boulderTHIS MUCH-INITIALLED gritstone boulder sits on top of the Cow at the Cow and Calf Rocks above Ilkley. To get this view I had to perch on another boulder, which wasn’t comfortable enough to encourage me to sit and draw it there and then so I took a photograph and today I’ve been working from that.

When I’m working from photographs I tend to get hooked into drawing every detail. In the real world the level of detail is so overwhelming that a natural editing process inevitably kicks in, enabling me to take more liberties with a scene and to be less literal than I am with the photograph.

A simple solution would have been to include exactly the same amount of detail but to draw the background with a finer pen which might have given more of an impression of aerial perspective. To a certain extent I thickened up the lines around the boulder by reworking them but I didn’t want to overdo that.

Hopefully when I add the watercolour there’ll be more depth in the illustration.

Back in the Flow

Ilkley Moor
Ilkley Moor; I’m starting this in pen and scanning that version before adding colour for the final illustration. Keeping my options open.

LIKE ME, my pen is a bit of a slow starter after a break. I draw a series of loops to get the ink flowing again.

loopsIt’s a cool rainy day, not the sort to encourage me to go out on a research or sketching trip, and it’s a pleasure to be sitting at my desk in my airy studio with the prospect of a whole day devoted to drawing. A rare chance to listen to the radio.

The excuse to draw all day is the main thing that attracted me to illustration as a career, so it’s a shame that so much of my time gets taken up with other tasks.

doodleMaking marks with a pen is such a pleasure and after getting the ink back in circulation I start writing ‘The quick brown fox . . .’ then go on to drawing circles, dots, rectangles and crosshatching.

This doodle (right) starts by looking like frogspawn and ends up looking like a multi-cored cable. I’ve scanned it here half as big again so that you can see the inky wobbliness. I think that both those qualities, the inkiness and the wobbly line, are important to me, hopefully giving a softer friendlier feel to my drawings rather than technically brilliant panache. I must be succeeding to the extent that no-one has ever described my work as technically brilliant.

These are all drawn with my ArtPen with the F, fine, drawing nib, filled with Noodler’s El Lawrence (brown) ink.

A Month Behind

crab tree blossomPEOPLE HAVE said to me that the season is running about a month behind average but this weekend we suddenly caught up by buying some vegetable plants from the garden centre and getting another bed and a half planted out. This is half the available space and as we had previously planted a bed with onion sets and potatoes so we’re now almost there. All we need to do now is watch it grow. And a bit of weeding.

As often happens, only one of our two espalier apples has blossomed. This year it’s the single espalier Golden Spire cooking apple which has been covered in blossom while the double espalier (imagine a capital Y but the the two arms curving out to rise vertically) is either late or it’s taking a year off. My quick watercolour sketch is of the Golden Hornet crab apple (left) which always has plenty of blossom.


After all that work at the weekend I deserved to put my feet up this evening . . . and I owed it to myself to do a drawing just for the fun of doing a drawing.

I’ve been rummaging through old sketchbooks to track down some illustrations for a magazine article which reminded me how much I enjoyed drawing such mundane subjects.

Beware of Woodpeckers

woodpeckernestboxWE’RE A BIT concerned about the great spotted woodpecker that we’ve seen a couple of times by the nestbox by the back door. The blue tits have been busy but as far as we know there are no chicks in the box so far.

This morning the woodpecker perched briefly on the front of the box. It’s not that I want it to go hungry but we did invite the blue tits to nest here by erecting the box so I feel as if we have a duty of care.

blue titWe can’t keep an eye on it from dawn to dusk but if we see peck marks appearing around the entrance hole I’ll try getting a strip of metal cut to protect it. Just hope it doesn’t succeed in breaking in at a first attempt.

The Old Mill

NewmillerdamI REMEMBER the low stone building on the bottom left, on the Barnsley Road by he dam head at Newmillerdam, being a popular Italian restaurant back in the 1980s. This was the old watermill, a successor to the medieval corn mill that gave the village its name. The waterwheel itself was preserved, dominating the centre of the room but sadly it was later destroyed in a fire. Enough of the shell of the building survived to allow its restoration.

Somewhere amongst the houses beyond there’s a show home which was exhibited in the Ideal Homes exhibition in Olympia in the late 1950s or early 1960s before being reconstructed here.

Further up the hill there’s a row of old stone-built terraced cottages that Barbara and visited when we were house-hunting. Despite the attractive location we had to cross it off our list as the ceiling was too low for me to stand upright. Much as I love period features, I couldn’t have coped with that.

