Mare Humorum

8 pm; A WAXING gibbous is hanging serenely above the wood so I set up my telescope on the desk and spend an hour drawing craters, mountains and maria, sketching the basics in pencil then picking out features in pen.

It’s the first time that I’ve used my telescope since I started wearing varifocals and I’m pleased that with the rubber eyepieces folded down I can manage reasonably well. I’ve never found it easy to draw using a telescope.

As always, most of the detail is near the terminator (the line between the sunlit and shaded halves of the Moon) but on the illuminated side the rays of the craters Copernicus and Tycho are prominent. These rays cross other – therefore older – features so Copernicus, at 93 kilometres in diameter, and Tycho, 85 kilometres, are relatively younger.

In the southwest quarter, Mare Nubium and Mare Humorum are the ‘Sea of Clouds’ and the ‘Sea of Moisture’ while Palus Epidemiarum is the ‘Marsh of Diseases’. That doesn’t sound like an appealing destination so it’s not surprising that Apollo 11 headed for Mare Tranquillitatis, the Sea of Tranquility diagonally opposite in the middle of the northeast quarter of the Moon.

On 20 July 1969 Neil Armstrong, who died at the weekend, set foot there, in what Buzz Aldrin called the ‘magnificent desolation’ of the southwest corner of the Sea of Tranquility.


Mount Sharp, 23 August 2012, image from NASA

Curiosity has just touched down on Mars and is sending back the best pictures yet of the red planet. The colour balance in this photograph has been tweaked so that we can see the natural colour as it would appear in earthly daylight. The disant boulder, a pinhead in the middle of the square is about the same size as the Curiosity rover. So there’s lots of geology to explore.

I’m looking forward to following Curiosity’s progress on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

Of course I’d volunteer if they ever needed an artist in residence on a Mars mission but if the choice was between one spectacular manned mission and half a dozen robotic explorers I’d prefer the latter. We’ve got so much to learn about the planet and so many different landscapes to visit.

Link; NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory


THIS FEMALE Ichneumon wasp was climbing up the studio window so I caught her in a bug box, photographed then released her and drew from one of the photographs.

As you can see from the scale on the base of the bug box (left) she is about 1cm long with an ovipositor that’s as long again.

She seemed to be a wasp with a mission, busily pacing up the window, pausing only to bend the long ovipositor over for cleaning. I can’t remember now if she held it bent beneath her or over her back. I think the latter.

Just in case there’s anyone out there who can identify the species for me, I’ve included this close up of the wing, as I understand the wing venation is one of the keys to identity. I wasn’t able to take a decent side view.

The nearest I can see in the book is the Large Ichneumon Lampronata setosas but that is getting on for twice the size. This looks like a close relative. The Large Ichneumon uses its long ovipositor to drill into wood to lay its eggs on the larvae of the Goat Moth.

Update; Thank you to Graham for suggesting Rhyssa persuasoria as the species. This is sometimes known as the Giant Ichneumon but a female would normally be two to four times as long as the specimen I drew.

Micro Moth

Colour too much towards the golden in this photograph. It’s more the washed out pale brown of a dried leaf or grass stem. x9 Olympus Tough super-macro setting.

THIS MICRO MOTH lives up to its name as it’s just 11 millimetres in length. It’s the kind of little brown moth that my mum always used to identify as a ‘clothes moth’ but I guess that this one had a vegetarian diet as a caterpillar. There aren’t as many woolly jumpers available in these days of acrylic yarns, so my mum’s old adversary might now be an endangered species. It certainly would be if she had anything to do with it.

I’ve got no intention of attempting to identify such as nondescript moth (although there is now a new field guide, illustrated by Richard Lewington, so that has become at least a possibility) but because I can’t come up with a name that doesn’t mean that I can’t take a closer look at it. By the way, I found it lying dead on the coffee table, so no clues to its natural habitat; garden, woodland, meadow or even pond perhaps.

It isn’t so nondescript if you’re able to zoom in closer. I’ve taken these photographs using my Traveler USB microscope (except for the macro photograph, left).

There’s so much about this moth that reminds me an owl, although its beady eyes and the beak-like appearance of its proboscis (right) remind me more of a frigate bird!

Actually that ‘beak’ has an extra twist at the end; its more like one of those ‘blowout’ party popper novelties.

