Deep in the Pond

Identifying a water beetle; this one didn’t have an English name.

I’VE HAD my Olympus Tough for a few years and it’s proved as reliable as the name suggests so on a Wakefield Naturalists’ field meeting today, when we were looking at leeches and efts (young newts) in a pond at Potteric Carr, I decided to be brave and reach down into the water to see how it would turn out.

Eft; a young newt

Hidden Depths

Leech, this one was about six inches long at full stretch!

My wildlife photographer friend John Gardner suggested using a flash. I normally prefer natural light but, in the murky depths below the pondweeds, the flash works well.

Leaning out and reaching into the water with one hand I found it difficult to avoid camera shake but at least I know that in principle the camera works underwater. Perhaps a rockpool would make a better subject.

Storrs Hill; Yorkshire Gold

OLYMPIC GOLD medallist Alistair Brownlee loves to run on the hills of West Yorkshire: “You want to be inspired by your surroundings, and you want to go out and be motivated training in nice places. I like to run anywhere around Otley Chevin.”

Horbury and Ossett have a mini-Chevin, Storrs Hill; and anyone who has struggled up to it at the end of a school cross country deserves some kind of a medal! An acre of golden gorse overlooking the Calder Valley, in Victorian times it was ‘a favourite spot for Sunday afternoon strolls’.

Storrs Hill c.1890 by Frank C.J. Cockburn, from ‘Cockburn’s Ossett Alamanac’.

Unfortunately the free access that we’ve enjoyed for over a century has been very badly abused and there’s been so much vandalism that I’m not surprised that drastic action has been taken to protect the boundary with Rock House.

The panorama path was recently restored but I was sorry to see the once grassy lumps and bumps being levelled, not only because they were part of the landscape but also because in the process I guess that the hill’s colony of Grayling butterflies has been obliterated. Graylings, which aren’t as dull as they sound, are rare and in July 2002 this was the first colony to be discovered in West Yorkshire.

In the Olympic opening ceremony a grassy mound with a stunted thorn on top was used to represent Britain. Wouldn’t it be great if Storrs Hill could remain open to public access; a place for strolls and, for those more energetic than me, for running?

Travelling in Hope

This engraving is from Coal & Iron, published in 1860, so this is the world my Welsh ancestors must have known.

I’M RESEARCHING my family tree and in my search for my great-great grandma, Francis George, I’ve just found my way, following a search on the Find My Past website, to the Welsh mining village of Hope on the county boundary of Denbighshire and Flintshire, close to the English border.

All that I’ve got so far is an 1861 census record but I think that there’s a good chance that this is my Francis George, as it’s a fairly unusual name and she was born in the right year in the right place, Hope.

I’ve tracked her down via:

  1. A marriage certificate (my mum’s parents)
  2. A birth certificate (my mum’s mum)
  3. A census record (Wepre, Connahs Quay, 1881)

In the 1881 census Francis is a widow aged 75, living with her daughter and her family (including my grandma then aged one year old) and sadly, going back twenty years to 1861, she was already a widow, then aged 55. My mum’s grandma (Sarah) isn’t listed in the household. She would then have 12 and could have been living with relatives, or equally likely, she might have gone ‘into service’ working as a maid. Or I might have the wrong family, of course.

Hope Colliery

The census lists three families with the surname George in three adjacent houses. The sons, mainly in their teens and 20s, are working as coal miners or sawyers. One 12 year old boy is a ‘colliery lad’ and a teenage girl is listed as a dressmaker. Robert George, aged 29, head of the house next door to Francis, is a wheelwright.

It isn’t just ‘my’ Francis who is a widow; her next door neighbour but one, Mary George,  aged 50, is also listed as a widow. Was there an accident at the colliery that killed both men?

My guess would be that Mary and Francis are sisters-in-law.

From the ages of her sons, John, aged 24, a sawyer and Robert, 15, a coal miner, Francis might have married about 1836. It wasn’t until 1837 that it became a requirement to register all marriages, births and deaths.


I HAD a little longer than usual for this drawing of a gardener’s truck parked on a roundabout. It seems a long time since I did an elaborate drawing. Perhaps the time is coming when I’ll take a day off and go somewhere to draw just for fun.

Figures in a Queue

I NOTICED when I was drawing my assignments for Drawing Words, Writing Pictures that when it came to making up a cartoon situation I invariably;

    • imagined male characters
    • gave them very generalised costumes

I realised that I needed to feed my imagination a bit by drawing particular people in the real world so, when we had to call at the doctors, I sat a the back of the waiting room and made some visual notes. I thought that notes on colours might help too as I think that I’ve got a tendency to revert to a habitual, limited palette. There wasn’t time to get out my watercolours and I was using a fountain pen containing water soluble ink so I couldn’t have anyway, so I made brief notes.

