Heron and Wagtail

7.30 am; I SAW a Grey Heron flying unusually low over the roof tops and it was only 5 or 10 minutes later that I realised that it was flying so low because it was coming in to land at the edge of our garden pond; a juvenile, still in streaky grey plumage.

It soon flew off when it saw use looking at it. Hope it didn’t eat too many of our frogs and newts during its visit.

A minute later an equally infrequent visitor to our garden had taken its place by the pond; a Grey Wagtail bobbed and pecked around the pond edge.

Sketchy Intervals

Mirfield from Charlotte’s ice cream parlour, Tuesday.
Old butcher’s shop, now a beauty salon, drawn from the opticians when we took my mum on Thursday.

I FEEL out of practice with drawing. I’ve spent my spare time this week learning a drawing program, Manga Studio EX4, but that isn’t the same as getting out and drawing for several hours. We’ve had a couple of mornings of appointments/coffee with my mum, which effectively breaks my rhythm especially as, partly as a result, I’m getting around to tracing one of the branches of our family tree.

I’m finding that addictively interesting, like a puzzle or a detective story.

Manga Studio

My attempt at the ‘Creating Your First Manga Page: A Quick-Start Guide’ in Doug Hills’ ‘Manga Studio for Dummies’.

As I enjoy drawing in a sketchbook, why should I go through the rather technical process of learning Manga Studio, a computer assisted drawing program?

  • It’s good to have a change occasionally and work in a different medium; I want to use it with my pen tablet, although you can simply scan in your line drawings
  • There’s a possibility that it could save me a lot of time on the structural side of drawing a comic strip

I had about 100 individual panels to draw for my Walks in Robin Hood’s Yorkshire so I’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities that the program offers to draw panels around each frame. As you can see, I haven’t quite got into that; Doug Hills’ Quick-Start guide in Manga Studio for Dummies shows a figure bursting out of a frame but the explanation of how to do that must come in a later chapter. Manga Studio is also intended to mask the parts of a drawing which overlap the frame, so that you get white borders between the frames, a feature that didn’t work with the method that I used to set up this page.

Dots and Stipples

It offers a lot of help with speech and thought bubbles and comic book sound effects but the feature that really attracts me is the ability to add tones and textures, which I’ve made a start with here.

It’s going to be especially useful in print as I can produce artwork for newspapers or magazines that is pure line; even the tone will be pure black and white, made up of tiny stipples or dots. Pen lines should be crisper as they’re not converted to half tones during the printing process.

That’s probably enough technical stuff!

Links; Manga Studio, PNH Comics; Doug Hills’ website

Hop Trefoil

THIS CLOVER-LIKE trefoil scrambles amongst grasses and taller herbs. It’s leaves are more elongated than clover. I’m guessing that it’s Hop Trefoil but there are a number of similar species, so I need to take a closer look. One of the advantages of having a patch of meadow at the end of the garden is that it is easy to do that.

Yellow Rattle hasn’t yet shown up in the section of the meadow that I sowed this spring but I can see 10 plants, mainly gone to seed, in a square yard of the established turf that I laid down. It’s a vital part of the wild flower mix as it is semi-parasitic on grasses, preventing them from dominating the meadow.

Ringlet Triangle

 Common Red Poppy, Papaver rhoeas
Dip pen, Indian ink & watercolour 

4.45 pm: THREE SMOKY BROWN butterflies fly around our little sun-trap of a meadow, two of them are chasing each other. They’re all fresh-looking, as if recently emerged and don’t look as if they were out in the torrential rain a week ago.

My first thought is that they’re Meadow Browns and that would be appropriate as the first butterfly to appear while I’m drawing in my newly revamped meadow area but these are Ringlets.

They’re darker than Meadow Browns, and slightly, very slightly, smaller. The name refers to the ringed eye-spots on the wings but the feature that registered with me was the light-coloured margin. I noticed this along the rear edge of the hind-wing but it fringes the sides of both wings too.

The trailing edge of the Ringlet’s hind-wing is smooth rather than scalloped (as it is in the Meadow Brown). This might sound like a subtle difference but it changes the character, the jizz, of the butterfly.

Meadow Brown

A Song of Summer

It’s great to have my own little meadow area, even though it’s so small; a 7 foot triangle sown with a meadow mix, with a strip of imported (from North Yorkshire) meadow turf across one end. I can pop down there with my canvas chair and just start drawing.

What I miss though is the meadow soundtrack; nothing but the rustle of leaves, the hum of insects, the call of birds. That would be lovely; that kind of peace has always meant a lot to me. It’s one of the reasons that we head to the Lake District for a break, rather than a vibrant resort such as Blackpool. But this little wedge of meadow is in semi-detached suburban garden so the soundtrack is dominated by next door’s kids screaming. Heigh ho.