This moth might be the original little brown job but switch on the LED light of my microscope and its wings glitter like a costume in a West End musical.

The feathery edges of the wings remind me of the soft edges of an owl’s wing feather but I can’t believe that the moth would need them for the same reason; to soften the sound of its wingbeats. Perhaps having those feathery extensions swishing away behind it as it flies might to some small extent muffle the sonar echo that a bat relies on to locate its prey.

Zooming in even closer, using the 60x setting on the microscope, it’s possible to see the individual scales, like tiles on the moth’s wing.

The depth of field at this magnification makes it impossible for me to get both the wing and its feathery margin in focus and when I zoom in to 200x it’s even more difficult however this blurry image (right) does pick out some of the detail on the scales. They appear to have parallel ribbing or surface markings.

Lepidoptera, the order of insects that butterflies and moths belong to, is from the Greek lepid pteron, meaning ‘scale wing’.

Links: Richard Lewington, illustrator of ‘more than 1,100 superbly detailed artworks’ drawn for The Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Irelandpublished by British Wildlife Publishing

Catching up with the Joneses

“The past is a foreign country:
they do things differently there.”

L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

I DON’T LIKE to ramble on about my family history too much but I’m so pleased to have made what could be my big breakthrough in tracing my Welsh great grandparents John and Sarah Jones. Lauren posted a comment suggesting that I try (BMD; births, deaths and marriages) then obtain a marriage certificate. It had just dawned on me that this could be the way forward.

I had an approximate date – the early 1870s – but it was only when I take a look at the old county boundaries that I realised that in previous searches for the Joneses I might have been looking in the wrong place. The family lived close to the English border and at one stage Sarah’s mum lived on the boundary, between Flintshire and Denbighshire.

Cross Reference

Searching on Free BMD, but not limiting myself to north Wales, I immediately tracked John Jones down as having married in Chester. As you can see from the map above this is the nearest big town to Connahs Quay. The Chester and Holyhead railway, part of the LNWR, ran through the town, putting Chester in easy reach and, in the other direction along the line, Rhyl, where I believe they might have spent their honeymoon.

What I didn’t grasp at first was how from a long list of John Joneses (right) who married in the first quarter of 1872, Free BMD had selected this particular record.

It had cross-referenced this record with the name of the bride I was searching for, Sarah George.

Her name appears in the register not next to John but amongst the Georges. Free BMD has picked out the two reference numbers; Chester, Folio 8a., page 569, the page where you’d find John and Sarah listed together.

But all I need is the approximate date – first quarter of 1872 – and their names and I can write to the Cheshire West and Chester registry office to obtain a copy of their marriage certificate.

Details such as their addresses prior to their marriage and occupations of both the fathers should be some help with the next step in my research.


Tuesday: The corn on the cob has swollen a little since I last drew this sweet corn in a veg bed in the library garden a week ago.

IT’S STARTING to spot with rain as I sit on a bench waiting for the bus and sketch Ingham’s Handyman Shop at the bottom end of Queen Street, Horbury. Using a folded scrap of laser printer paper resting on my knee isn’t going to give the best results, but it’s a drawing that I wouldn’t otherwise have done.

It’s been a scrappy week altogether for drawing. This sketch of Tilly the bookshop border collie was drawn with a Q-Connect Fineliner, a 0.4mm fibre tip pen which is designed to give you 1,800 metres of writing, ruling or stencilling.

 It isn’t 100% waterproof, so I tend to use other pens, but it works well enough for quick sketches as it flows so freely, at least it does until the tip gets worn down, which happens long before it reaches the 1,800 metre mark the way I use it.

I inadvertently scanned this lightning sketch of Tilly (below) curling around in her grooming routine at a higher resolution than I intended but I like the way you can see the variety in the lines when you see it at this scale, about four times the original size:

Like all my drawings this week, it’s a bit on the scrappy side but as Tilly was moving so continuously during her grooming session there wasn’t an option for a measured drawing.

I can see that I’ve reverted to a kind of scribbly nonsense writing to represent her curly black hair on her back. You could almost read it as ‘lattélllls’.

And we have had a lot of lattés this week. After so many pen sketches, this morning at the Waterside Kitchen at Newmillerdam as we waited for our lattés I went straight into watercolour – no initial drawing, not even in pencil – sky first then, after letting that dry, the trees.

