Tunnicliffe’s Farm

The Farm dustjacketThis 1958 Ladybird Learning to Read Book was illustrated by C. F. Tunnicliffe, R.A. (1901-1979), an artist who made a big impression on me as a child.

He attended Macclesfield School of Art then went on to the Royal College of Art, where he studied etching and engraving.

title page

He follows in the wood engraving tradition of Thomas Bewick by regularly setting a dark object against a light background and a light object against a dark background.

But he does it with such assurance that it never looks contrived.

Front coverThe Ladybird format was cleverly designed to make the most of the colour presses at Wills & Hepworth’s, Loughborough. A single sheet through the press was folded to produce four sixteen-page signatures. The outer pages served as endpapers since Ladybirds were always hardbacks. This allowed for traditional features such as a dustjacket and, on the front of the hardback itself, an extra illustration, again very much in the tradition of wood engraving.

endpapersLadybird books are now popular with collectors but when you come across them in charity shops they are often, like so many well-loved children’s books, in a sorry state. How did this one survive comparatively unscathed?

It was a Sunday school prize, treasured by my brother Bill. He’d be about five at the time, so even then he had probably started to get beyond its beginner’s reading stage.

I’ve had it squirrelled away in a box in the attic for the last thirty years, so it’s about time that I returned it to him. But would his little grandson look after it as carefully as he did?

Perhaps I’d better hang on to it for a few more decades!

Five Minute Sketch

sketchDuring the working week, my friend Helen Thomas has been busily painting forty small paintings during a strict forty hour period for her 8 x 5 project so I thought that before I settled down to catching up on my website this morning I’d start with a strictly five minute sketch.

The wood and meadow really do look as blurry as this through my sloping studio window as the depression labelled ex-Bertha progresses north-eastwards across the British Isles. We had to cancel a Wakefield Naturalists’ field meeting at Adel Dam when we heard that the Met Office had issued a yellow alert for today.

Colours used; yellow ochre and Winsor lemon in an initial all-over wash, then also French ultramarine, permanent rose, permanent sap green and neutral tint. No drawing in pencil first – there wasn’t time for that!

Link; Five by Eight, Helen Thomas’s Facebook gallery page.

Red Bartsia

red bartsiaI couldn’t see much of the flowers of red bartsia, which poke their purplish-red lips out of the calyxes which are arranged facing the same way along the stem. Perhaps of the resemblance flower spike to a row of pointed teeth is why the plant acquired a reputation as a herbal remedy for tootache. Carl Linnaeus gave it the Latin name, Odontites vernaOdontites was a name that Pliny gave to a plant that was said to be good for treating toothache.

Smalltoothcombia Domestica, from Edward Lear's Nonsense Botany.
Smalltoothcombia Domestica, from Edward Lear’s Nonsense Botany.

The racemes (toothbrush-like arrangements) of the flowers led to this familiar weed’s old Yorkshire name of cock’s comb.

Red bartsia is a member of the Figwort family and, like its relative the yellow rattle, it is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.

Bartsia was named by Linnaeus in memory of his friend, the German physician and botanist Johann Bartsch who died aged 29 in Suriname in 1738.

The Bittern Hide

View from the Bittern HideThe path to the northern end of the RSPB Old Moor reserve is closed at the moment to minimise disturbance to the resident bitterns so your best view of the reedbeds is from the Bittern Hide.

bullockstufted vetchGrazing bullocks help keep the grassy margins of the lagoons open. This afternoon they’ve congregated to chew the cud on the banking in the corner by a field gate which is sufficiently exposed to discourage flies.

great willowherbBut the breeze and the occasional showers have made it difficult to draw plants in any detail today.

The great willowherb was growing by a bridge over a drainage ditch while the tufted vetch was climbing amongst the dried grass to a height of three feet with the aid of tendrils at the end of its leaves.


willow9.47 a.m.; A skein of forty Canada geese approach, honking as they go, from the north-west. The lead bird, followed by the rest of the chevron, has to make a considerable effort to climb to clear the power lines above me.

Grey willow, Salix cinerea, grows in damp acid soils, often, has here near ponds. It has a low spreading habit. A typical grey willow leaf tapers gradually from near the tip towards the base. The goat willow which you can find in similar habitats typically has a more rounded leaf.

Water’s Edge

phragmites‘A reed shaken by the wind’ is my subject at Old Moor today. I’ve labelled it as the common reed, Phragmites communis, but Wikipedia points out that communis is considered an ‘illegitimate name’ and that I should now be calling it Phragmites australis.

It resists the wind not just by its flexibility and its hollow stem construction but because the leaves, growing from sheathes that clasp the stem can rotate as they’re blown around.

water-lilyWhile my habitual pen and brown ink might be appropriate for the reed, but I felt that would be too strident for the white water-lily, Nymphaea alba. Dragonflies zoomed around over the pond but the only insects visiting the water-lily as I drew it were a few flies.

water mintWater mint, Mentha aquatica, is now in flower, growing along the edges of the drainage ditches.

water plantainWater plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica, was growing next to it, emerging from the water. Ruskin saw the elegant arrangement of veins in its leaves as an example of the kind of ‘divine proportion’ that inspired Gothic architecture.

When Convent Thoughts, a sharp-focus study of a contemplative nun standing by a lily pond by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Charles Allston Collins’, came in for criticism at the 1851 Royal Academy summer show, Ruskin wrote in a letter to The Times;

“I happen to have a special acquaintance with the water plant Alisma Plantago . . and . . I never saw it so thoroughly or so well drawn. For as a mere botanical study of the Water Lily and Alisma, as well as of the common lily and several other garden flowers, this picture would be invaluable to me, and I heartily wish it were mine.”

Ruskin’s endorsement helped redress the criticism but, although habitat may be right for it, Alisma plantago, the water plantain, doesn’t appear in the painting.

Sloe Shield Bug

sloe bugAlthough I started painting this sloe bug, Dolycoris baccarum, as leaf green I soon realised that it had a purplish cast. According to the book, it’s very hairy when seen under the lens but it was so active as it trundled around the bug box that I wasn’t able to get that close. It never stayed under the magnifying glass in the lid long enough. It had found its way into the bathroom overnight.

As well as sloe (blackthorn) these shield bugs will feed on the flowers and fruit of other members of the rose family. This one might have come from a thicket of blackthorn a hundred yards from our house in the corner of the meadow by the edge of the wood.

Sloe bugs are common on sand dunes.

sloe bugFrantically trying to escape, like a mime artist doing a glass box act, it occasionally fell on its back as it attempted to climb the sides so I gave it its freedom, taking a macro shot from which I made the pencil drawing.

Howgate Wonder

Howgate WonderIt’s been our best year so far for our Howgate Wonder double cordon. I pruned off all the extraneous growth early in the year and I’ve just given it a summer prune, leaving two or three buds on each twig to encourage fruit buds to form.

After Biscuit

meadowThe meadow is already starting to look lank and overgrown, not just because it’s the time of year when tall grasses dry up and plants go to seed but also because its resident grazer, Biscuit, the temperamental Welsh pony, has moved on.

The new owners knew what they were taking on. One afternoon a few weeks ago we saw three girls, early teenage and younger, cautiously approaching him, feeding and stroking him then gradually introducing a harness.

BiscuitA few minutes later we heard a commotion; Biscuit was galloping up the field towards his stable, evidently upset about something. One of the older girls walked after him, the other stood watching. She seemed unconcerned about the youngest who was lying in the long grass, stunned. Eventually she got up with difficulty and limped off up the field, here jodhpurs hanging in long streamers, split on both sides the full length of her legs.