Tropic of Coxley

Coxley beckhawthornThere’s a tropical feel to Coxley wood this afternoon. On the path beyond the old quarry the beck flows at the foot of a steep earth bank and, on what I remember long ago as being an open grassy space, lush wild garlic, now in full flower, spreads between tall alders and willows. Also in full blossom a straggly hawthorn bush arcs its branches in front of the quarry face.

song thrushSong thrushes are remarkably loud, repetitive and insistent, like tropical birds. I’m also picking up an unfamiliar ratchet-like sound. Not a mistle thrush, I realise that it’s the neighbours’ dog, Poppy, pulling on her extendable lead.

The top end of the wood is looking equally good with the oaks in fresh leaf and dripping with little light green catkins.

lapwingThere are more song thrushes singing as we walk alongside the canal. On the Strands, the marshy field between the river and canal, a lapwing is calling. I’m glad to see them making a comeback over the past two months I’ve occasionally spotted them flying over our street, not so far away.

Falcon Enamel Jug

falcon jugI bought this Falcon housewares enamel jug, made in Hong Kong, in Chester in the early 1980s as a prop for a Granada television film of me painting a pen and watercolour of an old watermill. The director didn’t think my little plastic water bottle from Boots looked the part.

He would also have preferred it if it hadn’t looked so brand new and he suggested that one of the crew batter it about a bit, but he must have seen the disappointment on my face because it appeared in the film unscathed.

Thirty years later, it has acquired an ambience that would grace any arts film, so if there are any film crews in search of a subject, I’m now available and I can bring my own convincingly rugged water container (and I promise not to bring my squeezy plastic waterbrush, which really doesn’t look the part).

Drawn with my Lamy Safari with the extra fine nib (had intended to use my new Lamy AL-star but picked up the wrong pen and got lost in the drawing!). I thought that I’d leave it without a watercolour wash as I like the animation that the line gives to the drawing.


bumblebee and aquilegiagarage off Queen Street, HorburybumblebeeBumblebees are attracted to the tiny flowers of cotoneaster rather than the showy clematis that is climbing over the bush. A smaller, faster bumblebee visits the flowers of aquilegia.

bramble leaf mineA leaf mine in a bramble leaf maps the life so far of the insect that made it which was probably the larva of a small moth.

Drawing with a Lamy AL-star Fountain Pen

handsI got on well with the Lamy Safari with the extra fine nib that I bought a week or two ago so I’ve decided to go for the aluminium version of the Safari, the AL-star, this time with a slightly thicker Fine nib, to use for both writing and for drawing.

Lamy Al-Star fountain pendoodle doodleAfter writing ‘the quick brown fox . . .’ and ‘jackdaws love my sphinx of quartz’ a couple of times on an envelope and doing a couple of doodles I tried it on those perennial subjects, my hands and my feet.

Bulletproof Black

Drawn in Noodler's black ink, Winsor & Newton artists' watercolours
Drawn in Noodler’s black ink, Winsor & Newton artists’ watercolours

I’ve decided to stick to Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink in this pen. On the strength of these test drawings, I’m intending to use the pen for my Waterton comic strip project. It doesn’t lend itself to the Hergé Claire Ligne (clear line) technique which I so much admire but that’s not my natural style anyway, as I’m not as decisive and clear-thinking as Hergé.

I’m working with two very different comic strip artists on this project but we’re not aiming for a house style that is consistent across the three sections of the story. In fact the more my section looks like my own work the better.

Energy and Eccentricity


From my semi-comic strip diary of 1975.
My painter friend Jill pays me a compliment, from my semi-comic strip diary of 1975.

I’ve been reading my diary from forty years ago this month, in the summer of 1975, the year of my degree show at the Royal College of Art, and it reminds me of the energy that I used to put into my work. More energy than expertise, I’d say, I was waywardly ambitious, but there’s something charming about that, and the style lends itself to the energetic and eccentric Victorian character whose life I’m trying to evoke. I don’t want it to look like a facsimile Victorian naturalist’s notebook but I’m happy for it to have a rich, loosely cross-hatched ambience.

