Misty Dusk

I HAD INTENDED to make a start on the garden this afternoon but it was so cold – well not just cold it was so damp too with ‘freezing rain’ part of the forecast – so I got on with some office work instead. However by quarter to five, I thought that I was entitled to spend half an hour drawing. The bleary view out of the rain-spattered studio window meant that sharp focus drawing was out of the question so I dipped straight into the watercolour for these two sketches drawn during the last half-hour of daylight.

Our Crumbling Conveniencies

I drew this picturesquely crumbling wall this morning as I waited for my mum at the opticians, adding the drab colour later.

If I remember rightly, about 40 years ago this wall formed one end of a rather rudimentary public toilets. It was demolished and a cherry tree was planted on the spot. Such basic facilities wouldn’t meet today’s standards and the scrap value of copper has now risen so that within a few weeks the plumbing would probably get ripped out anyway, the result being that Horbury doesn’t have any public toilets these days.

Book Clamp

I’VE DRAWN this subject before; a batch of my walks booklets – the black and white ones that I print here in the studio – stapled and folded and left between clamps overnight so that they’re crisply folded. But this batch is a bit of a milestone because, except for a handful of odd copies hastily printed to fulfil orders, these are the first that I’ve produced in the my newly reorganised studio.

It felt good to at last stand collating and stapling them at my new birch ply worktop, a unit that incorporates a couple of Ikea A2 drawer units. The set up works really well.

The studio has been my major project since the launch of Wakefield Words in November but, three months after I first made my plans, using cardboard cut-outs, it’s at last being used for its intended purpose of writing, illustrating, designing and in a few cases printing and binding books and booklets.

The drawing is in dip pen with a century old (approx.) ‘John Heath’s Telephone Pen’ nib in Winsor & Newton black Indian ink (fourth drawer down, righthand drawer unit).

Meanwhile, long ago in a distant galaxy . . .

Daz 3D are now offering the latest version of Bryce (7.1) as a free download. It seems to work fine, although, having not used my previous version of it for several months, I’m a little disorientated when I use the controls. I’m sure that I’m going to find a good use for it one day.

Link: Daz 3D


IT’S RARE to see Biscuit down at our end of the meadow, as she’s fed by her shelter at the top end. She’s kept on her own without a companion but, from what I’ve heard, she’s a pony with attitude, so that’s probably just as well.

Just after I’ve drawn her, I catch sight of a commotion; something disappears down to the woodland side of the field while an agitated female Pheasant goes hurtling up, heading for cover at the woodland edge.

It’s a curly-tailed, stockily built, Jack Russell, which appears again running down the field shortly after, probably being told off by its owner on the woodland path.

Snow White Feathers

Basketwork box, drawn at my mum's this afternoon.

IT SEEMS that white feathers didn’t camouflage this bird against the snow. My guess is that it was a Fantail Pigeon, killed by a Sparrowhawk, but as the feathers are near the back door at my mum’s some incident involving the bird hitting the window isn’t impossible.

Whatever it was, it happened on Sunday around 11 a.m.. I was painting at the school but when Barbara called on my mum she commented on the small area of snow that my mum had cleared by the back door but when she left an hour or so later small white feathers – like a fresh sprinkling of oversized snowflakes – had appeared. It wasn’t until today, when most of the snow had melted that we saw just how many feathers there were and that there were larger feathers amongst them.

Time for some Crime Scene Investigation:

Under the microscope this feather, which I think is a right secondary or possibly a tail feather, shows the tell-tale marks of having been plucked by a Sparrowhawk. It has twisted its beak around the base of the quill as it pulled out the feather.

Part of the Scenery

BY THE TIME we finish the backdrop, eventually with even David, our resident joiner helping to fill in the blanks, it looks a ridiculously simple cartoon-style scene . . . something that a child could have drawn in about an hour perhaps – but it’s taken us (four of us, off and on) most of the weekend.

Just time for this snow scene before the light fades. It snowed last night but during the day most of it has melted.

The Chateau of the Beast

DESIGNING SCENERY can be a relaxingly imaginative form of drawing, especially if you can give yourself enough time to sketch out your ideas, as I can this morning as a couple young recruits to our dramatic society roller over the previous backdrop. Sketching out my ideas is a pleasing combination of the imaginative and the practical because, although I’m not obliged to be historically correct or architecturally sound, I am constrained by the size of the backdrop (six 11 x 4ft flats) and by the requirements of the script.

This first sketch, in brown ArtPen on light brown sugar paper (absorbent ‘craft paper’ used in schools) shows the backdrop in proportion to the rest of the stage. The tabs, or wings, are black drapes.

Beauty, the Beast . . . and the Pantomime Dame

I’m designing the chateau of the Beast for Beauty and the Beast but this is a pantomime version, not to be confused with the 1740 original by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve or with the Disney version. No, this is the panto version so the action is regularly interrupted by the Pantomime Dame swaggering on and engaging the audience in cheeky banter. What more could you ask from an evening’s entertainment? A few tickets are still available. And – you’re going to like this – there’s a slapstick hairdressing scene. But I think that I can understand why Villeneuve didn’t burden her magical morality tale with a scene in the salon.

