I’M NOT FINDING pen and Indian ink a responsive medium as I draw these Kingcups by the pond. If I don’t press heavily enough on the paper I don’t get a mark but if I press too hard on the springy nib the pressure builds up for a moment and then – whizz! – the nib sets off and draws a straighter line than I’d intended!

Surely, if I keep at it, I can exercise some relaxed control over the recalcitrant medium. The ink soon goes claggy and even during this short session of drawing I have to pause to clean the coagulating Winsor & Newton black ink from the nib.

Is it the beautifully sunny but not sultry weather that’s drying the ink too quickly or is it the shrill excited scream every five seconds of next door’s children playing happily on a trampoline a few yards away that’s putting me off my stroke?

I think that I’ve been spoilt by the predictably flowing combination of ArtPen and Noodler’s ink. It’s second nature to draw with that combination, but I would like to experiment with different mediums, which create different marks.

Anyway, time to admit defeat, perhaps I’ll add some colour later when it’s a bit quieter!


10.30 a.m., Langsett Reservoir, lakeside path through conifer plantation.

THE TWO things that struck me about this bird were:

  1. How grey it was.
  2. That it appeared somehow hunched, almost as if it hadn’t got a head.

As I wrote in my notes, it was ‘grey and blockily streaky, like the bark of a pine tree’. It reminded us in size and proportion of a woodpecker. Barbara has a distinct impression of it having a ‘chopped off’ tail.

We’d seen two hikers walking along the fence bordering the cleared area at the other side of the reservoir and I suspect that this bird had been flushed by them and perched on the banking on the northern shore until we came along and it flew up to the cover of the treetops.

The first thing that the Collins Bird Guide says about the Nightjar, highlighted in italics as a diagnostic feature, is that it is ‘mottled brown, buff-white, grey and black‘ which to me equates well with my strong impression of it being ‘blockily streaky, like the bark of a pine tree’. The ‘headless’ look is also a characteristic of nightjars, which have large heads and inconspicuous beaks. As the Guide says, they’re ‘hard to detect’ when ‘resting lenghtwise on a branch’. So a bird noted for its close resemblance to pine bark.

The area on the far side of the reservoir has been cleared and is being managed in order to encourage birds of heathy, open clearings like the Nightjar and Redstart. Nightjars are summer migrants, arriving in May. Hope this one – if that’s what it was – settles and breeds.

Other possibilities from such a brief sighting are Wryneck – highly unlikely – and Little Owl  which is more of a possibility but it’s a bird that we’ve seen occasionally before and are fairly familiar with. It’s brownish rather than greyish and, even at a brief sighting ‘owlish’. The Little Owl has a ‘chopped off’ tail, but it has a distinctly rounded head.

We saw if fly for no more than 50 yards up the slope, but saw no trace of the undulating flight that is typical of woodpeckers or the ‘bounding’ flight of the Little Owl. It was silent in flight, as you’d expect from owls and nightjars.


No doubts however about the Common Sandpiper which we got an unusually close-up view of, looking down on it at the water’s edge from the road that goes along the dam wall.

Sallow Catkins

Trees drawn on our travels yesterday.

FEMALE CATKINS of the Pussy Willow – also known as the Goat Willow or Sallow, Salix caprea, are starting to release their fluffy thistledown-like seeds.

This willow is dioecious, meaning unisexual. An individual Pussy Willow will have either all male or all female catkins. Pollen is distributed on the wind so pollination and seed-dispersal has mainly taken place before the leaves unfurl, obstructing windblown pollen or seeds.

The shape and size of this beetle is a good match for the leaf buds.

Black Bag

I’VE DRAWN this in dip pen and Winsor & Newton Indian ink then added a premixed ink wash. I used this method for my High Peak Drifter sketchbook, taking four small plastic containers of pale to dark washes with me.

This proved ideal for subjects in the Dark Peak in late winter and early spring, such as drystone walls and running water and places like Thor’s Cave but as summer approached it seemed wilfully contradictory to use the same monochrome treatment for wild flowers and butterflies. But I stuck with it to the final page, drawn one sultry early summer’s evening at Jacob’s Ladder, the zig-zag path that climbs up to the Kinderscout plateau.

I recently kitted myself out with a fresh batch of Pink Pig cartridge paper sketchbooks in a range of sizes and my plan is to have art-bags ready to go in a small (A6), medium (A5) and largish (A4) sizes.

I’m still looking for a bag that is suitably compact for an A6 sketching kit, perhaps it will all go into a wallet and fit into my pocket. My growing collection of art-bags tend to flop around the studio, usually getting parked on a chair, so I’ve attached a hook to the wall and hung them there, ready to grab one depending on exactly where I’m heading;

  • A National Trust organiser bag in natural canvas is ideal for what I intend to be my natural history sketchbook, an A5 landscape format spiral bound Pink Pig.
  • The black Timberland backpack, a birthday present from a friend last week, is the one that I’d use for more ambitious outings, perhaps to draw whole landscapes rather than smaller details. The bag is designed to hold a laptop, so there’s plenty of room for my A4 landscape format sketchbook and it has extra compartments so that I have the option to include some more ambitious media, dip pen and bottle of ink rather than my habitual fountain pen for instance.
  • Finally, hanging like a shadow behind the National Trust organiser in my sketch, there’s the black shoulder bag (described as a ‘fisherman’s bag’) that I bought at Marks & Spencer’s in Glasgow last year. This is my sketchcrawl around town bag, probably the one that I’ll take most on my errands and book deliveries. This fits my new square 8 by 8 inch holly green Pink Pig like a glove.

But the square page of the holly green sketchbook doesn’t accommodate long thin drawings; that’s why my A5 bag ended up hanging out of frame off the bottom of the page! (Pink Pig do some quirky long thin sizes, perhaps I should go for one of them for tall, thin subjects).