I’M NOT EXPECTING to see any natural history on our weekly morning shopping with my mum but I’m wishing I’d brought my camera as there’s a 2 square foot plus clump of a Coprinus fungus on her back lawn.
Apart from the main clump there are streaks of it following the lines beneath the turf of the roots of the old horse chestnut tree which was felled at least 5 years ago.
With no camera to hand there’s no choice but to go back to my old method and to do a very quick sketch. I’ve shown some of the fresh fungi and a couple of the caps which are beginning to curl up at the edges and turn to black ink.
Fresh caps have radiating grooves, like the struts of an umbrella.
It’s so good to have a clear desk again. Clutter might be more interesting to draw but a blank desk gets me thinking about fresh projects.
And I’m catching up on technical bits and pieces that I should have sorted years ago. Getting logged back onto Skype proves too challenging for me but luckily my iMac came with something similar and a whole lot simpler, so I’m able to do my first ever FaceTime video chat live to California, where it must be quite early in the morning, but sunny judging by the light flooding through the window on the surprisingly good live-streaming image I’m getting.
But it is rather alarming seeing a little video image of myself inset, looking like the cartoon I’ve just drawn of me being baffled by Skype.
I can’t seem to get out of the ‘complete your profile’ dialogue without giving Skype/Facebook my personal phone numbers which are actually none of their business.
AFTER THREE WEEKENDS away and another catching up, I’m finally getting back to ordinary life. I’ve just sent my latest article off so it’s time to clear my desk and get started on the backlog of drawing and writing that I’ve got in mind to do. But first, to draw a line in the sand after all that frantic activity, I decide to draw my cluttered desktop.
I feel that random compositions are often the best so I don’t rearrange a thing before starting. As a change from fountain pen I decide to give myself the challenge of working with a dip pen and Indian ink, starting again from scratch as it were, and this nib certainly gives a scratchy effect compared with the rounded nib of my fountain pen.
I’m amazed how badly I flounder on proportions and positioning with a captive subject like this. My struggles are most obvious on the one of the few diagonals in the drawing, the handle of the tripod, but books and magazines also get out of proportion, probably because I’m not allowing enough for the effects of perspective which are an important factor when you’re so close to a subject, about four feet from the nearest pile of papers in this case.
Also I’m happily listening to Radio 3 as I work so I might have been better giving my full attention to my drawing.
But at least I’ve made the attempt and I’m hoping that now we’ve settled down I’ll be able to take the odd hour off to draw again.
IT’S RARE for me to have a whole hour free so to make the most of it, while I wait for Barbara to finish work, I draw the bookshop, starting with the door frame and working across the double-page spread, running out of ink halfway and borrowing a pen from Barbara to finish.
With any complicated subject I have to establish an anchor point before I can start mapping everything in its place. Those long verticals of the door frame that I started with on the left weren’t much help and it was only when I established the leaded window above the door that I was able to get a grip on proportions. The 45° pattern made a useful grid.
You can see where this went slightly wrong as the window started going into perspective on the right, my drawing equivalent to the distortions you’d get if you were photographing the scene with a wide-angle lens.
THE FULL MOON was sitting temptingly over the wood but at first I couldn’t get the settings right to photograph it with the 30x zoom on my new camera.
Faced with so much dark sky the camera’s natural inclination is to go for an average exposure, making moonlit clouds visible but in the process making the moon look as bright as the sun. The camera went for a 5 second exposure so, even though I had it on a small tripod on my desk, there’s a lot of camera shake.
I set the mode dial, which so far has almost always been on ‘SR AUTO’ (scene recognition), to M for manual and went for the shortest exposure that I could select, 1/800th of a second.
I’m going to have to try again because this is underexposed but at least by tweaking the tonal levels in Photoshop I can bring out some of the details.
To eliminate camera shake I set the auto timer to 2 seconds so that the camera had time to settle after the slight movement caused by my finger pressing the shutter button.
If I’d been drawing this full moon from memory I would have made it slightly yellowish but the camera’s auto white balance has shown it as almost pure grayscale, which is much nearer to its true, almost monochromatic, colours.
I FOLLOWED Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Family Cookbook recipe when I first made soda bread yesterday, halving the ingredients as there were only two of us. We didn’t want any leftovers as it’s best eaten warm from the oven but even half quantities made a substantial little cob (left).
So today I cut down the quantities a bit more so that we had just enough for three small scones (above). Doing it this way you get more of the rough crispy crust and you can be sure that it’s baked all the way through. The centre of the larger cob had turned out a little bit doughy, although it’s supposed to be soft and moist on the inside, so that’s what you’d expect.
We decided to add chopped fresh chives and a couple of tablespoonfuls of grated double Gloucester cheese, saving a sprinkling for the top of each scone.
Yogurt provides a mild acid for the bicarbonate of soda to react with, producing the bubbles of carbon di-oxide which makes the bread rise.
Cheese & Chives Soda Bread Scones
50g plain flour
50g plain wholemeal flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
90ml plain yogurt
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp grated cheese
Turn to oven to 230°C.
1. Seive the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.
2. Add the yogurt and stir.
3. Using your fingers bring the mixture together into a smooth dough. If it turns out too sticky add more flour. Add the chives and three-quarters of the grated cheese and mix them in too, but don’t overwork the mixture. No kneading is necessary.
4. Divide the mixture into three balls, place them on a non-stick baking sheet on a baking tray. Score each of them deeply with a cross to allow them to rise and press the remaining grated cheese on top of them.
5. Put them into the oven for 5 minutes then turn the oven down to 200°C and bake for another 5 minutes or so. They’re ready when if you turn one upside down (being careful to avoid the melted cheese!) and tap the bottom it sounds hollow.
Great with homemade tomato soup. We’ve got a bit of glut of tomatoes at present and, thanks to my inconsistent watering in the greenhouse, many of them had split their skins so soup was the best thing to do with them.
IT’S ABOUT a month since we last walked through the woods at Newmillerdam and it now feels as if autumn has arrived. Bracket fungi are starting to sprout from the fallen silver birches with shapes that remind me of the cream-filled meringues of my childhood.
A Finger on the Button
Like most digital cameras my new FujiFilm S6800 focuses on whatever is in the centre of the screen when you half press the shutter button. But what if you’d prefer to have your subject off centre?
As I should have worked out long ago when using previous cameras, if you keep button half-pressed you can then move the camera to get the composition you’re after but the focus of the lens will stay as it is, set to your subject.
I think that having the main subject at the junction of thirds, rather than slap in the middle of gives a better composition. Central can sometimes be too obvious, like a passport photograph.
Throwing the background out of focus also gives emphasis to the subject.
As a record shot to help with identification it wouldn’t matter if the subject was central or the background in focus but I feel that by moving the subject to one side you introduce a little bit of narrative, a bit of expectation perhaps, and keeping the background out of focus goes a little way to building up that feeling of mystery that you get when you see fungi emerging in autumn woods.
Inspired by the new camera, I’ve been reading Doug Sahlin’sDigital Landscape & Nature Photography for Dummies. I’m making an effort to get thoroughly familiar with its controls, so that they become second nature to me. With previous digital cameras I’ve had such good results with the auto or programmed settings that I’ve never got around to trying manual settings such as aperture priority and shutter priority.
It’s the photographic equivalent of making the move from marker pens to watercolour in sketchbook work. There’s nothing wrong with in-your-face boldness in photography or in illustration but when it comes to trying to express a more enigmatic mood I think you need to develop a more subtle technique.