It’s great to have a procession of people of different sizes, shapes and sexes, although I would have appreciated a bit more time to build up character. Because of the angle that I was drawing from, the next person joining the queue regularly blocked my view of the person I’d just started drawing.

I realised that the best way to proceed was to assume that I’d have only a few seconds for each character and to draw in the basic shape very quickly, then work up the the drawing if I got did happen to have an unrestricted view for a minute or two.

I feel that fountain pen is the quickest medium for this situation. Fibre tips pens don’t flow quite as freely. Pencil, the way I use it when I’m in a hurry, is too messy.

When the supply of queuers temporarily dried up, I reverted to my old standby; drawing my left hand.


THIS PLANT looked both striking and unfamiliar when we saw it by the ponds at Alverthorpe Meadows and my friend Roger suggested that it might be Astragalus, Wild Liquorice. In fact, it’s a close relative of Liquorice, Goat’s-rueGalega officinalis, a plant introduced to Britain in the 16th century and now naturalised on waste ground, such as roadsides and railway banks. The trees in the background mark the line of the old Wakefield to Ossett railway and this particular bit of ground was disturbed during recent work on the ponds.

Iron Springs

As we walked up through a small wood towards Silcoates School we passed this conspicuously rust-red spring. Roger and Sue said that there used to be a spring on the far edge of this wood, at the edge of the meadow and they wondered if it had ‘migrated’, as springs occasionally do, to emerge in the wood.

As I understand it, it’s the action of bacteria which precipitates the red ochre deposit from iron-rich water. Groundwater percolating through the bedrock leaches iron salts, changing the composition of the rock. Spring lines normally occur where permeable rock, such as sandstone, sits upon an impermeable layer, such as shale.

The geological map shows that the hill on which Alverthorpe Church and Silcoates School stand is capped with sandstone. A fault, branching out like a letter Y towards the south-east is marked in the area where we photographed this spring.

Rhubarb Walkers

I can’t remember ever having met someone following one of my walks but as we made our way back to Roger and Sue’s we met a couple from north Leeds who were half way around the Melbourne House walk in my Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle. Not only that, but they were going to try Barbara’s recipe for rhubarb bread and butter pudding when they got home. By coincidence Barbara had made her rhubarb cheesecake from the book yesterday when we had friends for dinner.

It’s great to see my booklets being used. This couple were going to try all the walks (as well as all the recipes, apparently).

They said they liked the book not only because it got them out to a place that they might not otherwise have visited but it also tells them something about it’s history – in this case the story of Prophet Wroe who built Melbourne House as a kind of latter day Temple of Jerusalem and fully expected the Tribes of Israel to gather there on Judgement Day.

The man said what had persuaded him to buy the book when he saw it on the internet was the cover design. I like that rhubarb and custard coloured image and wish that I could always come up with something like that which is striking but also neatly sums up the contents.

If only one of us had had a pen, I could have signed their copy for them!

Wainwright would probably have hidden behind a rock if he’d seen a hiker approaching, following one of his routes over the fells but for me it’s a novelty. It’s encouraging to have some positive feedback.

Panels Made Easy

An early comic strip of mine from the 1970s. I can see the influence of Frank Bellamy. The border was drawn with a ruling pen.

I FIND Manga Studio EX 4 is a like a cross between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, combining vector lines (as in Illustrator) with Photoshop style layers and colouring but it includes additional features intended to make life easier for the comic strip artist, helping you out with speech bubbles, screen tones . . . and panels.

I like to use simple panels in a comic strip as a formal framework for my hand-drawn artwork. I used to draw these with a ruling pen (below) but now I draw a grid in a desktop publishing program and print it out, a third up from what will be the printed size, for my drawings.

The ruling pen that I used for the borders in my Romans v. Brigantes comic strip was this, part of a Jakar Universal Giant Bow 2001 set which features an extendable compass for drawing extra large circles. I bought it at the Eagle Press, Wakefield, in 1975, price £5.26 (the sticker is still on the box).
Queen Cartimandua hands King Caracatus over the to Romans. Castle Hill, Almondbury, Huddersfield, which may have been an Iron Age hill fort, rises from the mist in the background. The comic strip featured in my first book, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield (1978).

There’s a certain pleasure in drawing with a ruling pen but when I’ve got a deadline to meet anything that allows me more time for drawing the illustrations would be welcome. I’ve been watching some YouTube videos by Doug Hills, author of Manga Studio for Dummies, to familiarise myself with the process but for it to sink in I need to go through the stages for myself.

So here’s my ridiculously simple guide to the concept – I won’t go into every single detail – of getting a comic strip from rough to final printed version in Manga Studio EX4.

