digital photography, so I put them up on e-Bay today.

I bought them in my last year at the Royal College of Art in 1975. I’d been won over by this combination of lens and camera when I’d taken the three-week photography course at college, run by Tom Picton and John Hedgecoe.

Macro Lens

London Plane leaf.

Until then all the cameras that I’d used could focus no closer than 3 or 4 feet so the macro lens, the first I’d used, opened up up a whole range of subject matter that had previously been beyond my scope.

Seeing precisely through the viewfinder what would appear in frame was also a big advantage. The closer you got to a subject with a non-SLR camera, the greater the difference between viewfinder and lens-view.

The photography department was then in the basement of a building at Cromwell Place directly opposite the Natural History Museum. I used the heavy studio camera stand and set up a raking light to bring out the textures of any suitable subject that I had to hand, like the pens in my pocket and the label of my parka jacket.

South Coast

For me the highlight of the course was the opportunity to try out the camera on location. A group of us went off in the college minibus, passing Box Hill and the Snow-Drop Inn on our way to a small seaside town.

There were no cliffs, dunes or rock-pools for me to explore but a sandy, shingly bay was a more likely source for the kind of subject that attracted me than the streets of South Kensington.

I wandered off along the coast to the west of the town, photographing fungi and fences, pebbles and pigs.

Even from these low res scans from my contact strips from the Kodak Tri X Panchromatic film that I took that day, you can see that there’s some quality about black and white film that you don’t get with digital. Yes, you can use a filter in Photoshop to add grain to ape the effect of film, but that’s not quite the same as having that limitation imposed by the medium when you go out hunting with your camera.

On a lane about half a mile out of town I came across this old weather-boarded barn (below) with a decaying thatched roof. It could well be a building that no one thought to record at the time, so, if I could remember the name of the town, I’d contact the local history society to see if they’d like to include it in a photographic archive. The winter, early spring of 1973 is very much a part of history now.The camera kit gave me the chance to photograph the kind of subjects that I included in the sketchbooks of my travels. Well, most subjects; bird photography was still well beyond my scope!

 

Sword Dance

SWORD DANCERS or rapier dancers were once part of the Christmas festivities, going from house to house and giving short performances which included a lot of sword-fighting.

The shading on this might look a little different to my normal style. I realised that I’d drawn the swordsmen as left-handed so I’ve flipped the drawing horizontally. Now it looks as if I’ve drawn it with my left hand with most of the lines sloping top left to bottom right.

I did a preliminary little sketch to work out the poses of the dancers but I was happy to launch straight into a cartoon version of a Brown Rat. Notice that we’re back to to right-handed shading for the ground.

I had wild black plums on my ‘to draw’ list, so when we saw some that had fallen onto a grass verge, I selected a few to draw from life, taking a small leafy twig to help put over the idea that these are plums and not, as you might guess at a glance, black party balloons. Once again, I was able to go straight into the final drawing with no rough and no pencil construction lines. This is my preferred option considering that I might need 240 illustrations for the book and more if I decide to up the number of pages from 64 to 96.

The View from the Sofa

12.15 p.m.; There’s a sad tale behind this drawing of a semi-detached house. It looks as if we might have sold Barbara’s mum’s house (Betty died in January) and we’ve popped up there to wait for some relatives who have said they’d like to take the two small sofas.

As I sat on one of the sofas drawing the view across the road I thought of all the Boxing Day parties, all the afternoon tea and Betty’s homemade scones that we’ve enjoyed while sitting here but this is the last drawing I’ll be able to do sitting on one of the sofas looking out my mum-in-law’s front room.

Autumn Landscape

A RED ADMIRAL flies in a sheltered sunny spot in the co-op car park. The other day we saw a large dragonfly hovering over the edge of our pond, its abdomen curved down, apparently laying eggs, dipping down to deposit each one.

I hope the oxygenating pondweed is doing its job and that the pond life is recovering from our drastic clear this summer.

After a long summer break – some say too long – the schools have all gone back and autumn seems to have started decisively. Trees are changing colour, conkers are lying about on pavements and grass verges. The House Martins are still about, for now.

Pictures on a Page

I ALWAYS like the stage where I’ve got sufficient illustrations and text together to start laying out the pages of a book. I’ve been worrying about whether this or that illustration is the best I can do and naturally I’ll continue to fret over that but it’s worth dropping them into a page layout to remind myself that they were never intended to be works of art, to be scrutinised in isolation. I need to see how they work as part of a spread.