Okay, I’ll admit that they are screaming happily except when it comes, as it inevitably does as the excitement builds, to injury time! Boisterous children’s play has long been a part of the song of summer;

Whenas the rye reach to the chin,
And chop-cherry, chop-cherry ripe within,
Straw berries swimming in the cream,
And schoolboys playing in the stream

George Peel, The Old Wives’ Tale, 1595
(used by Benjamin Britten in his Spring Symphony)

Chicory and Dock

I OCCASIONALLY feel the need to do what I call an ‘inky’ drawing, with free-flowing ink, so why not go all the way and use a bamboo pen and Winsor & Newton black Indian ink?


  • once you’ve dipped your bamboo pen in the ink, the first time you hold it over the paper a drop of ink will blot down onto the paper
  • you can’t take your time drawing the lines while the ink is running freely or you’ll end up with another blot
  • the ink soon runs out and you start to get a broken scratchy line


  • you get a bold line, one that reminds me of a woodcut
  • there’s an organic quality to the diminishing size and changing quality of the line as the ink runs out. In the same way that slug slime trails are organic!
  • makes me work more quickly

That last one, ‘makes me work more quickly’ isn’t necessarily an advantage; the main point of observational drawing for me is to slow down and make contact with the natural world (or in some cases the manmade world).

I just try to work as accurately as I can within the limitations of the medium. There’s no rubbing out if a line goes wrong, so you just have to go for it. I’ve never skied but I imagine the feeling of barely controlled chaos that I get when I’m drawing with a piece of sharpened bamboo and blottily viscous ink is similar to the feeling you must get when you first go skiing down the nursery slopes.

Bamboo pen and Indian ink is the white knuckle ride of drawing. Perhaps next time I’ll try the comfy armchair and slippers version of drawing and go back to my ArtPen!


I THINK of English Oaks like this as being great galleons of trees with masses of dense dark foliage but as I sketched this one in wet-on-wet watercolour I realised that there’s a lot of empty space in that canopy.

This is the last page in my little travel booklet sketchbook and I’m now going to make myself a European passport-sized sketchbook, which is one centimetre shorter than the traditional Moleskine notebook. That should fit snugly into my mini-art-bag, which is intended as a passport wallet.

I’ll be using a whiter paper than this, which will make it easier to scan but I’ve enjoyed using this Hahnemuehle sketch paper. It’s more absorbent than the cartridge that I’m used to so watercolour washes soak in almost instantly, instead of lying on the surface. It gives a mat granular quality to the watercolour. This isn’t all that obvious in my same size scans but you can get an idea from this close up of a part of my drawing just 18 millimetres across in which you can see the individual fibres of the paper.

Newmillerdam from the Lakeside Kitchen.

Cool Wet Summer

I DON’T FEEL so bad about the lacklustre performance of the vegetables in our garden when I hear that farmers and growers are having exactly the same problems; cool, waterlogged soils and, even for those growing under glass, low levels of light. Supermarkets are having to order vegetables from abroad to make up for the lack of homegrown product.

But whatever the weather there’s going to be some vegetable that finds the weather suits it. Our leeks and onions which would have suffered in a drought are doing reasonably well but our beans and courgettes are taking their time to get established. Hopefully they’ll catch up as the season progresses.

Ironically this year I decided to try installing a watering system for the greenhouse so that when we go away our neighbour won’t need to come around to water. I didn’t manage to set it up, being short of a particular type of hose connector but, as it happened, I wouldn’t have needed it as when we were away in the Lake District last week the sun probably appeared for only a few hours during the whole 5 day period then the day after we returned their was a month’s worth of rain in a day.

The sunken path in the greenhouse filled up with water and the watering cans ended up floating around. Even the raised bed which the buckets of tomatoes stand on was an inch or two deep in water.

Alias Swift and Jones

WE’RE OUT to solve a mystery today, a family history mystery surrounding my grandma (my mum’s mum), Annie Swift, née Jones, who was born at Connah’s Quay, Flinstshire, on 8 June 1879.

One mystery is that a Sheffield historian recently informed me that she appears as Annie Tofield on her marriage certificate, the other that Flintshire registry office tell me that they don’t have an Annie Jones (or, for that matter, an Annie Tofield) on their records born that year; they have an Annie Emily Jones, and Annie Lavinia Jones and an Annie Stockton Jones but none of those have parents called William and Mary.

We made some progress on mystery 1 this morning when me made the trip to Sheffield Registry Office; there is a certificate of marriage of a Maurice Swift and Annie Jones from December 1903, so the Swift/Tofield marriage of that year must be someone else; there were several branches of the Swift family in Sheffield at the time. They will send us a copy of the certificate in the next week so we’ll then get a lead on if my grandma was actually born in Flintshire in June 1879.

We can work our way gradually back from the known to the unknown.

Why doesn’t my mum have this information already? She has loads of information on the Swift side of the family but her mother never told her much about the Jones side, even though my mum met all her aunties (I think there were three of them) and uncles (she tells me one was an engine driver).

As we had to be in Sheffield, we thought we might as well have lunch at the Cafe Rouge. Tough work this genealogy.

