Waterside Mill

THE RHUBARB FESTIVAL at the weekend created a great deal of interest and they sold out of my walks book in town and at the Hepworth so we’re here delivering more.

It’s so tempting when we’re calling here to stop for lunch. The tables looking out over the river and Chantry Chapel so we make for the other window where I sketch the old waterside mills.

Pollarded Willow

Our neighbour's weeping willow gets cut back every two years but this year the pollarded trunk is to go too, to make way for a new shed.

UNUSUALLY FOR me, I’m doing a short spot of child-minding this afternoon, looking after Peter next door who’s had chicken pox and his baby sister who hasn’t while his mum does the school run, picking up his big sister.

‘What do I do if they wake up?’ I ask in alarm.

‘There are custard creams in that box, give them one of those and they’ll be your friend for life.’

Luckily I don’t have to ply them with custard creams as they don’t emerge until their mum gets back.

‘Shall we look for the peacock?’ Peter asks his big sister Alice.

She corrects him (as big sisters often do); ‘It’s not a peacock, it’s a Pheasant.’

Yes but I can see why he thinks of it as a peacock; our resident cock Pheasant’s plumage is splendidly colourful and he struts around as proudly as a peacock.

Pecking Order

THE FIRST birds to find our new fat (with mealworms) feeder were the Starlings but this morning a female Great Spotted Woodpecker was feeding on it. We’ve rarely had woodpeckers feeding so near the house.

Adobe Illustrator

In my attempt to learn all about my new computer and all the new programs that I have on it, I’m going through the tutorials for Adobe Illustrator.

Even following the step-by-steps on how to construct a figure, I’m having the greatest difficulty achieving anything that looks remotely like an illustration. I think this is because my normal drawing process is so different from the layers and objects approach of this vector graphics program.

The calligraphy brush which I used for the mug brings me nearer to the kind of drawing that I’m comfortable with.

Young Ted

ONE OF THE reasons that babies and toddlers appear from time to time in my sketchbook is that they’re not aware that I’m drawing them, so I can sketch away without feeling that I’m being obtrusive.

It’s my mum’s birthday today so the family have gathered from as far afield as Edinburgh, Sheffield, Hull and the flat upstairs.

As we leave, we stop to say hello to that other new member of the family, Frank the Springer Spaniel. As I’m kneeling down to make a fuss of him, I’m aware of patches of white in the periphery of my vision and I start half-thinking ‘I’m surprised that there are still a few patches of snow about’. But of course it isn’t snow, it’s snowdrops, which are at their best growing in drifts alongside the back lawn at my mum’s.

You are what you ate

I’M AT SANDAL CASTLE visitor centre for this year’s Rhubarb Festival and today I’ve got a chance to sample the kind of food that they would have prepared in the castle kitchens in the medieval period.

I try the Tarte de Bry (Brie tart) and Pylets yn Sarcene (Meatballs in Saracen sauce). The Saracen sauce is spiced with ‘clowys, macys and reysons of corance’ (ground cloves, ground mace and currants, which were imported from Corinth) with ‘a percyon of sawndrys to colour hit Sarcene colour’ (red food colouring).

On an open fire nearby a medieval cook is preparing a cauldron of potage; a soup or stew of buttered vegetables. It was a staple food; just what you would have needed after a hard day in the fields. The vegetables are stirred in butter – not fried – in the cauldron before the liquid is added and this gives essential nourishment.

I’ve drawn some of the high status food including this sugar loaf. I’d thought that honey was the only sweetener available but cane sugar was available in this form, imported from southern Europe.

Wardonys in Syrup

To finish I can’t resist the Fretoure (apple fritters) and a measure of  Lamb’s Wool, a creamy, spicy drink based on cider (or apple juice for today’s family friendly version) and they were serving this as a kind of dessert by adding Wardonys in Syrup (Pears in wine syrup) with an additional dollop of thick cream.

During the morning visitors were invited to take a turn at churning cream to make butter, using a small wooden churn. When this thickened the buttermilk was drained off by straining it through a piece of muslin, producing a ball of thick, creamy yellow butter.

Despite this event being part of the Rhubarb Festival there was no rhubarb for dessert. At that time rhubarb – usually the powdered rootstock – was used for medicinal purposes only.

Link: You are what you Ate at Leeds university.

Gnome

I’M ON A LEARNING CURVE so here, after a whole morning’s work, is the finished result of the tutorial on Drawing and Illustration in Photoshop that I started yesterday evening.

My colours look alarmingly computer generated but I should point out that Daniel Fieske’s version in the step-by-step example ends up looking more like an Arthur Rackham watercolour. I should improve with experience but the point is that I’ve been able to see every stage of the process – there’s no ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ in the tutorial; you get to see every mossy rock drawn individually – and hopefully I’ll remember a lot of the useful Photoshop tips on alpha channels, selections, layers, blend modes and shortcuts and the time-saving ways that you can conjure them up without putting down the stylus of your pen tablet.

Fieske’s thoughts on tonal values, composition and keeping a hand-drawn quality can apply equally to artwork made with natural media so I hope that following his work process in such detail will feed back into my own work.