My tutor Professor Brian Robb disuades me from following up an rather ambitious plan.
My tutor Professor Brian Robb disuades me from following up an rather ambitious plan.

Links; Lamy pens at Pure Pens who supplied the pen and the Noodler’s ink.

Lamy AL-star pens and propelling pencils

Be kind to your Shredder

Kingcups by the pond.
Kingcups by the pond.

knot of hawthorn twigI’m realising that, tough as it is, I’ve got to start being considerate to my garden shredder. In addition to the usual hedge clippings, I’ve also got grasses, docks and chicory that I’ve cut from my meadow area. I’m tempted to overload it by pushing as much in as I can but this just jams it. The best way, I’ve discovered, is to put the material through loosely in small quantities rather than in compacted wodges. As I don’t now get any jamming, this is actually quicker than cramming it in.

knot of woodThe one thing that will stop it with hedge trimmings is a knot of wood. This fragment of hawthorn twig had probably been bouncing around for a while inside the shredder but after I’d stopped it to empty the trug, it got firmly jammed between the blade and the housing when I turned on the machine on again.

The freshly shredded green hawthorn hedge trimmings make perfect composting material. After a day or two, when I felt just below the surface, the heap was throwing off heat and there were white ashy flakes on the edges of the leaf fragments.

Blackbird feeding Newts to Young

blackbird with newt11.30 a.m.; The female blackbird has caught another smooth newt and is dealing with it in a corner of the lawn.

Blackbird with newtThe orange on the belly of the newt shows that it’s a male.

blackbird with newtHaving killed the newt she hops to the middle of the lawn in front of the pond then flies directly to the hedge where she’s nesting amongst the elder, climbing rose, honeysuckle and ivy.

dragonfly larva4.50 p.m.; it perches on the debris I’ve raked towards the edge of the pond. Watches for a minute or so then flits to the centre of the pond and catches a dragonfly larva. It takes this into the flower border to deal with, then flies over to the hedge then perches on the top of a gate-post next door before taking to it’s nest in the hedge, approaching from our neighbour’s side, rather than taking its usual route direct from the pond.

Customers in Costa

customers in CostaPerhaps because I’ve been rattling off so many storyboard frames for my comic strip project, I felt relaxed when I took the opportunity to draw the customers during our coffee break this morning. Perhaps the prospect of a large latte was helping me get in a suitably laid back mood too.

I like the way my new fountain pen glides about on the paper, perhaps a bit out of control but that’s something that it can be good to go along with. In fact I’m getting so mellow that I even quite like the wax-resist effect of the paper in my Moleskine sketchbook, an effect probably accentuated by my hand resting on the paper as I draw.

Rabbit Ings

On a cool breezy morning at Rabbit Ings country park, Royston, South Yorkshire, the only butterflies we see on our walk with Wakefield Naturalists’ Society are a small copper and dingy skipper which are sheltering on the south-facing bank of a ditch. They soon flit away and most of the wild flowers I film are equally restless, as they’re buffeted about by the wind.

Rabbit Ings country park is centred on the restored spoil heap of Monckton colliery. As you follow the path along the contour of the hill from the far end, a distant view of the gritstone moors of the Peak District opens up to the south-west, beyond Barnsley.

I’m guessing that the mystery object in my YouTube movie is a fox scat. It doesn’t look quite right for a short-eared owl pellet.

Links; Rabbit Ings Country Park

Wakefield Naturalists’ Society

Sketches of a Sheltie

simbasimbaSimba is a dog, a sheltie, who needs constant reassurance but that’s not surprising as he has to share his home territory with two year-old Alex, who celebrates his birthday today.

I’ve drawn Simba in my pocket-sized Moleskine, using my new Lamy Safari with the extra fine nib.