Langsett September

A perfect September morning to walk around Langsett Reservoir; through the conifer plantations, across the river Little Don and up onto the moor.

grouseNot such a restful day for the red grouse and the brown trout though. The gamekeepers and beaters were getting in place (you might spot them moving through the trees on one of the shots of the river) to wave flags while walking across the moor whooping and hollering, accompanied by their dogs, driving the grouse towards the guns.

We hurried across the moor before they started and missed out on our coffee stop at the ruined farm known as North America, pausing instead by a lichen-covered rock overlooking the stream on the far side of the moor.

troutA student in full-length waders emerged from the stream. He explained that he was from the University of Hull, setting up a project to monitor the movements of brown trout by tagging them and installing a couple of electronic sensors, one where the stream runs into the lake, the other further upstream.


FujiFilm FinePix S6800Unfortunately my recordings of natural sounds – running water, bird calls and the wind in the heather – were interrupted by the sound of the plastic lens cap, which is attached to the camera by a loop, rattling in the breeze so I’ve added a music track.

My thanks to Silent Partner for making Days are Long available for use on my YouTube video.

If you’ve got a fast connection, Langsett looks good in HD.

Filmed with my FujiFilm FinePix S6800. The shots that I didn’t use my little ‘Spider’ tripod for needed image stabilisation in iMovie.

Link; Silent Partner on YouTube

Grand Arcade

Grand ArcadeLooking for some old slides I came across this Leeds street scene from the early 1970s. It’s the sort of everyday view that it would never normally occur to me to photograph. Martin Salisbury, one of our tutors in graphic design at Leeds Polytechnic, suggested that I should go out and photograph the city to bring a bit of contrast to a project on prehistoric Yorkshire that I was working on.

busThe streets that I walked through are already part of history and I wish that I’d taken more shots.

When I see archive film of events such as the miners strike of 1974 (there was another ten years later) it’s hard to believe that the environment looked so  monochromatic and dismal.

Today television dramas set this period are usually shot in low key colour. My Agfa Gavaert colour slides show that that’s not artistic license; it really was like that.

miniIt’s so long ago that even the minis were half-timbered. In every photograph that I’ve looked at so far, all the vehicles that I can identify are British-made. Those look like Rovers in the background.

And would you believe that there are no parking restrictions so near the centre of the Leeds?!


Can an Artist have Shaky Hands?

handshakyhand1‘Who says an artist needs to have a steady hand? ‘ is the question posed by a current television advertisement for the Mazda3 which goes onto suggest that you need to do a bit of creative thinking to overcome the challenges that you meet in automotive design and in your limitations when drawing.

Phil Hansen, the featured artist, blames years of intense work on pointillist drawings for nerve damage that has forced him to look for other ways of making art.

Essential Tremor

handLast time I saw my doctor, I asked him about it. I remember having had shaky hands since the age of seven.

‘Does it go off if you have a glass of wine?’ he asks.

‘How did you know?! It’s worse when I’m tired or when  I’m upset about something. For instance I was at a party the other week and had to hold my champagne glass close to me because I was worried that someone was going to want to shake my hand. I can’t manage a cup and saucer. I was wondering if you could give me some advice on it as a medical problem.’

‘Let’s not call it a medical problem,’ he suggests, ‘it’s a human condition; everyone’s hands shake to some extent.’

He diagnoses it as essential familial tremor. There’s no cure for it as such but if it gets worse (I can move on to affect the neck, voice or even legs) I could try beta-blockers. I think I’d rather stick with red wine for now.

‘There’s a hypnotherapist just opened above our hairdressers, might that help?’

His sceptical smile says it all but he admits; ‘I would have dismissed it altogether until last week when we were given a demonstration and I was quite impressed.’

It’s good to know that I’ve got the option of a back-up, either for specific events that I might be worried about, or if it gets worse as a regular thing but for the moment I’ll try not to get so stressed or so tired and to try and relax and enjoy life.

Like my colour blindness, I think my shaky hands have given me a challenge to spur me on in my artwork.

Link; Phil Hansen, Mazda commercial

Coffee Stop

treeBlacker Hall FarmThe social whirl is fine but it will be good to settle down to work again and have more joined up time for drawing!

Today it was coffee at Blacker Hall Farm Shop, in a lofty beamed barn with a rural view (left) which in fact includes the embankment of the Barnsley to Wakefield Kirkgate railway.

beamThe tree was a quick lunchtime sketch sitting outside at the Cafe Capri, Horbury High Street but that’s just a break before the real business of the day which is to print some of my walks booklets for a stall at this weekend’s Festival in a Day event in Ossett.

Better get printing then . . .

Little Sketches

crematorium It was nice to get together with the family today but that didn’t mean that I had entirely go without sketching. I kept my mini-Moleskine notebook in my shirt pocket and my wallet of chunky crayons in my jeans pocket.

cruetteI try my best not to resort to drawing the cruet as we wait for our meal but I don’t want to intrude on the gathering by drawing family.

I really would like to draw people but I’d much rather do it at some public event or in a public place like a market.


The leaves are falling and I’m looking forward to focussing on natural history again before too long.

Enough of cruets!

The Old Kit Bag

old-kit-bagSergeant Robert Douglas Bell, c. 1939We’re remembering my dad Robert Douglas Bell 1918-1990, who died twenty-four years ago today.

We’re lucky to have a number of group photographs of him in the early days of World War II taken when he was part of a light anti-aircraft unit in a Territorial Army regiment of the Royal Artillery.

I was fascinated to find a photograph of his kit laid out for inspection taken somewhere in England. He’s labeled the items on the surrounding card mount and I’ve superimposed his labels in white on the photograph here.