Jones the Blacksmith

WHILE THE Sheffield side of my family tree is turning up plenty of clues, the Welsh side of my mum’s family is proving difficult to research. So far I can find only two records of my great grandfather John Jones, born about 1846 in Prestatyn; my grandma Ann Jones’ birth certificate and the 1881 census.

Until I tracked those down we thought that he was William Jones.

As you can imagine, there’s no shortage of John Joneses in the records for Wales but working out which of them might be our John Jones is tricky.

From my two definite records I know that he was a blacksmith, living near the Coach and Horses (still there over a century later) on Quay Road, Wepre, Connahs Quay, Flintshire.

My mum identifies this photograph in one of our Victorian albums as being of John and his wife Sarah (maiden name George) and I think she’s right because it was taken by ‘J. Brown, Photographic Artist, 3 Kinmel Street, Rhyl’. Rhyl is only 20 miles along the coast from Connahs Quay.

According to my mum they were Welsh speakers but their children all attended the English school so if John and Sarah wanted to keep something to themselves they would discuss it in Welsh.

It seems rather dour to modern eyes but could this be a wedding portrait? From the age of their children, I’d guess that they were married in the early 1870s, so John would be in his mid twenties and his bride Sarah George in her early twenties.

Betty and Arthur Jones. I’m guessing that this was taken c. 1900 – 1914. I can see a resemblance in the shape of Betty’s face and in her eyes to her grandma Sarah.

My mum identifies these two children (below, left) as Betty and Arthur Jones, grandchildren of John and Sarah.

Their father William Jones, born in Wepre in about 1875 worked as an engine driver . . . in the days of steam trains. Wish that I could have joined him on the footplate!

If one of these children looks like your grandparent, great grandparent or, for that matter, parent, we might be related!

I’m hurrying to finish this post because I’m going to watch the latest programme in the BBC genealogy series Who do you think you are?

If only I had a film crew and a team of researchers to help me . . .

But really the fascination is finding loose ends then following the threads.

Summer Afternoon

Horbury High Street, drawn when we took my mum to the optician’s for her weekly appointment. Lamy Safari pen.

I’VE BEEN using my Lamy Safari fountain pen a lot recently but this afternoon on our walk around Newmillerdam I’ve just got my passport-sized pouch attached to my belt (I realise that’s more comfortable than having it swinging around my neck like a camera case) so, for this chimney drawn from a table at the Lakeside Kitchen, that means that I’m back to my brown 08 Pilot Drawing Pen, which has the advantage that I can add watercolour without the ink running.

The pocket-sized Hahnemuehle travel booklet that I keep in the pouch has more absorbent ‘sketch paper’ than my other sketchbooks; fountain pen tends to bleed but the Drawing Pen works fine. As you can see, it doesn’t flow like the fountain pen in the drawing of Horbury High Street.

Lamy Safari pen drawing of sweet corn in Horbury Library’s garden last Tuesday.

It’s a change for me to apply watercolour that immediately soaks in, rather than staying on the surface just a little, as it does on the fairly smooth cartridge paper that I normally use. The off white, creamy coloured paper makes a change from white too.

Chimney Tops

AS I WAS drawing chimney pots from the waiting room the other day it started to rain so heavily that the small patio, pummeled by the deluge, frothed and bubbled like a shallow Jacuzzi and my view disappeared behind windows that soon became water-features.

I turned my attention to the chair, which someone promptly came and sat in, so he got included as well.

I was drawing this bicycle at the cafe at Newmillerdam on Monday and as it’s owner, Beverley, prepared to whisk it away (that always happens when I start drawing, doesn’t it?!) she came over to chat. She works in stained glass; usually small free-standing panels with lead tracery.

Had I seen the work of her friend Mark Powell? she asked me. He draws detailed character portrait studies in Bic ballpoint pen.

Another of her creative friends, Karron Campbell lives in what appears to be an impossibly scenic corner of New Zealand. Karron and her daughter Rickie left Wakefield four years ago and not surprisingly they don’t seem in any hurry to come back!

I guess the Coromandel Peninsula offers more scenic possibilities than Wakefield’s Rhubarb Triangle.

Links; Mark Powell Biro Pen Drawings, Karron Dawn Campbell’s and her daughter Rickie Louise Hill’s Creative Workshop on MySpace.

There were two voles . . .

BACK TO the exercises in Drawing Words, Writing Pictures and my next assignment is to draw a single panel 5 x 7 inch cartoon then come up with three different captions.

