donkeysTHE DONKEYS are coming to the rail to be petted and photographed, enjoying the fuss being made of them by the children at Charlotte’s ice cream parlour this morning.

Guinea fowl are foraging in the grassy pen next door.




High Street


High Street, HorburyDespite my recent efforts with photography and video, I’m still keen to pick up my pen and draw whenever I get the chance. I fit in a brief sketch of shop fronts while my mum waits for her appointment at the opticians.


TillyTillyWhen I call for Barbara at the bookshop, I often get the chance to sketch Tilly the border collie. On Monday Rickaro bookshop is hosting not only a meet-the-author  but also a meet-the-cartoonist. Ian McMillan will be there, accompanied by Tony Husband to promote their latest book 101 Uses for a Flat Cap.

Tilly always has her nose in a book (at least, whenever Richard is holding a dog treat there).

TillyWe can’t persuade Tilly to wear a flat cap to celebrate the event as she can be in turn either too self-conscious or over-excited. We don’t have a flat cap in her size anyway.

This gives me the perfect excuse to play about with Photoshop; resizing, skewing, cutting, erasing, pasting, brushing and layering.


Dandelion in sunlight with fill-in flash.
Dandelion in sunlight with fill-in flash.

I’VE READ half a dozen books on photography; on landscapes, nature and most recently on digital photography exposure but, now that I know the difference between an f-stop and an ISO rating, I’ve got to the stage with my new camera, the FujiFilm FinePix S6800 when I need to get out taking photographs, all kinds of photographs, especially the kind where I have to more than just point and shoot.

spoonI take the opportunity to pick up a few hints from my friend Roger Gaynor while we’re visiting. Even the dessert spoon on the table can serve as a subject to illustrate the effects that you can get by using the built-in flash.

I hadn’t realised that the flash can be useful even in bright sunlight as it can fill in what might otherwise be blacked-out shadows. The human eye can usually adjust to see details in the shadows but the camera can sometimes struggle.

Fill-in Flash

Without fill-in flash
Without fill-in flash
With fill-in flash
With fill-in flash

I think that this works well on the photograph of the dandelion but the effect can be overdone. Although the flash fills in the shadows on these crab apples, I think it makes the lighting look a bit too contrived, as if it’s an illustration from a nurseryman’s fruit tree catalogue.

Colour Setting


Roger also showed me how to change the camera’s colour settings from standard to what Fuji calls ‘chrome’, boosting the colours slightly, to something resembling the colour you’d get from slide film.

Looking at the LCD screen I thought that the setting had gone too far in pumping up the colour so I changed back to the standard setting. The result was the same. The red of the berries really is so saturated.

Stopping Down


shafts of sunlightAnother way to boost colour is to slightly underexpose. There’s a ‘+/-‘ button on the camera to enable you to do that, using the camera’s selection wheel to move the exposure in one third of a stop increments on a plus and minus scale.

elderI stopped down to add a little more colour to the blue sky behind the branches of the hedgerow elder (right) but there’s another way to adjust the exposure when it comes to an evening sky;

  • Point the camera’s exposure meter (which is marked as a small rectangle in the middle of my viewfinder) to a patch of sky. Select darker part of the sky if you want a lighter picture, a lighter patch of sky if you want the sky to look darker. I went for a medium tone.
  • Half press in the shutter button to take a reading and hold it there to retain that setting.
  • Move the camera to frame the portion of sky you want to photograph and press the button the rest of the way to take the picture.

Art Space

cyclamenTHE ART SPACE was too tempting, a perfect rainy day activity; coloured tissue papers, scissors and Pritt sticks were all to hand and, thoughtfully, there was some subject matter to get you started; three potted cyclamens and two watering cans. I don’t remember the last time I made a collage so this is a surprising burst of colour in my pocket Moleskine. I love the colours you get where the tissues overlap.

sketches from the bus
Sketches from the bus.

We’d called at Leeds City Art Gallery to see Art and Life, an exhibition of paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson from the 1920s, which also includes work by Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood and the potter William Staite Murray.

