feet2footIt’s so hot today that I’ve gone into shorts for the first time so this is a good opportunity to switch from drawing hands to feet.

My feet aren’t as weather-beaten as my hands but when it comes to watercolour I still go mainly for yellow ochre and dashes of permanent rose with neutral tint, burnt sienna and raw umber in the shadows.

The drawing with my foot resting on the arm of the sofa gives more descriptive lighting than the one down on our grey sofa because there’s a secondary light from the patio windows filling in the shadow down the right side of my foot.

I’ll try and use secondary lighting to add a touch of drama to some of the frames in my Waterton comic strip. Waterton went barefoot when he climbing trees, so I’m going to have to include feet at some stage.

Hope Valley

Mam Tor
Mam Tor from the Hope to Losehill footpath. The distant log glimpsed through the cavity looks like a reclining figure.
Female chaffinch and great tit, Riverlife Cafe, Bamford.
Female chaffinch and great tit, Riverlife Cafe, Bamford.

After a weekend working on the Waterton comic we head off for the Hope Valley in the Peak District. After a coffee break at the Riverlife Cafe we walk from Hope to Castleton through sheep pastures. The lambs are less playful than they were earlier in the spring. They’re looking quite solid now and are either resting with mum or they’ve got their heads down grazing.

A green woodpecker flies to a treetop causing indignation amongst the jackdaws. A buzzard circles over the slopes of Losehill.

Elder flowers
Elder blossom and lichens.

In the gardens of the Rose Cottage Tearooms in Castleton, I draw Bella, a rescue dog from Croatia. Even her owners aren’t sure what breed she is but to me there seems to be a bit of spaniel and border collie in her.


chimneyAs we wait for lunch I draw the chimney of the adjoining cottage.

jackdawA jackdaw sidesteps along the wires and takes a good look around at the tables below. Amongst the trees and shrubs around the garden, a chiffchaff is singing almost continually, if you can call those monotonous ‘chif-chaf, chif-chaf, chaf’ phrases singing.

It’s a perfect summer’s day. I can get back to my desk tomorrow when the temperature rises and perhaps makes it less attractive to set off walking.

Soap Bubbles

Simpson v. WatertonI’ve been looking forward to seeing this drawing in colour. It looks rather stagey but it tells the story clearly, so I’ll stick with this version.

Simpson v. WatertonThis is the first time that I’ve added a curved tail to a speech balloon. In Manga Studio EX5 this kind of tail is known as a spline. Mathematically, a spline curve is one that moves through a given series of points. Because of lack of headroom in this frame, a straight tail would have to emerge from the side of the balloon, which would look rather awkward.

No wonder Simpson looks so pleased with himself, he’s the first character to get a spline bubble in this comic strip. I don’t blame Waterton for storming off indignantly.

Soap worksI’ve left the background muted because I can easily add more colour if it’s needed but, as it’s transparent watercolour, I can’t remove it if I overdo it.

Soap Opera

SimpsonEdward Thornhill Simpson doesn’t pop up in a puff of smoke through a trap door under a green spotlight like a pantomime villain but, for the purposes of my Waterton comic, he comes as close to that as I can manage within the historical context.

Simpson’s minions at Walton Soap Works.

I keep thinking of the Dollars Trilogy as I stage my action and, as I draw, find myself concocting unlikely scenarios for a three-way shoot-out by introducing Waterton’s other great rival John James Audubon. It would be more dramatic than the long legal battle that ensued but we’ve got to stick to the historical facts.

I’m probably getting drawn into the imagined world that I’m creating a bit too much for my own good but I think that I need to keep improvising, varying my approach, to bring the story to life.

My set design for the Walton Soap Works scene.
My set design for the confrontation between Waterton and Simpson.

When I’m designing a set for the local pantomime I sit halfway down the hall, look towards the stage and sketch the scene that I’m conjuring up in my mind. Although I want to be historically convincing, it’s important to keep that element of light-hearted improvisation.

Hand Coloured

hand in watercolourWith so many hands to draw for my Waterton comic, I might as well get a bit of practice in while I wait at the hairdressers.

I like the flat colour and confident line used in many comic strips, for example in the Adventures of Tintin, but my wiry pen drawing is better suited to watercolour.

A flat flesh colour wouldn’t give a true impression of the back of my hand which has yellowish and reddish patches plus a variety of browns and warm greys in the shadows. It looks lived in. Using pen and watercolour runs the risk of overloading the comic strip with visual information but I think it’s worth trying to make it work. My section of the story is set in a wildlife sanctuary so watercolour going to work well for the colours and texture of the natural world. In his autobiography, Waterton describes himself as looking as if he has spent his life out of doors in all weathers, so he needs to look like a part of the natural world too.

Soap Bubbles

confrontationThe confrontation between Charles Waterton and Edward Thornhill Simpson the soap manufacturer is rather wordy. It wasn’t until I printed a paper copy at the final size that I could see that the font was larger than it needed to be.