This isn’t the only way to do it but it should give you an idea. And please excuse my scrappy doodles.

  1. Draw your rough
  2. Scan it in grayscale (150dpi will be fine)
  3. Open a new document in Manga Studio (I went for A6 portrait, 1200dpi)
  4. Open your scanned rough and adjust it to fit the page. It is added as a new layer, which I set to grayscale (black and white makes it look like a pen drawing). In the Layer Properties panel, select ‘Sketch’ as the Output Attribute.
  5. Create another new layer, selecting the Panel Ruler Layer option. Initially this puts one big panel, a blue rectangle, around your page so you now need to use the Panel Ruler Cutter to slice it into panels then the Object Selector to adjust the dimensions of each panel to fit your rough.
  6. When you’re happy with the dimensions, with the Panel Ruler Layer still selected, from the layer menu choose Rasterise Layer. That’s the panels drawn! Give this layer a descriptive name, such as ‘panels’.
  7. Drag your ‘panels’ layer to the top of the pile in the Layer Palette (right) and, as you can see by comparing the two stages above, it now masks any stray lines between the panels, leaving white spaces between them. When you start inking, any stray lines that go over the panel edges will also be masked.
  8. To make inking easier you can switch the colour of your scanned rough to blue. Press the Switch Colour button in the top left of the Layer Palette to toggle from gray to blue (this only works if your sketch layer is in grayscale, it won’t work in colour or black and white).
  9. Create a New Layer, (1200dpi, black 1bit, output attributes ‘finish’) for inking. I used my pen tablet and selected the G pen, a basic pen, from the Manga Studio draw tools palette.
  10. When you’ve finished drawing you can export your page for print or for the web.

Two mysteries that I still need to solve; the line around the panels came out too thick and when I exported the image it was in negative, white on black instead of vice versa, so I had to reverse it in Photoshop. I’m missing a couple of options somewhere.

Manga Meadow

I’M ENJOYING my comics drawing course but I don’t want to forget the program that sparked this off, Manga Studio 4EX, so as I settled down at the end of the day I drew a familiar scene, the meadow and the wood beyond, in the unfamiliar medium of Manga Studio using my Intuous 4 pen tablet. It’s an awkward way to draw but it’s a good way to familiarise myself with the basic commands of the program such as selecting tool and colours, working with layers and exporting an image.

It’s never going to replace pen and watercolour but that isn’t the aim.

Pictures on Paper

Another of the ‘action within a drawing’ exercises; a newspaper page blowing in the wind. Hmm, I misread that; I went for the whole newspaper!

THE NEXT EXERCISE that Abel & Madden set you in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures is to draw a series of actions in a single panel – and to try and make the actions flow in their logical order.

The cause and effect in this tripped up/knocks over lamp is, I hope, reasonably unambiguous as the action proceeds from left to right, the way we usually read a drawing in the west, but the next frame, the stone thrower, involves a reciprocal action so it’s trickier.

Chain of Events

I had a couple of goes at the throws stone/gun misfires/lamp crashes on stone-thrower scenario. The big problem with my solution is that the crashing lamp is the first thing the reader sees but it’s actually supposed to be the climax of the chain of events.

Homework is to make up your own scenario. Thinking of slapstick action, I remembered Eric Sykes’ almost silent movie The Plank but I didn’t find it easy to set up even the most blindingly obvious stunt in my drawing.

I’m equally clueless in trying to come up with funny captions but – phew! – the great thing is that this is just a learning experience. My career doesn’t depend on finding a solution.

Perhaps I need a more ‘cartoony’ style, as these straightforward sketches have all the comic ambience of a health and safety instructional leaflet. Of course some artists, such as English illustrator Glen Baxter, have made a career out of getting comic effect from a quirkily straightforward retro style.

Heath Tea Rooms

ALTHOUGH IT’S less than a mile from Wakefield, Heath village at the top end of Heath Common, has a timeless rural feel. I don’t know another village that’s quite like it. It’s got a couple of big Georgian houses but it isn’t an estate village, it’s more random looking than that, but as it is almost all stone-built, it blends together.

Kings Arms Cottages, where the Heath Tea Rooms opened five weeks ago, overlooks the village green. For that matter the whole village overlooks the one green space or another. It’s a useful place to bring my mum, who can’t walk too far these days, for a relaxing cup of coffee but it would also be a good stop on a hike because it’s near the Trans-Pennine Trail and half a dozen footpaths radiate from the village.

My Papermate Tikky Graphic Rotring pen let me down by blotting the paper; I suspect that the heat of the sun was the cause, causing the ink to expand. But my mum suggested that the blot added a certain something to the drawing. If that’s so then I’ve got an additional feature for my next two drawings as the ink soaked through the next two pages of my sketchbook.