While we were in the Meadowhall Centre, I scoured Waterstones, Smiths and Paperchase for an extra small sketchbook to fit in my mini-art-bag. The pocket Moleskine is just too big. There are diaries that would pop neatly in the bag but so far no sketchbooks. The Hahnemuehle travel booklet that I’ve been using is just a shade too big and it’s now curling at the edges.

‘I told you to buy the sketchbook first then the bag!’ Barbara reminds me.

Now why didn’t I think of that? I think the easiest thing would be to make my own little sketchbook by folding up and stapling a piece of cartridge. Simple.

Anime Studio

I LIKE drawing, as you might have noticed, so the South Park style cut-out animation that I associate with Anime Studio never appealed to me; I’d rather laboriously draw every frame, however I had an e-mail offer and decided to give the beginner’s version, Anime Studio Debut 8 a try.

Apart from the Quick Start Tutorial that comes with the program, this is my first attempt at an animation. I wanted to try importing images (File/Import/Image), converting my scanned sketches into vector graphics (Draw/Trace Image).

In Anime automated animation works smoothly, for example the way the fish and the jellyfish move and diminish in size, but any manipulations that I make, such as moving the crabs claws and the waving of the frond of ‘seaweed’, need a degree of forward planning and care if they’re not going to look as jerky and awkward as they do here. However I feel that I’ve grasped the basics and hope that I can do something more creative with it.

This title and the soundtrack were added when I uploaded the clip to YouTube but you can do that in Anime too.

Lakes on a Plate

We’d sent a ‘rush hour in the Lake District’ postcard to friends. Little did we know that we’d get stuck in the rush hour on our return journey near Ullswater!

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO we enjoyed Peter Sidwell’s Channel 4 cooking series Lakes on a Plate where the chef tracked down and cooked the National Park’s local ingredients. Despite our regular visits we’ve never been lucky enough to spot him filming on location and get chance to sample the finished product but his new cafe at the Rheged Centre, Penrith, is the next best thing.

As you can see from my sketch, the setting is appropriately scenic there; I sat and drew the waterfall and lime kiln seen through the floor to ceiling windows of the cafe as we tried the pea, mint and watercress soup with a crusty hunk of artisan bread.

But we weren’t quite getting the mint so I asked the waitress;

‘We wondered if it was another herb – tarragon perhaps?’

‘Or perhaps it was dried mint?’ chipped in Barbara.

The waitress looked stunned; ‘We always use fresh ingredients!’

They do; perhaps we were getting the pepperiness of the watercress!

We’re planning a diversion every time we visit the Lake District now because we’re curious to try some of the other items on the menu such as wild boar burger, posh fish finger sandwich, chocolate and churros and lemon meringue posset.

3D Journey

Before we set off home, I bought this 3D map of Northern England from the Pitlochery store by the piers at Bowness. I’ve always been fascinated by 3D models and a maps of the landscape and this one could have been tailor made for me as it is centred on our home in West Yorkshire (our return route is highlighted in red). The vertical scale is highly exaggerated – Pen y Ghent would tower over Mount Everest! – but having driven back today via the Kirkstone Pass, Ullswater and Whernside, this broad-brush interpretation really brings out the character of the landscape. It’s a clear, simple way to see how Pennines, Peak, Lakes and Snowdownia fit together.

At A4 size it’s something you can pick up and look at from slightly different angles, which makes it more vivid than a regular 2D map or even the 3D version of the same area in Google Earth which you can ‘fly around’ online. With this version you can run your fingers over the mountains, tracing your route.

For instance Whernside (737m), a ridge with a sphinx-like northern scarp between the Lune and Ribble valleys, the bulkiest and, to me, the most forbidding of the Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales, a dominating feature of our journey is equally conspicuous on the map.

Looking at the map makes me keen to get out a bit more and visit the four corners of my extended ‘local patch’; Snowdon in the south-west, Stranraer and The Rhins in the north-west corner, Cross Fell and Upper Teesdale to the north and, in the corner that I’m more familiar with from several trips to Norfolk, the Wash to the south-east.

I shall keep it knocking about in the studio and keep looking at it to choose the next place I’d like to visit. All within 170 miles from home (at least as the crow flies).

The Last Reef

Another 3D experience on our return trip; we have time to watch an IMAX movie in the cinema at Rheged, The Last Reef: Cities Beneath the Sea. Apart from being there, there can’t be a better way to experience the jellyfish lagoons of Pilau, the high cliffs of a Pacific atoll or the life of sea slugs and flatworms; who would have thought that slugs and flatworms could be so spectacular, like extravagant extra-terrestrials and flying carpets.

I’ll want to make an IMAX a regular feature of our Lakes visits now.

The widescreen, 3D cows of Castlerigg were equally impressive, and almost as wet . . .

Rush hour at Castlerigg, Monday afternoon.

Links; Peter Sidwell @ Rheged Cafe, Dorrigo 3D maps.