The Pheasants are Revolting

A couple of years ago, I drew a rough of this for one of the exercises in Drawing Words and Writing Pictures and, as I’m using it in an article, I’ve enjoyed working on a final version.

pheasant comic strip

 I traced my rough (below) in pencil onto layout paper, then scanned and added the colour in Photoshop.

I’m reading Teamwork Means that You Can’t Pick the Side That’s Right, one of Scott Adams’ Dilbert books and decided that I’d try graded backgrounds like he does, fading gradually from dark  to light.

Hope that I’ll get the chance to try some more comic strips but I’ve got a lot lined up for the autumn.
pheasant cartoonThe squirrel went from being demented in the rough to looking evil in the final version, which is a shame because that might suggest that he deliberately dropped the coconut shell. I was aiming at making him manically determined rather than evil.

Link; ‘The Pheasants are Revolting’ rough version, October 2012.

Meat needs Mustard

Meat needs MustardDetail from the background of a wartime family photograph, of which more later. A Google search reveals that the poster;

Your Inner Man warns you
Meat needs Mustard

dates from 1940. 

Goldfish Tank


There seems to be an extra burst of activity amongst the goldfish this afternoon, centred on the face of the octagonal pillar of a tank nearest the centre of the room. The tail end of a feeding frenzy perhaps after their daily dose of fish food.
goldfishYou’d think that they’d recognise me by now; this is the third temporary filling that I’ve had in the space of a week!


Pen and Crayon

goldfishfish headIt’s a shame that I broke a tooth but at least it gives me chance to take a close look at the goldfish in the tank in the dentist’s waiting room. I notice that each goldfish has a small, stiffish looking flap in front of each of its eyes, perhaps adding some protection or alternatively helping to stabilise the head as it moves through the water.

gablescupvinegarSince I discovered a pen that doesn’t bleed straight through the paper in my urban sketchbook I’ve been more tempted to draw in the odd vacant moment.

An ArtPen tin filled with a dozen Derwent Watercolour crayons replaces the watercolour box that I’d prefer to use, if the paper was up to it.

handThe colours were those included in a plastic pod (which didn’t stand up to being squeezed into my bag) so they’re not exactly the ones that I would have selected for the kind of subjects that I draw – there’s no grey for instance – but I feel that any attempt to indicate colour, however wide of the mark, records information that I couldn’t otherwise include and adds a bit of warmth to the starkness of pen and ink. 


Claxton review copySome nature writing, Mark Cocker warns us, ‘like medicine, needs to be consumed in small doses’ but his Field Notes from a Small Planet slip down so easily that you’ll be tempted to OD.

His portrait of the wilder side of Claxton, a Norfolk village, like his favourite jazz improvisations, builds ‘steadily, patiently, minutely in rhythmic layers’, in encounters ‘where anything can happen and seldom does’.

He inevitably includes some of the rarities and the wildlife spectaculars that Norfolk is famous for but the appeal of this country diary is in meeting, as he reflects on a winter’s day,  ‘so many of our living neighbours – the leafless trees, the dank grasses and flowerless plants, the expiring fungi and voiceless birds – [which] hardly ever acquire the foreground of our minds. Yet every single one of them is integral to that magical uplift in spirits, which is the great gift of a walk in wild space.’

Every parish should have a chronicler like Cocker and, if your parish hasn’t acquired one yet, this illuminating book might encourage you to set out on your own home patch, armed with notebook and pencil.

Claxton, Field Notes from a Small Planet by Mark Cocker, illustrated with woodcuts by Jonathan Gibbs, will be published in hardback later this year by Jonathan Cape.

Links; Mark Cocker, Jonathan GibbsVintage Books, the trade department of Jonathan Cape

A Stoat amongst the Fleabane

fleabaneFleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, grows in the meadow areas by the ponds at Old Moor.

Its ragged-edged flowers are giving way to furry clocks of achenes.

An achene is a dry fruit. They might appear to be seeds but, like any fruit, they have a covering, it’s just that in this case the covering is dry, not fleshy, and it encloses the single seed so closely that it appears to be just a extra coating for the seed.

11.16 a.m.; a movement just beyond the fleabane. Quite a substantial animal – a rat?

stoatBeady Eye

No, its a darker, glossier mahogany brown. The stoat is so close that I can see the glint in its eye as it pauses and stares at me for a few seconds then turns back on its run through the grasses.

It’s a cliche but it has beady eyes. Deep brown with a sharp highlight. It was taking me in then coming to a decision.

It reminds me of a passage from Orwell’s Coming up for Air; ‘I was looking at the field, and the field was looking at me.’