He never took much interest in drawing so I was surprised by his neat hand-lettering but his pre-war job was as an accountant so that must have demanded meticulous accuracy on ledgers and on balance sheets, which in those days would have been mainly, if not entirely, entered by hand.

Special Investigations

desert, 1941

His regiment were soon sent to North Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope, and in one of the later group photographs, taken near Cairo, you can see the base of a pyramid in the background.

When he talked about extreme heat, he often used the expression ‘stinking hot’. I can imagine that it was stinking hot out there.

There was something of a lull in the desert campaign and my father found himself transferred to the Special Investigations Unit. He didn’t talk much about it but his cases included one in which two servicemen – presumably somewhat inebriated servicemen – challenged each other to a race down from the top of a pyramid, with predictably fatal results.

Perhaps my father’s reports on such incidents are preserved in an archive somewhere, written up in his meticulous hand.

Sophia’s Cranford

Sophia Barnet's school prizecranfordWho was Sophia Barnet?

She’s definitely not the soulful young woman on the card, kept in this old book, which is of a late Millais painting, The Disciple. The model here is thought to be Mary Lloyd, or an imaginary woman inspired by her classical looks.

Mary was born c. 1863, in Shropshire, the daughter of a once wealthy but later bankrupt country squire. Making the move to London, she took up modelling towards the end of an era for the Pre-Raphaelites and classically inspired historical painting.

Whistler and Sickert were already ‘flinging and pot of paint in the public’s face’ and making grunge look good.

Catching up with the seventy-year-old Mary in 1933, the Sunday Express described her as the model ‘who had the face of an angel but outlived her luck’.

School Prize

portrait of a lady
Portrait of a lady that Sophia kept in the book

But coming back to Sophia, my starting point is that she was presented with this copy of Cranford for regular attendance in the Senior Department of Greenside Council School, Pudsey, near Leeds.

fashion 1910I suspect that she might have ended her days somewhere near Wakefield as I came across this book in a secondhand shop in Horbury in the early 1970s.

A search on reveals that in 1904 Sophia would have been then ten years old and that her father was a platelayer on the Great Northern Railway.

Seven years later, in the 1911 census, she’s recorded as working as a worsted mender (worsted is a closely woven woollen cloth with no nap) but to judge by the clippings that she kept in her book, she had aspirations and dreams.

Sutro and Smiler

Edwardian fashion plate
Edwardian fashion plate

The book is a little time capsule as, in addition to the Millais print, Sophia (I assume it was Sophia) has folded a handful of magazine and newspaper cuttings between it’s pages.

Future generations won’t get that if they ever come across a copy digital book treasured by an ancestor!

SutroThere are Edwardian fashions, an elegant interior and an illustration from a children’s book, subjects that you might expect a young woman to take a passing interest in, but then there are the odd items, like this portrait of mayor of Chicago Adolph Sutro, famed for his tunnel building scheme.

How did he get in there?

smiler 1917

This portrait of Sutro reminds me of Paget’s illustrations of the clients who called on Sherlock Holmes at 221b!

And I wonder what especially tickled her about this single panel from an early comic strip which features a character called Smiler, who looks as if he’s stepped out of a music hall act or an early silent film.

kangarooThe kangaroo has hopped into Sophia’s selection by accident; he’s on the reverse side of the Rackamesque illustration (below) of the children coming across the fairies. 

Hoppy Chivers and the ‘Peace Crank’

We’re three years into the horrors of World War I and on the reverse of the Smiler cartoon is something altogether more disconcerting; the last few paragraphs of a ‘Hoppy Chivers yarn’, in which Hoppy and his chum chase a ‘peace crank’ who falls head-first into a lake, swallowing ‘two gallons of water and twenty-nine tiddlers’.

 ‘. . . we’ve got the Huns whacked!’ says Hoppy’s pal Archie. ‘It’s only really ignorant clods, like this chap we’ve come after, who don’t know the truth. They haven’t got the pluck of worms. Anyway, we’ll soon finish off this idiot.’

There’s a happy ending of sorts; the ‘peace crank’ runs to the nearest recruiting office and signs up immediately.

aviatorsShe also clipped this item from the newspaper. The German aviator looks very much like the portrait of Sutro.

Sophia would then have been 21 years old. In the days before boys bands with their extravagant hair styles, perhaps she thought those goatee beards looked pretty cool! The leather jacket gives him a certain rock and roll credibility too.

In Search of Fairies

fairiesChildren coming across fairies in the wood might seem a bit far-fetched to appeal to a young woman in the middle of the a world war but 1917 is when Elsie Wright, 16, and her cousin Frances Griffiths, 9, first photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden at Cottingley, just eight miles from Sophia’s home in Fartown, Pudsey.

The photographs were made public in 1919 and in an article in the Strand magazine for Christmas 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle declared them genuine. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the cousins admitted that they were faked.

A Dream of Lamb’s

Lamb's ClubOne final clipping, the elegant interior, which might illustrate an article about Lamb’s Club, New York, as a photograph of its facade appears on the reverse.

It would be a perfect setting for Margaret Dumont’s character in the Marx Brother’s films, the society lady who was the butt of so many of Groucho’s put-downs;

‘I could dance with you till the cows come home!
Better still, I’ll dance with cows and you come home.’

But in Sophia’s day, this interior wouldn’t be seen as so stuffy and elitist, not compared with the heavy Victorian styles that preceded it. It was the latest word in fashion and I’m not surprised, as she worked in a mill in Pudsey mending worsted cloth, that she seized upon these photographs in some American magazine she’d come across as a window on another, more elegant, world.