Fresh Flowers

Michaelmas daisyaster, or at least a member of the daisy familyHowever convincing artificial flowers are, they’re somehow not as much fun to draw. It would be like drawing a waxwork instead of a real human being.

heronNot much to report re. wildlife today but, armed with my new pen, I sketched the heron on its morning rounds, flying a bit lower than usual across our street.

Walton Hall

Photograph by John Welding
Photograph by John Welding

Walton HallI was beginning to think that I’d been a bit indulgent, suggesting that our next meeting to discuss the Waterton Comic should be at Walton Hall, home of Charles Waterton, but, when I drove over the bridge and through the old park gateway, as the panorama of lake, hall and copses opened up, I realised that this was going to be more inspiring than a conference room at Wakefield One.

It’s only today that I received my new drawing pen, a Lamy Safari with an extra fine nib, but already I feel that it’s going to be my favourite. John Welding, who is illustrating the opening segment of the Waterton Comic, photographed me starting my first sketch with the new pen, appropriately of the place where I first opened my eyes; Walton Hall was an annexe of Manygates maternity hospital in the baby boom years. No wonder I feel so attached to the place.

Tilly 29/04/15chimney detailAs I call to pick up Barbara from the Rickaro bookshop in Horbury (for the last time as she retires today!), I try out the pen again by drawing Tilly the bookshop’s Welsh collie and a couple of architectural details across the road.

I ordered pen with a filler so that I could use Noodler’s ink in it and I’m pleased that it proves waterproof when I add the watercolour wash to my sketch.

Link; John Welding, illustrator (and talented photographer!)

Storyboarding Waterton

It’s unusual for me to work in pencil but it’s the quickest way to produce so many drawings. I abandoned the tonal conte crayon shading after the first couple of frames. The Faber Castell eraser doubles as a cap for the HB pencil and proved useful, as it’s so much quicker than diving into the drawer for my regular eraser.

I recently read Guiseppe Cristiano’s Storyboard Design Course, so I’m keen to organise my ideas for my latest freelance job, a comic strip, in storyboard form. My work usually starts with a drawing in a sketchbook, or with days, weeks, months, sometimes years of research but I’ve got a midsummer deadline to work to for this job, so that isn’t an option. The starting point here has to be a story that works.

John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museums, is providing the script for this 36 page comic strip to mark the 150th anniversary of traveller and naturalist Charles Waterton. I’m working on Part 3, The Defence of Natural History which tells the story of the nature reserve that Waterton set up at Walton Park, near Wakefield, when his exploring came to an end in the 1830s.

park mapI’ve split John’s initial outline for the story into 33 frames. After a dramatic opening in which Waterton fights hand to hand with poachers, there’s a tour of the nature reserve. This doesn’t give me much of a chance for storytelling. Waterton simply takes us around his park like a presenter on Countryfile.

We might try introducing a character being taken on a tour of the estate just to create a bit of dialogue and tension. Charles Darwin was a visitor who admired Waterton but could also be rather scathing of Waterton’s views and eccentricities. Another possibility is that Waterton’s son Edmund could be the one being dragged around the estate.  Edmund was, like so many children, a polar opposite to his father.

Soapy Simpson

In The Storyboard Design Course, one of the artists says that he never starts his storyboard at frame one. He’d rather go straight in to the confrontation with the villain of the piece. In my case that’s ‘Soapy’ Simpson, whose factory polluted the stream in Waterton’s park and killed the trees in his heronry.

I found myself snarling as I drew Simpson and thinking of the kind of confrontation that Clint Eastwood  has with a smug but dangerous villain – Lee Van Cleef rather than Eli Wallach – in the Fistful of Dollars trilogy.


storyboardThe other scene that comes alive for me is the one of Waterton’s sisters-in-law, the Miss Edmonstones being racially abused in Wakefield. They were Arawak on their mother’s side, Scottish on their father’s so you feel that at that time they must have appeared quite exotic in the old market town. But so far we’ve got no definite evidence that this actually happened, just the odd hint that John Whitaker is following up with some additional research.

I’d like to feature the Miss Edmonstones as a contrast to the all-action adventures of Waterton. There’s often a woman (or in one case ‘the Woman’) in a Sherlock Holmes story to provide a contrast to the male world of Holmes and Watson.

Waterton's WakefieldHere’s a Waterton comic strip that I produced in the 1980s for a Wakefield Naturalist’s Society display at the Wakefield Flower Show.

Link; The Storyboard Design Course; The Ultimate Guide for Artists, Directors, Producers and Scriptwriters by Guiseppe Cristiano, published by Thames & Hudson


violetsViolets grow like weeds at my mum’s house, in the borders around the edge of the lawn. It’s a long time since I sat out drawing in the front garden at Smeath House and I’d forgotten how peaceful it is here. Three rival blackbirds are singing from corners of the shrubbery. The variegated beech tree, planted by the mill-owning Baines family who built the house, shades the front lawn so that the habitat now resembles a woodland glade.

In 1960, when I was aged nine, I drew a sketch map of the bird life of shrubbery, lawn and house, including blackbirds, starlings and sparrows.

bluebellsThe bluebells – which I don’t believe we ever planted – look like natives. The bells hang down, while the more vigorous Spanish bluebells, which grow in the border in our own back garden, face outwards.

