Basil, African Blue

basilBasil never seems very happy in our garden so we’re going to see if this African Blue variety does any better.

Pencil and watercolour isn’t normally my thing but I’m currently reading Agathe Ravet-Haevermans’ Drawing Nature, so I’m giving her favourite media a try.

She works as a botanical draughtsman at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and her approach has a typically French analytical edge. She suggests that you should start by looking for the axis for a plant or an individual leaf;

‘To make the drawing a coherent whole, you must always draw the axis first and the surrounding elements after’

This is rather different to my approach to observational drawing where I map out shapes and the negative spaces between them, trusting that the whole plant will then look convincing.

Seven in Heaven

seven balloon

Feeling light-headed, deflated and lost?
Yes, life is a gas, but it comes at a cost.

seven balloon

The party is over – seven years old!
Time for you to drift off through fields studded with gold.

Urban Watercolor Sketching

Scheinberger 'Urban Watercolor Sketching'I’m aware that I get set in my ways so Felix Scheinberger’s Urban Watercolour Sketching made perfect holiday reading when we were in the Dales a few weeks ago. It’s a short refresher course in watercolour, one that I’ll dip into again.

This is an illustrator’s approach and the examples are almost exclusively pen and ink and watercolour rather than pure watercolour, which suits me because that’s invariably the way I work.

The English watercolour  tradition is wistully rural, going back via John Piper and Beatrix Potter to Girtin and Cotman so it’s refreshing to have Scheinberger go through the rudiments of watercolour so briskly and thoroughly from a streetwise, rather punkish perspective.

Considering Colour

It’s a great opportunity for me to reconsider all the aspects of watercolours that I’m familiar and a few that had never occurred to me. For instance, I like the way he champions indigo and Naples yellow; colours which I’ve dismissed because of their apparent disadvantages. Disadvantages which he suggests can be turned to your advantage for certain subjects. Must try them.

As an illustrator I like the way he rounds off the book by touching on page design, developing ideas and the perennial question of ‘how much is your picture worth?’

As for the urban element, I’m afraid that he can’t convince me that I’d enjoy painting a prefab block of apartments in Romania more than an old farm Provence, but I can see what he’s getting at.

Link; Felix Scheinberger; his website, which, by the way, is in German.

Freshly Baked

loafThe sourdough from the Flour Station kept us in bread for a week and it’s inspired me to get back to breadmaking so I made this farmhouse loaf today, using a multi-grain flour along with the strong white and strong brown.

loafI drew it with a .25 Rotring Rapidoliner then added the bolder lines with a .70. My great hero amongst Victorian art critics, John Ruskin, is emphatic that this illustrator’s trick of adding variety to a drawing is always bad practice. Sorry about that John.

Book Shelf

bookshelfI’ve been reading so much recently that I’ve slipped a bit on drawing. Three of the books were about drawing so I ought to have all the inspiration that I need by now.

This section of my book shelf includes my current reading such as library books and Dummies Guides to various computer programs.

There are also odd things that haven’t yet found a place elsewhere such as the green and blue paperback which is a Donald Duck comic strip book in German that I thought might help me to learn the language. Next to it is purple box that contains a wildflower meadow mat which I must now roll-out over a sunny patch in the back garden.

Pen and Paper

I’ve drawn this with a Rotring Rapidoliner which I thought might work on the absorbent paper of a sketchbook that I’m trying to finish off. The paper too soft for the pens I use but it won’t take a watercolour wash without going blotchy. The worst of both worlds.

It’s a Wainwright sketchbook that I bought a year ago because I liked its hardback binding. I think that whoever designed it was so keen to make it like a ‘real book’ that they used paper that was better suited to printing.

At this rate it will last me another year.

Clay Pipe

clay pipe
2.5 x 1.8 cm

I spotted this fragment of clay pipe when I went out at sunset to see if I could catch the slug that’s been eating our French bean seedlings. In thirty years of digging I find it surprising that this is the first time I’ve spotted it. I’ve found pipe fragments before but never anything as elegantly decorated as this.

I’m assuming that it was dropped here as we haven’t ever imported topsoil. The style of the lettering makes me think 18th rather than 19th century so I’m surprised that it looks so fresh after having been in the topsoil for a couple of centuries.

Perhaps the brown rats have brought it to the surface. They’ve been active under our compost bins and we recently spread compost on this bed.

Who the ‘JG’? This was farm land so could it have been one of the Gemmels, a local farming family?

As we’re only 40 yards from a ford that ran along Coxley beck it could have been dropped by any drover, wagon driver, traveller or labourer who happened to be passing by.

J Gambier

A Google search reveals that one of the biggest pipe manufacturers was J Gambier of Paris, a firm which offered its customers over 2,000 different kinds of pipe.

Link; Dawnmist Studio Clay Pipe Gallery

Blue Damselflies

damselfliesdamselflies2.30 p.m.; Common blue damselflies are mating down by the pond, the blue male clasping the olive female.

She rests on the water surface as she carefully lays an egg on a submerged leaf of pondweed then the pair move on to lay the next.

newt and damselflyThere are smooth newts lurking below. One grabs a female and swallows her head end first, the two wings protruding from its mouth.

blue damselflyI watch for a few minutes. The males zip around like little blue neon tubes, chasing each other and resting in the sun together on the leaves of plants around the pond.

smooth newt

damselfliesThe pairs flying in tandem continue to lay, often just inches from a waiting newt below.

Pre-Dawn Chorus

pre-dawn3.45 a.m.; It’s too early for the dawn chorus proper but a song thrush is making up for it with a spirited and varied solo.

At first when I hear the disjointed snatches of song I wonder what the commotion is and I think that I pick up the brief ‘ki-wick, ki-wick, ki-wick!’ of a tawny owl.

song thrushSome parts of the song are rather more melodious so it crosses my mind that a nightingale might have returned to Coxley Valley for the first time in over a century. It’s early in the morning but even so I realise that this is unlikely and that only a song thrush could cobble together such a franticly varied stand-up routine as this.

There’s a sound-bite that reminds me of lapwing and a snatch of starling too. But it’s definitely song thrush because it keeps repeating most of its short phrases three times.

song thrushAnother song thrush is answering it from two hundred yards away near the quarry. No wonder when I hear the dawn chorus proper there’s a background of birdsong that I can never quite pick up. It never sings from the same song sheet often enough for me to spot the tune.