I drew this with an ArtPen filled with El Lawrence brown Noodler’s ink and added the colour later, using a photograph that I’d taken as reference.

The Wide Open Spaces

View from Charlotte'sWE’RE A BIT limited as to where we can take my mum for a coffee now that she’s not as mobile but the ice cream parlour at Whitley has a lot going for it. Yes, it might be the same place that we brought her last week and the week before but the panorama, looking up the Calder valley to the tops of the Pennines is different each time we visit. It has greened up a lot since we were last here.  But it changes every few minutes as shadows of clouds move across pasture, wood and moor.

It’s so good to have a short burst of the wide open spaces.

I like watercolours where forms are simplified so why do I find it impossible not to make some attempt to blob in every tree when I’m painting this view? The problem is that I’m so fascinated by detail. As I painted this I could see the blades of the wind turbines turning on the horizon, traffic passing on the motorway 6 miles away, crows bursting from the wood beyond the reservoir as a buzzard flew over . . .

It’s so difficult not to get hooked on the detail!

Sheepish Dog

A sheepish TillyAFTER A day writing an article I get a brief chance to draw and to try, as I’ve done on numerous occasions (for example in March), to catch Tilly the bookshop border collie in sheepish mood.

I’ve drawn this with a Rotring Tikki Graphic pen, a disposable technical pen which has waterproof pigmented ink. But when I added the colour I realised that I’d missed a small but expressive feature of Tilly’s; she has two light brown spots above her eyes which help to give her a certain innocently worried look.

Close up

sheepish close up

When I scanned the drawing I accidentally left the scanner on the high res setting that I’d been using for a book illustration I’d been working on. Computer resolution has come along so much in the past decade but, as this high res detail shows, you’re still not getting the full texture of a drawing when you see it same size on screen.

My fiddly pen work becomes freer and calligraphic on this scale. The watercolour is from my new Bijou box, which has naturally become my favourite.

If anything Tilly looks even more worried.

Bijou Box

Some of the mixes, top to bottom rows, of Winsor green (blue shade), permanent sap green, Winsor lemon, cadmium yellow and permanent rose.
bijou watercolour box
Bijou watercolour box.

AFTER NINE YEARS of almost daily use my smallest watercolour box has been worn down to the metal on the outside, like a battered old ammunition box.I decided that it was time to treat myself to a new one, although I’m keeping the old one so that I don’t have to keep transferring the new box from one art bag to the other.

The new Winsor & Newton Bijou box has the advantage over my old unbranded version, which is exactly the same size, in the arrangement of the half-pan watercolours; I can get an extra two colours in it.

swatchesI decided to go with the selection of eight that comes with the box – scarlet lake, permanent rose, Winsor lemon, Winsor green (blue shade), French ultramarine, yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ivory black – removing the tiny brush from the central section to add four extras; cadmium yellow, permanent sap green, cerulean blue and raw umber.

I’m surprised how well ivory black mixes with other colours (the far right column and the second row from the top in my swatches), for instance it makes an olive green when mixed with cadmium yellow.

Made in France and described as a ‘superior hand finished stove enamelled artists metal box’, it seems that unfortunately the Bijou has recently been discontinued but it’s worth checking your local art shop to see if they’ve still got one in stock.


Daddy-long-legs spiderAFTER RESCUING this long-legged spider from the bath I’m afraid that I kept it hanging around in a bug box for a couple of days waiting until I had time to attempt to identify it.

It made a web too fine for me to see and hung there in its temporary quarters. I’d spotted it hanging down by the bathroom sink a day or two previously.

As this spider is brown and long-legged with no obvious pattern on its back I didn’t think that I stood much chance of identifying it but that is where having a shelf full of field guides proves helpful. I soon found it in Paul Sterry’s Collins Complete Guide to British Garden Wildlife.

Its the Daddy-long-legs spider Pholcus phalangioides, an introduced species which has spread in Britain thanks to central heating.  Sterry states that it cannot survive if the temperature drops below 10°C so instead of realeasing it outdoors I release it at the back of the garage by the central heating boiler.

I wonder how long it will be before it blunders into the bath again.

The photograph in Garden Wildlife shows a ‘Mummy-long-legs’ surrounded by her brood of rather cute spiderlings. The bands around the joints on her legs which I’ve shown are clearly visible.

I think that the spider that I drew must have been a female too as she has small palps (the ‘feelers’). Male spiders usually have palps like furry boxing gloves, which are used in mating.

It is also sometimes known as the skull spider its face bears a cartoonish resemblance to a human skull.