Links: Daniel Fieske’s The Wormworld Saga includes links to video tutorials on how he created the artwork.
The tutorial that I’m following is on a DVD supplied with the Intuos 4 pen tablet, Meet the Masters by video@brain

Gnome Work

I THOUGHT that I’d finished with fairy tale characters for another year after our pantomime production of Beauty and the Beast, but no, this gnome has cropped up in a step-by-step tutorial that I’m going through to learn how to use my new pen tablet, the Intuos 4, in Photoshop CS5. It’s not the drawing that’s difficult, it’s taking on board all the tips and tricks that will save me time in the long run.

Value study; a rough sketch of tonal values.

I’ve been using Photoshop since, if I remember rightly, version 3, some 15 years ago but I’m far from being an expert, even in my limited usage of it, as I stick to what I know. Going through this tutorial is a timely way to take another look.

An example: one small detail that I sort of knew but had more or less forgotten, is that if you hold down the ‘shift’ key as you draw a line you get it perfectly horizontal or vertical.

I’m hopeless when I have to follow someone else’s instructions for doing a drawing, it’s so stultifying, but it’s a good way to learn the process.

Tapir

IT’S A WINDY, RAINY day so we’re delighted to find that the South American Tapir, Tapirus terrestris, here at the Ponderosa Rare Breeds Farm, Heckmondwike, has ventured out of his shelter. He immediately ambles over to snuffle at us when we arrive. On a summer visit 18 months ago, he stayed in the shade of his shelter all afternoon and I didn’t get chance to draw him so I make a few quick sketches in the drizzle adding the colour later from a Googled photograph, and from memory, as the photograph didn’t quite coincide with the browny grey or ‘dull chestnut’ that I’d made a mental note of.

There’s also time to draw one of the busy band of Meerkats, Suricata suricata, which are chattering and burbling in their enclosure.

I get the opportunity in the Reptile House to hold a North American Corn Snake, also known as the Red Ratsnake, Pantherophis guttatus, (from its grey-brown colour, I guess that this was the Midwestern subspecies Elaphe guttata emoryi). Its scales are softer than I expected, despite being cold-blooded its warmer than the ambient temperature (it has probably been in a warm spot in its vivarium) and it feels stoutly muscular when it pushes itself into my armpit. It gives the impression of being completely relaxed and confident as I support it; it’s used to being handled. I also briefly have a female Australian Bearded Lizard, a.k.a. Central Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps, resting on my shoulder. She appears briefly in a marker pen sketch on my page on the Animated Yorkshire workshop that I took part in here in 2010.

We’ll be back at the Ponderosa in May for the wedding reception of one of our god-daughters, otherwise we might never have thought of heading out here for our coffee/extended to lunch break.

We’ll certainly be coming back, hopefully on a drier when we’ve got a bit more time but even on a day like today, it’s a change from the coffee shops and restaurants in shopping centres, garden centres and farm shops that we so often find ourselves at on our errands and book deliveries.

You wouldn’t expect to meet a Meerkat in the White Rose Centre or a Reindeer at the Redbrick Mill.

Link; Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre, Animated Yorkshire

Broccoli

IT’S SURVIVED frost and snow, it’s been pecked to tatters by Pheasants but I’m afraid what finally did for one of our purple-flowering broccoli plants was the bonfire we lit yesterday afternoon near the the compost bins, just beyond the cabbage beds.  I hope that two or three of the plants will recover sufficiently to give us a small supply of broccoli florets in a month or two.

We’ve found that you can’t be in a hurry when it comes to purple-flowering broccoli. We had no florets in the autumn when you might have expected a first crop. Ours always does better in the spring, which is good time to have it as there’s a bit of a lull in the supply of garden veg at that time. We did harvest kale and cabbage – both red and winter varieties – from this little cabbage patch in the autumn.

Veg beds as they were in 2009, which, as that's 3 years ago, is the way they will be again this year.

This spring, because of the rotation system we’re using, the cabbages and the potatoes that we grow alongside them will move onto the next bed in a clockwise direction, ousting the beans which will in turn move on to the bed where we grew root crops (and had a rare success with carrots last year) which in turn will move on to the bed where we grew the beans.

PC and Friend

AS WE ARRIVE at Diana’s, a large fluffy Siamese walks ahead of us. We shut it out as we go in through the back garden gate but PC, Diana’s black cat, has noticed that his fluffy friend has arrived and they indulge in a bit of playful sparring, pawing at each other through the gap beneath the gate.

The Siamese can’t climb over the larch lap fence; it had already been declawed when Diana’s neighbour adopted it.

But PC is soon up and over the fence, returning five minutes later to sit out at the front on the windowsill. When he comes in, he jumps up on the windowsill (he recently dislodged a vase which broke into four pieces). He’s chosen the warmest corner of the room above the radiator. From here he can keep an eye and an ear on everything that’s going on but he’s soon stretching and snoozing.

Cats are so good at relaxing but however much they appear to be dozing those ears will swivel around to pick up any stray sound.