Common Whelk

whelkjuvenile herring gullThis common whelk shell plummeted from the sky as we sat by the harbour at Scarborough at the weekend, bouncing off Barbara’s leg then smashing into several pieces as it hit the concrete next to a stack of lobster pots. We didn’t see who dropped it but I suspect the herring gulls which were arguing amongst each other.

On the top left you can see the whelk’s siphonal canal. When it is hunting, the whelk’s siphon tube protrudes from this groove and swings from side to side as locates its prey using scent receptors.

Whelks produce a ‘purpurin’, a purple dye which is thought to immobilise their prey.

Keel worm cases encrust the exterior and some of the smooth interior of the shell.


fox 1987
I drew this fox as a rough for my children’s picture book Deep in the Wood in 1987. I prefer this pencil on layout paper version to the pen and watercolour of the finished illustration. Construction lines always add some animation to a drawing. There’s an extra-heavy outline where I traced out the image onto the watercolour paper that I used for my final artwork. I rubbed pencil over the back of the layout paper.

Deep in the Wood is about animal senses and this fox appears towards the end of the story to illustrate the sense of smell. It’s pausing to take in the scents of shrew, humans and blackberries that are wafting through the wood in the evening.


great spotted woodpeckerwood pigeon12 noon, Peasholm Park, Scarborough; We can hear the tapping and see the odd bit of bark dropping down but at first all we can see in the tree canopy is a wood pigeon  preening in the branches above. After a minute or so we see a female great spotted woodpecker working her way up the multiple trunks of the adjacent tree.

Once again my monocular comes in handy because through it we can see that in the morning sun the red of her vent shows up well as she hangs almost upside down, pecking on the overhanging trunk. There is no red on the back of her head, which is how we can tell that she’s a female.

North Bay

It was a calm morning but there must have been quite a swell because the waves at North Bay were crashing against the sea wall.

Hangdog Commuter

fed up dog

yorkcapDespite having spent a day in Scarborough, this terrier looked distinctly hangdog as she commuted to Malton on the Scarborough/York/Liverpool coast to coast train.

A Peregrine amongst the Kittiwakes

peregrine peregrine perchingMarine Drive, Scarborough, 11.50 a.m.; Thirty kittiwakes set off towards the sea from the Castle cliff, then we see what set them up; a peregrine flies along at mid-ledge level then arcs out above our heads, loops over the sea and returns to the cliff. I’m ready to watch it hunt but it soon settles on a commanding knoll on the cliff-face, which could be a potential nest-site.

cockleboatThrough the little monocular that I keep in my art bag, I can see that it’s a slate grey male. It sits there, facing the cliff with its back to us, calling for ten minutes; a plaintive mewing. Is it hoping to attract a mate or complaining that the restless kittiwakes are hard to surprise this morning?

kittiwake v. fulmarA kittiwake chases a fulmar, constantly gaining height then swooping on it. Resembling a miniature albatross, the fulmar might win the prizes when it comes to effortless
gliding but the kittiwake is more aerobatic.

turnstoneA turnstone is doing just what its name suggests; turning over pebbles as the tide ebbs in the harbour. I’ve drawn it as all brown here but there are white patches on its head.

Turnstones peck for scraps around your feet on the quayside, behaviour that seems surprising for a wader.

Peasholm Park

juvenile herring gullspeasholm parkChiff-chaffs are singing in the wooded valley in Peasholm Park. The pagoda island is awash with pale yellow primroses.

gull11.50 a.m.; a juvenile herring gull has a yellow plastic ring no. 5B6B on its left leg and on its right a metal BTO ring. It’s one of a group of juvenile gulls attracted to food offered by visitors to the park. In the town, gulls swooping to pinch sandwiches and chips from tourists are seen as a nuisance by some locals.

mapbuilderI draw the Mexican style entrance to MAP (Military Adventure Park) from our table at the Peaches and Cream cafe, North Bay.

gull calling

House Martins

Train to Yorkhouse martinsJust back from Africa, the first house martin appeared today,
swooping up to the apex of the gable end of a house across the road. We’re setting off for our first little break since my mum passed away, heading off for a couple of nights in Scarborough. 

Country near Maltonhill near MaltonThere are drifts of wood anemones in the woods as the train approach Malton and, along the woodland edge, the fresh green of dogs mercury.

hareA hare lollops across an open field in the Vale of Pickering.

gorseSandy hillocks on the approach to Scarborough are yellow with gorse.

trawlerHaze obscures the horizon so this trawler looms just beyond the entrance to the harbour as if its free of the laws of perspective, like a boat on a diorama.

alexandersIts cool down by the Spa but on the south-facing slope below the castle, where I draw alexanders, we’re bathed in Mediterranean heat.

Mason Bee

walltilemasonbeesAt the top of Quarry Hill, mason bees are busy around their nest holes in the mortar of an old stone wall. At first I think they’re a yellow and brown insect but the yellow appears to be the pollen sac on the leg. When I look at photographs of mason bees, they mostly carry the pollen on the underside of the abdomen, so I need to check out that detail when I see them again.

They stock the nest holes with pollen then seal the entrance with mud. The larva grows, then pupates in the hole. Several bees might use the same hole, one after another, so when it comes to emergence it must be a case of ‘first in, last out’.

mason bee mason beeYou can now buy bee nest boxes at most garden centres and bird reserve gift shops, so perhaps it’s time for me to invest in one (or make my own) so that I can take a closer look. Bumblebees have already taken over the blue tit box, a hint that I ought to start thinking about insect homes.