The paintings have the texture as well as the colour and form of their (mainly) coastal subjects. Like amateur artist Wallis, Nicholson would paint on rough sheets of board. The scratchy, tentative quality of the paint invites you in to this weather-beaten world. The drawing is friendly rather than intimidatingly academic.

The sense of fun and spontaneity that comes across encouraged me to try something different.

Must do some more fun drawings.

train journey sketches
Sketches from the train.

Links: Leeds City Art Gallery (the URL that I’d noted on my drawing is no longer there).

Billy Swift

LOGGING IN to renew my library books I noticed a link to a wonderful online resource that Wakefield Libraries have recently made available; access to the British Library’s digital archive of nineteenth century newspapers.

I tried a few names from my mum’s side of the family – the Swifts of Sheffield – and soon found this notice from the births, deaths and marriages column of the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent dated 18 November 1862.W Swift 1862

Could my great great great grandfather really have been ‘present at the Battle of Trafalgar’ on 21 October 1805?

I’ve put in a request for the death certificate to check that this really is ‘our’ William Swift. We already knew that he’d worked at Joseph Rodgers from an obituary notice for his son, Samuel Burgin Swift, who followed in his footsteps there (as did his grandson).

My mum has the article, reprinted as a handbill;

S B Swift 1878

‘he [Samuel] was a thoughtful, industrious workman, and inherited the skill of his father “Billy Swift”.

It seems to me unlikely that a young man from landlocked Sheffield would have served in the Battle of Trafalgar but Geoffrey Tweedale, author of A Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers, 1742-2010, tells me; ‘Being at Trafalgar is not so strange — he lived a long life and his earlier career could have included military service. I’ve come across at least a couple of cutlers/silver platers who saw action during the Napoleonic War.’

Trafalgar Day

NelsonTomorrow is Trafalgar Day, the 198th anniversary of the Battle. I hope that I’ll get the chance to search the records, for instance the Muster Rolls of the twenty-seven ships in Nelson’s fleet.

I still have this 1957 Ladybird book, a Christmas gift from our neighbours, Mr & Mrs Hudson.

Could that be my ancestor, hoisting the signal flags in the background?

Fly Agaric

agaricIN THE autumn woods at Newmillerdam Fly Agaric is pushing up through the leaf litter.

This delicate-looking toadstool is sprouting from an old stump nearby.

stump fungi


redshankAT THE BEGINNING of last month we saw a group of five Redshanks perching on the rocks at Marine Drive, Scarborough, preening as they waited for the tide to go out. They were a bit too distant to draw but I photographed them with my 30x zoom, resting it on the concrete top of the sea wall.

Writing in British Birds in 1952, G Warburg described some remarkable communal behaviour in breeding Redshanks when dogs and, once, an otter, Lutra lutra, approached;

‘up to 20 packed close round intruding mammal, following it carefully with bowing and bobbing movements  (in the case if L. lutra, silently) when dog ran, birds hovered overhead, giving Chip-calls.’

Warbury 1952 and Grosskopf 1959, quoted in Birds of the Western Palaearctic, 1983

Inner Eye

TillyvanI HAVEN’T USED my smallest sketchbook, the little Moleskin, for almost two months but as I tie up one loose end after another I’m getting into drawing mood again.

Tilly has also appeared in my notebook. She pops up all over the place.
Tilly has also appeared in my notebook. She pops up all over the place.

OCT Scan

gableI had my first OCT scan at the opticians this morning. The infra-red scan mapped out a small area at the back of my eye and rendered it in 3D, reminding me of the 3D modelling I’ve experimented with in programs like Bryce and Vue.

She's a restless sitter.
She’s a restless sitter.

A shallow crater is where the cone cells for daylight vision are concentrated. These are particularly sensitive to movement but they’re useless in the dark so as the iris opens to let in more light a wider spread of rod cells takes over, with the crater of cone cells becoming a bit of a blind spot.

This explains why when observing a faint object in the night sky, such at the Andromeda Galaxy you have to do that trick of looking slightly to one side of it. It’s too faint to register on your array of cone cells.

blind spot

My true blind spot, the spot where blood vessels and nerves enter the eye, looks less like a crater and more like a corrie surrounded by glaciated peaks.