In this frame I’ve dropped a scan my pen and watercolour  into a layout that I’ve set up in the comic strip creation program Manga Studio EX5.

soap bubbles

Although in this second version the type looks rather small on screen, it is still a bit larger than is necessary to make it legible in print but it’s small enough to give a bit of breathing space around the speech bubbles.

Waterton in Watercolour

cmyk versionI saved the first image in RGB (red, green, blue) format, the recommended method for viewing on screen, the second in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) which supposedly gives the best results when printing but I prefer the colour cast of RGB, even on the printed version from my colour laser. Neither version manages to capture the transparency of the original watercolour artwork. A professional printer will, I’m sure, make a better job of it.

The typeface is Hannotate SC Regular, set in a italics in the second version. I might hand letter the final version but for the moment this is a useful way of setting up the design of each frame of the comic strip. There might be a few tweaks to script and it will be easier to accommodate those if I don’t commit to hand written text at this stage.


Great Spotted Woodpecker

woodpeckersWe haven’t seen a woodpecker at the bird feeders recently so I was surprised to see a juvenile clinging to the fat-balls this morning. I don’t ever remember seeing a juvenile in the garden before.

It flew off and climbed up the trunk of the crab apple. It seems keen on exploring, perching on top of a garden light and pecking at it, then flying to the runner bean poles and investigating those.

This afternoon it came back with an adult male.

woodpeckersThe male has a patch of red on the back of his head, the juvenile has the red cap. He fed the youngster – which seemed to be managing quite well by itself – until a wood pigeon landed on the top of the feeding pole, scaring it away. The male continued feeding for a few minutes. We’re soon going to run out of fat-balls again at this rate.

K is for Keyline

cineworld folkshopping ladiesWith my comic strip project underway I see the world differently. I’m more aware of people in action in colour. But there’s the problem; in the minute it takes for a shopper to trundle along the high street with her trolley or for a cinema-goer to walk to his seat with that vital cup of coffee, I’ve barely time to sketch the basic details, let alone add colour.

I need some kind of colour shorthand but if, for instance, I scribble down ‘bl’ I can find myself wondering later whether I meant blue or black. Similarly ‘gr’ could stand for green or grey.

coffee manpasser bySo how about using the CMYK colour printing process to distinguish the primary colours? Cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The ‘K’, as far as I can discover, stands for the ‘key’ or ‘keyline’ colour, the one that, in the four-colour process, brings the three primaries together by adding a ‘keyline’ to define the image (and to give a bit of solidity to what would otherwise be a rather pastel image).

When I was working on my Richard Bell’s Britain sketchbook, I always used Pelikan Special Brown indian ink for lettering and for the vast majority of my drawings, so Collins experimented by replacing the black that they’d normally use in the printing process with the Pantone equivalent of Special Brown.

handThis warmed up the colour in my drawings compared with the originals and by printing on slightly tinted paper we ended up with a book that looked slightly nostalgic, which wasn’t really my aim. The other extreme, which we also experimented with, would have been to print on the pure white paper that they used for field guides but that gave a rather stark zingy look to my drawings.

Rannoch Moor in Richard Bell's Britain.
Rannoch Moor in Richard Bell’s Britain.

Bee Orchids

bee orchidfunnel webWe take a walk around the Woolley Colliery site on our Wakefield Naturalists’ Society midsummer field excursion. I remember this being a grey spoil heap in the 1980s but it’s now fully restored. Hundreds of orchids are in flower on the grassy slope including plenty of bee orchids, a species which I don’t remember having seen before.

Amongst the grasses a spider has spun a large funnel-web. It was lying in wait in the centre but I didn’t manage to show it in my photograph.

Woolley colliery site

common spotted orchid
Common spotted orchid

We decided that most of the orchids here were common spotted, with a few paler, taller flower spikes that might be hybrids.

Could this be a hybrid between a common spotted and a marsh orchid?
Could this be a hybrid between a common spotted and a marsh orchid?

Willow warblers and chiff chaffs were singing at the scrubby edges of the meadow area while down at a rush-fringed lagoon a reed warbler was enthusiastically going through its varied guttural performance.

There were plenty of toad tadpoles, many of them sprouting their first pair of legs, congregating near a drainage pipe at the sunny edge of the lagoon.


Giant Hogweed

mallard pairgiant hogweedA pair of mallards negotiate the rapids below the old weir at Horbury Bridge. The shady south bank of the river resembles a jungle with reed canary grass, giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and sycamore forming a green screen in front of the embankment wall.

The giant hogweed is starting to come into flower. This introduced species is a native of the Caucasus Region and central Asia.

The only native amongst these four plants is the reed canary grass, Phalaris. It’s like a smaller version of common reed, Phragmites.

Germander Speedwell

germander speedwellOn our front lawn, in the shade of the rowan, germander speedwell is in flower. I’m going to mow around it when I cut the lawn.

It’s considered a weed on lawns but I like it as much as the daisies.