At first my mind went blank and I considered some traditional cartoon scenarios – the desert island etc – but then I decided on two voles, one I imagined with a kind of glazed but thoughtful expression, the other turning to ask it a casually dimissive question.

Hey, look, we’re still in pencil, shouldn’t we be inked by now?

But getting such subtlety of expression proved beyond me. I didn’t want a startled look (above, top) or a dumb ‘oops!’ look (above, lower left) – that vole reminds me a bit of Stan Laurel. With his pointing finger, the questioning vole (above, lower right) looks too much as if he’s giving important advice rather than being dismissive.

I’ve introduced too much drama for the gentle atmosphere of ennui that I had in mind; the vole version of Waiting for Godot.

You’re kidding! – you saw a body coming through the rye?!

In my next attempt the vole on the left looks too stunned while the one on the right should be turning in a peevish way but instead he looks as if he’s preparing to escape some horror. This is the problem with showing a sequence of actions in just one panel; has vole 2 been;

  1. facing to the right and he’s just turned his head back, or
  2. has he been facing to the left and he’s just turned his arms and torso to the right?

With all that unintended action in my rough, I’ve gone for a more dramatic caption.

And what does a vole do with it’s hands? I’ve heard animators say that they’re actors who work with pencils and the same applies to cartoons. Even the insignificant details that no one is going to notice still have to work.

Just think! Exactly which clump of meadow grass did you leave it next to?

The anxious vole and his annoyed companion in this one brought to mind the familiar lost car keys, or lost car in a huge car park situation. What ‘it’ is in the context of the everyday life of the vole, I leave for the reader to decide. A hazelnut perhaps?

But that’s quite enough vole cartoons. The great thing about doing this course is that it’s purely educational and I don’t have to come up with a working solution each time. I can now go forward to the next exercise, something fresh to have fun with.

Usually with these ‘how to’ art books I’m tempted to read through them quickly thinking ‘Oh yes, I’ll remember that advice.’ But there’s nothing like trying it for yourself to really get to grips with the principles and to understand how it all works.

Great Granddad George

I THINK that I could write a short book about this picture. It’s like a time capsule from my family’s past. We’re lucky to have dozens of Victorian photographs but this is my absolute favourite because the others, usually of people in their Sunday best standing sometimes in front of a painted background in a photographer’s studio don’t give us a glimpse of everyday life. It’s the sort of glimpse of normal life that I long for while I’m checking out the bare details of births, deaths and marriages.

He’s a real guy, relaxing at home. How often is this kind of candid shot going to turn up in a family album?

This photograph is just 5.5 x 8.5 cm (2¼ x 3¼ inches) – as you might guess from that gigantic thumb print! I’m going to do a lot of Photoshopping on this photograph to get rid of the dots and streaks.

My great granddad George Swift (1840-1918) has appeared in my Wild West Yorkshire diary before wearing a velvet dress but I should explain he was only a toddler at the time and in the 1840s that’s how they dressed. He worked as a spring knife cutler in Sheffield but as a sideline he and his wife Sarah Ann ran a little grocer’s shop which must explain the Peak Frean’s Biscuit advertisement (a sandwich board to put out when the shop was open?) in front of the kitchen range.

I’m guessing that the watering can on the range is actually a kettle. Those two black shapes behind it look like the iron lids that cover the hot plates on an Aga. Or are they plates or platters? And I think that the cupboard on the left must be the oven of a Yorkshire range, so George is sleeping by the fire.

What was in the rather nice china bowl beside him? Soup . . . porridge? Have you noticed the colanders and what I think is a potato ricer hanging on the wall on the right.

I remember my grandma (on the other side of the family) cutting newspaper for her larder shelves to resemble those lace edges.

I so wish that I could see the whole of the picture in the top left corner. I think that we’re seeing a clenched left hand and a blowsy flower like a camelia or an old-fashioned rose. Is the flower growing from a kind of tiled planter or is that a piece of card that someone has slotted in the corner of the picture for safekeeping.

I would like to think that the picture is of George’s father Samuel Burgin Swift (1813 – 1878). The style is similar to the oil on canvas portrait of George as a toddler that my mum still has. We have no picture of Samuel Burgin, so wouldn’t I love to see that picture! He was a cutler like his son, so is he holding one of the tools of his trade?