Seeing them on-screen in my desktop publishing programme isn’t enough; I need to print out one or two sample spreads. My laser printer isn’t going to give me the look of a real paperback but it serves as a guide. I feel that books should be tactile but, with its line artwork, it occurs to me that this would a good title to try publishing as an e-book.

The pen and ink lines have a crispness about them in print that I can’t show you on a 100 dot per inch screen. My commercial printer advises me to scan line work at 1200 dots per inch, which is the maximum my desktop CanoScan 8800F is capable of.

Whatever my misgivings about each cartoon, I’m pleased with the way they do the job of illuminating the definitions of Victorian Yorkshire dialect words and expressions that are the subject of my book. I’m going a bit over the top by including so many cartoons but if the book was a text-only list of definitions it would run the risk of looking rather academic.

The variation in style in the illustrations, as I struggled to find the best approach, isn’t a disadvantage as it adds some variety but I do have my favourites: the drinkers on a bench in the first spread and the beetle and mole in the second.

Freehand Folk

I’M DRAWING a motley crew of folk; ‘an assemblage of odds and ends of people, a rabble’. This rabble has yet to be roused but they’re a sufficiently motley assortment.

I used ArtPen on layout paper, filling in with a Cotman watercolour brush and Calli ink, making up the characters as I went. With no sketched pencil line to follow and no rough to trace I felt as if I had more freedom. The result looks perfectly idiotic, so I quite like it.

The actual size that I’d be printing this would be only an inch or two across, so you’re seeing the widescreen version here.

The Lawn Ranger

11 a.m.: A neighbour’s ginger cat is paying close attention to one particular spot on the lawn, sniffing it with intense interest.

What is it up to?

It turns around and sticks its paw into a hole –

a vole hole – reaching right down, like someone trying to retrieve keys from the back of a sofa.

It reminds me of a friend of my mum & dad’s, Denny from Dovercourt, who once saw a man lying by the side of the road with a look of agony on his face;

“Are you all right? Shall I send for an ambulance?”

“No . . . ugh . . . I’m fine . . . ugh . . . I’m just . . .  trying . . . to turn off this stopcock.”

Like the ginger cat, he had his arm down a hole.

Starl-ink

THIS DRAWING of a Starling was made with my ArtPen and inked in with a Sakuyo Japanese brush using Calli Jet Black India ink. It’s on Goldline layout paper, which is 50 gsm bank paper; very smooth and semi-transparent.

With no bleed the bank paper isn’t letting the ink lines run into the fibres of the paper, which was a problem with the soft cartridge I was using the other day, but because layout paper is so thin it’s just about on the limit of being able to take a dense wash of India ink. There’s some cockling but very little sign of the ink soaking its way through the thin paper.

Pies

I’M DRAWING a proverbially Thieving Magpie and a boy snaffling pies today and, after a busy day of appointments unrelated to artwork of any description, I’m trying a different approach from my roughs first, then pen and Indian ink final artwork regime; I’m simply doodling these as Barbara and I sit and relax after dinner. I don’t get off to a good start and I think that I might have to draw these two later, but two so-so drawings are better than nothing.

Working this way a drawing takes about as long as some of my roughs. And, as I say, I can still redraw it if necessary, I don’t have to stick with my first attempt.

My drawing of Old Nick himself has turned out about as well as I’d have managed in the studio. The hand and trident are a bit shaky but the the face and figure will do.

His horns have the simplicity that I’m aiming for but my everyday sketchbook lets me down a bit here because the cartridge paper in it isn’t bleed-proof so I can’t get really crisp woodcut style lines.

Drawing a self-important Victorian gentleman wearing spectacles for my next illustration I, not surprisingly, end up with someone resembling Mr Pickwick.

I’ve used a Rotring ArtPen with a fine-nibbed sketch nib filled with ArtPen ink, not my usual Noodler’s, for these drawings and an ArtPen with a larger ‘M’ nib for thickening outlines and filling in. The hatching on Old Nick’s cloak and my Pickwick character’s coat introduces a messy sort of animation to the drawing, which I expect adds a bit of hand-drawn charm, but I’ve got something a little more sharp, graphic and punchy in mind for the images in my book, so I’m going to go back to Pentel BrushPen for the fill-in, or to watercolour brush and black ink.

And it’s got to be bleed-proof paper!

Rain Dance

A FEW MORE photographs from last weekend: this is the stream that joins the River Ness just below Ness Islands in Inverness.