And I’ve just come across this advice to photographers;

‘Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.’
Minor White

I’m still not quite sure who saw who first.

Time for my morning coffee break which happens to be just as the fruit scones come out of the oven. However they should come with a health warning; I break a filling as I’m eating it and have to head back home to arrange to see my dentist!

What bad luck. It reminds me that there’s an old country superstition that a stoat crossing your path will bring you bad luck but my mum told us there was a remedy for this.

At the place where you saw the stoat, leave a coin at the side of the path and whoever picks up the coin inherits the dose of bad luck. However I really wouldn’t want anyone else to break a filling today, I couldn’t be so cruel!

A Cure for Warts

breccia pebbleShe had a similar remedy for warts; pick up as many pebbles as you have warts and put those in a paper bag.

Leave the bag lying around where it might be see by a unsuspecting passer-by. Your warts will disappear when someone opens the bag. Unfortunately they will get your warts.

Not a nice thing to do. I must ask her who taught her these folk remedies. My guess would be her granny, Sarah Ann, born 1850. Sounds just like one of her tales.

Common Blue

common blueIt’s turned cooler so I get a chance to draw a male common blue before he becomes active. Birdsfoot trefoil is one of the foodplants of its larvae.

There’s a hint of violet in the blue of its wings. Common blue females are brown.

How to be an Illustrator

How to be an IllustratorHere’s the book that I wish I could have read forty years ago but which is equally welcome now as a way of reassessing the way I work.

Darrel Rees, an illustrator turned agent, looks at the nuts and bolts of the business with plenty of solid advice on invoices, contracts and agents but he brings his story to life with glimpses of his own ups and downs and through a series of short interviews with illustrators and art directors.

I recognise so much of myself in it; the contrast between college and career; the mistakes you’re likely to make when you put together your first portfolio and the pros and cons of working from home. At several points Rees urges illustrators to try and see their work from the other person’s point of view.

I’m making it sound as if the book is a series of warnings, and you probably also get that impression from the sober cover featuring Brett Ryder’s illustration of sininster pencil-head men in white coats, but, with examples of work from a mixed bunch of illustrators, it’s also a celebration of a way of life that is, in the words of one of them, Michael Gillette, ‘terrifying at times, extremely liberating at others’ and, for Jeffery Decoster a ‘constantly surprising’ spur to ‘the creative process and personal growth’.

How to be an Illustrator second editionLinks; Laurence King, publishers of How to be an Illustrator (2008), which is now available in a second edition . . . with a less scary cover.

Darrel Rees’ Heart Agency

Wader Scrape

wader scrapeWader scrape hide, 1.30 pm, 59ºF, 15ºC, breezy with occasional showers

‘Here come five pandas!’ quips one birdwatcher, and he’s right, the belted Galloway cattle that form part of the little herd here have same pattern and the panda’s barrel-like rotundness. The herd move from island to island across the lagoon, like a scene from a wildlife documentary.

I’m surprised how deep the channel between the two nearest island is; the cattle launch themselves splashily from the edge and swim across.

Purple Loosestrife

purple loosestrifeThe purple loosestrife is now at its best at the RSPB Old Moor reserve.

Two photographers in search of dragonflies apologise for trawling across my field of view, requesting that I don’t include them in the picture.

A shame, they would have added some scale. The loosestrife is shoulder high.

jointed rushJointed Rush

I think of rushes as being like the hard rush and soft rush; spiky and cylindrical, like a clump of green porcupine quills, but this is a rush too; jointed rush, Juncus articulatus, gets its name because the hollow stem is divided by internal ‘joints’.

It has clusters of star-shaped brown flowers which develop into egg-shaped fruits.


seedheadYellow Rattle

This dry seedhead was growing on a grassy path edge. It reminds me of bluebell but we’re not in woodland – or old hedgerows – here and when I check it out in the book I’m able to confirm that it’s yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, which is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.

It is a  member of the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae.

Each rounded capsule has a short beak at its tip. As it rattles in a breeze it distributes its winged seeds.

Bands of Blue and Green

pondI felt that I was getting a bit fussy as I painted the loosestrife so I went for a simpler approach with this nearby pond. With the quickest of pencil outlines I went straight on to the rapidly changing sky and its matching reflection, followed by bands of the lightest greens in each area to indicate distant trees, meadow, reedbed and reedbed reflections, plus the nearest willows.

With every bit of paper assigned a tone I could them add mid-tones of foliage and finally the darkest patches, adding a few of the brown branches of the willows.