So the chateau is a bit of a neglected, slightly spooky ancestral pile but, on the other hand, the Prince/Beast isn’t without a bob or two (note: bob = one shilling in old money). So those repetitive, gloomy arches aren’t quite what we need.

From Donjon to Chateau

How about this? Make the central arch larger, to add a focal point and a bit of drama, and, as this is a chateau not a donjon, a Versailles-style door, as if the Prince’s ancestors renovated their medieval castle keep in the 17th or 18th century.

The entrance to the chateau is seen first through rusty gates, centre stage, with the black side-curtains drawn to reveal only the middle third of the backdrop. Later this same backdrop has to serve as the banqueting hall inside the chateau, so, if you’re following me, this has to represent the exterior and interior of the chateau.

The structures at either end were intended to suggest towers when seen from the outside (only they’re not seen, because they’re hidden by the half-drawn side-curtains) and elephantine pillars of the great hall when seen as an interior but as the Beast’s magic mirror stands in the corner stage left (house right) we left them out of the final version.

From Sketch to Backdrop

While inconsistencies in a pen sketch add to the animation and character of a drawing, I can’t ever seem to translate that spontaneity to the full-size backdrop, drawn in black emulsion paint with a half-inch filbert brush. A good example is the fleur-de-lys shields on the pillars, a motif that I’ve taken from the gates that have been made, which also suggest the French connection. In my drawing I don’t want them to be precisely identical but when they’re painted and coloured on the backdrop it looks as if someone just got it wrong and failed to draw each to identical proportions.

Sketching out the ideas is definitely more relaxing than putting them into practice.

Ducks on Ice

SINCE YESTERDAY most of the lake at Newmillerdam has frozen over. Mallards, Black-headed Gulls and Coot have gathered by a small open area no bigger than a garden pond near the causeway across the top end of the lake. A Canada Goose waddles awkwardly across the ice towards the war memorial where someone is feeding the ducks.

We get a better view of the Dabchick. As the main lake is frozen it’s on the inlet channel, along with a few Mallards. While my drawing was enough to serve as a field sketch (even though it was drawn from memory later), I didn’t catch the buoyant character of the Dabchick; not as rounded and buoyant-looking as a rubber duck but not as lean and lanky looking as my sketch, which took on the proportions of an adolescent Moorhen.

I realise when we walk under the conifers where we saw the Siskins yesterday that I drew them (from memory) on pine branches, while in fact they were on Larch. I picked up this branch with two female larch cones on it to draw.


Waterside Walk

ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS of the lake at Newmillerdam is ice-covered this morning but there’s room for Tufted Ducks to dive, apparently for freshwater mussels, in a spot ten or twenty yards from the shore between the boathouse and the war memorial, where I’ve seen them diving before.

Can there really be so many mussels in the lake?

Nearer the shore we can see these shells, at least some of which look empty. I’ve boosted the contrast in the photograph because of the glare on the water surface.

Amongst the Mallards there’s a single Pink-footed Goose, which hisses as it pecks at some scraps that a visitor has left on the path.

Barbara picks up this feather which I assume is from the goose but looking at my photograph of the bird, a breast feather like this should be greyer and banded horizontally, rather than streaked vertically, so I think this is more likely to be a feather from a female Mallard.

At first glance, as it dives under, the Dabchick or Little Grebe looks like a diminutive duck but, as it keeps bobbing up briefly, we can see the more pointy bill of the grebe. By the boathouse we see a Goosander, a saw-billed duck (the saw-like edges of the bill help it grip small fish).

I’ve drawn squirrel-nibbled cones on several occasions but, as it was too cold to be comfortable to stop and sketch, I picked these up to draw in the studio later.


As we walk back through the conifer plantations, there’s a twittering all around us in the tops of the trees. Even with binoculars I can see no more than a dark silhouette, possibly with streaky plumage, but the shape and the shallow notch in the tail make me think it’s a finch and the size, about the size of a Blue Tit, narrows it down to Siskin. Siskins visit in large flock during winter and often visit conifer plantations.

Puppet Warp

I’M LOOKING forward to spring and being able to get out drawing wild flowers again but I can get a bit of practice by drawing cut flowers from the florists. The iris appealed to me more than the carnations and daisy-like flowers in the same bouquet because the structure of the flower is more obvious.

I’m continuing to familiarise myself with the features of the latest version of Photoshop and I’m intrigued by ‘Puppet Warp’, a new feature in Photoshop CS5. This works by putting a mesh across your drawing which you can then manipulate by adding node points and pulling and pushing them about to distort the drawing in various ways.

It’s useful for a whole lot more than the ‘puppet’ animation that the name suggests but that’s a good place to start to get to know what it does.

When I drew the walking Moorhen a few years ago I had to draw a dozen or more separate frames to make up the complete action. With Puppet Warp you can do just the one drawing and bend, distort and move it around in Photoshop.

It’s not going to give you the charm of a fully hand-drawn animation but for certain subjects it should work well. It has the advantage that you can avoid the ‘boiling’ effect you get from textures, such as crayon and watercolour, that you can’t possibly match between one hand-drawn frame and the next and it can save a lot of repetitive ‘in-betweening’ between the key frames of the action.