There had been heavy rain on the Friday night and with the ground already soaking, this Herring Gull on the grassy banks by the Aquadome at Bucht Park was having some success with its ‘rain dance’. It was poddling the sodden turf, producing an effect which to any unfortunate earthworm below would have felt like heavy rain, prompting it to make its way to the surface to escape being drowned it in its burrow. The gull apparently caught two or three small earthworms in the few minutes that we watched it.

Tunnel Network

Something, a paving stone or a metal plate about two feet square, had recently been removed from a grass verge nearby revealing this tunnel network. A Yew tree grows close to it and the tunnels are full of Yew seeds.

You can see that many of these have been split open. Most parts of the Yew are poisonous but some birds eat the ‘berries’ (Yew is a conifer so it would be more correct to call the fleshy envelope of the seed an aril) and here, I guess, voles or Wood Mice have been collecting the ‘berries’, perhaps eating the red sticky flesh and storing the seeds, some of which have been split open. I guess that the seed case is the most poisonous part of the female yew cone but that its contents can be eaten by rodents.

It’s strange to think that one of these seeds might have germinated and grown to be a tree that might have lived to be some 3,000 years old, like the Fortingall Yew near Loch Tay, which might be the oldest tree in Europe, surviving until the year 5011 A.D. or beyond . . . if the vole hadn’t eaten it first!

Puffer

This Clyde Puffer, the S.L. VIC32 from Greenock, one the last coal-fired steam coasters, was moored on the Caledonian Canal at Merkinch. Puffers worked along the west coast, supplying the island distilleries, such as Laphroaig, which stands on the shore at Port Ellen, Islay.

I illustrated one for Stephen Cribb’s Whisky on the Rocks and was so fascinated by them that I made a folksy model for use in a Whisky on the Rocks assemblage – which also included shells, whisky miniatures and so on – that I thought might look good on the back cover of the book. Considering my skill as a model-maker it’s not surprising that they decided to stick with my pen and ink and watercolour artwork.

 

Bright Ideas

THERE’S SOMETHING special about a Saturday morning in the studio. I don’t manage it every weekend but it does happen now and then because there is less of a chance of being called away on errands, appointments and deliveries than on a weekday. I feel more relaxed because it’s a bonus session of work on my book. A gift.

A Saturday morning wouldn’t be quite complete without CD Review on Radio 3. As I write this, they’re playing a new recording of Mozart’s Haffner Symphony. Perfect!

First on my list this morning is an illustration of a blazing fire, the sort of blaze you’d get if you were burning wood-shavings. I realise how much I rely on colour because I always reach for the brightest yellow in my palette when I’m drawing flames but here I’m limited to black and white line, I can’t even add a half tone, nor can I stipple to my heart’s content because that would be just like a laborious, hand-drawn half-tone and it would be equally prone to clog up in the printing.

The perspective on the bottom of the casserole needs some attention.

Flames and explosions are a staple of comic strip illustration so I could refer to my copy of the Step-by-Step Guide to Cartooning or to one of the comic strip books on my shelf but really it’s more fun to come up with my own simple home-spun solution rather than copy the best examples. That way I can keep some of the intimacy of the homely Victorian world that I’m building up in the illustrations, even though in this case there are no period details. I don’t want Batman style special effects. This sketchy version of a woodcut should be just fine.

My next subject, a skinny-ribbed person eating a local variety of porridge, prompts me to draw Oliver Twist with a touch of Stan Laurel. His second course could be this potato and onion stew.

The other day, untangling wool was my subject, today it’s picking twigs from a fleece. The people of Victorian Wakefield must have spent a lot of time preparing fleeces for combing and spinning.

News Story

I always dread being in the newspaper. I ramble on to reporters – this week it was the Wakefield Express Horbury reporter Victoria Turton – and then worry that I’m going to sound as rambling and incoherent in the article as I do in real life.

No worries; Victoria has summed up the story about the controversial proposed changes to planning legislation clearly and concisely and the Express photographer has illustrated the concept of concern for a local patch of ordinary, undesignated but much-loved countryside effectively in his picture. I did my bit by preparing a visual aid specially for this photograph; my sketchbook map of the local countryside that could be at risk if the government’s preferred option of ‘presumption in favour of development’ becomes law (see my post from last week; The Undesignated Countryside).

Crumbling Stone

Two more little drawings and that’s enough for a Saturday; a mole and a crumbling block of stone.

I need to start laying out some sample spreads for the book to see how these are going to work on the page of a B format paperback (130mm x 198mm, 5.12 x 7.8 inches).