On the Banks of the Barnsley Canal

canalsideI’ve got there at last with my introductory frame for the Waterton comic and I enjoyed finishing off adding the colour this morning. There are a few things that I’d change if I’d started again but my main consideration is to tell the story as clearly as I can. This packs in the necessary elements. Time to move on to the next frame.

The Ragged-Trousered Conservationist

first roughCharles Waterton was a hands-on conservationist so as he set about turning the grounds of his ancestral home, Walton Hall, into the world’s first nature reserve, visitors sometimes assumed that he was a gardener or labourer. In the first frame of my comic strip, a railway surveyor mistakes him for a tramp but when I put the meeting in its location by the Barnsley canal, he looks more like a bargee.

Barnsley canal

Sitting on the Fence

sitting on the fencesitting on the fenceHow do I make him look more like an idle bystander? How would that come across in his body language?

Instead of standing on the towpath making a mock-deferential bow, I try him sitting on the fence. And instead of having him wear a shirt and a waistcoat like a bargee, I give him a battered top hat and a rumpled tailcoat.

Waterton could climb trees with ease right into his 80s but I’m struggling to make him look at ease while sitting on the top rail of a fence. Barbara suggests that no one is going to look comfortable sitting on a fence so why not have him reclining on the canal bank?

Barefoot in the Park

fence roughWaterton liked to walk barefoot which helps identify him as a dishevelled tramp-like character but to look down at Waterton’s bare feet as well as up at the tree tops of the park beyond that high defensive wall means that I have to fall back on that old cheat used by illustrators, rubberised perspective. It’s not so much of a cheat though because, if this was a film, which is the way that I keep thinking of it, and this was a panning shot, the perspective would keep changing as the camera tracked across the scene.

final rough

Yes, Waterton has ended up looking like Willy Wonka, but I think that this version tells the story more clearly than my first rough. It also leaves plenty of space for the three speech bubbles that we need in the space between the characters.

Main Title

titleI’ve added the lettering to my opening title frame, which brings things together. I can decide later whether I want to stick with these colours and whether I want to introduce hand-lettering for the captions. As the script has yet to take on its final form, it would be wise for now to stick with a computer generated font for the speech bubbles.

Watercolour Ripples


Nickel titanium yellow, gamboge genuine, permanent rose, cerulean blue, French ultramarine, indigo. I later added a touch of burnt umber for the oar.

I sometimes get the feeling that, rather than drawing a comic strip, I’m acting as production designer and storyboard artist for a big budget movie of The Life of Charles Waterton.

I’ve been watching period dramas such as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which is set in the same period and was filmed in Yorkshire on locations that included two Georgian streets in Wakefield which Waterton would have known.

The BBC Films 2012 version of Great Expectations included costumes and scenes that would have been perfect for my comic strip. At the climax of the film there’s a scene on the Thames which had me thinking about the dawn procession of boats across Walton Lake which was arranged for Waterton’s funeral.

In today’s illustration – a premonition of Waterton’s funeral – I tried to suggest dawn light on eddies in the water. The gradation of watercolour from lemon yellow to indigo called for some forward planning. My Winsor & Newton watercolour box didn’t have enough divisions in the palette for all the colours, so I moved on to another box for the French ultramarine and indigo.

Cross-hatched Headline

defence logoWith so many drawings to do, it might seem counterproductive to lavish a few hours on the title for my comic strip, which I could have added in minutes in Photoshop or Manga Studio but it helps me establish the mood of the story. I’ll probably modify it later but this will suffice to set the scene.

The inspiration for the blocky lettering comes from the Channel 4 series Amazing Spaces Shed of the Year. Their freehand, cross-hatched logo suggests the blockiness of a shed and its homespun design. I’m going for a Victorian feel in my illustrations, so why shouldn’t I try cross-hatching my lettering.

Waterton campaigning against the enclosure of Heath Common, January 1844.
Waterton campaigning against the enclosure of Heath Common, January 1844.

I was also thinking about the posters that Waterton had printed for his campaign to save the last open spaces available to the people of Wakefield.

The starting point for my title was a typeface called Superclarendon Bold, which I’ve squared up as a visual metaphor for the wall that Waterton built around his nature reserve in a heroic attempt to save it from poachers and pollution.

Waterton's signature from a letter dated 1859 (see below).
Waterton’s signature from a letter dated 1859 (see below).

We’ve discussed using a font or handlettering based on Charles Waterton’s handwriting throughout the comic but I think that would give the story an elegant period flavour, introducing a hint of Jane Austen. I’m aiming at something more robust and chunky.

scarbro 1859

Like so many of us from the West Riding of Yorkshire, Waterton liked to spend his holidays at Scarborough.

Polishing up those Roughs

cravat rough

throwing away the cravatAs so often happens, I feel this rough drawing of Charles Waterton for the comic project is more lively than my finished, cross-hatched illustrations. I hope that I can bring a bit of this freedom into my finished work.

When I think of roughs I think of layout paper, pencil and shorthand sketches but it’s a big jump from those to the final artwork. You can easily lose the initial spontaneity.

At college our tutor Quentin Blake said that he preferred to get away from pencil on layout paper roughs as soon as possible and start working on whatever paper and in whatever medium he was going to use for the final artwork.

In two revised roughs for my poachers page, I decided to draw in pen and watercolour so that I can drop scans of these roughs into the almost finished page. It gives me and my writer a much better idea of how the finished page might look.

poacher page


As you can see from the drawing of the park gates, layout paper soon cockles under a watercolour wash, so I might start using cartridge paper for this kind of halfway to finished rough.

I often find myself thinking of my comic strip when I draw from life, for instance the lime trees foliage today had me thinking of how I might make the backgrounds to the scenes in Waterton’s park look convincing but not overworked.

lime leaves

Song Thrush Anting


8.30 p.m. The brown ants that nest under the paving stones at the end of the drive are running around excitedly on this still, warm summer evening, as they do when the flying ants (the queens and the males) are preparing to take off on their nuptial flights. This activity has attracted a song thrush which is sitting with its tail bent beneath it, enjoying an anting session.


With all the recent ant activity, I was thinking the other day that it’s a long time since I saw this behaviour; in fact this might be the first time that I’ve actually seen it in real life, rather than in a wildlife documentary.

After the song thrush had finished, I went out to take a closer look at the ants and there were no winged ants amongst them. Perhaps they took flight earlier in the day, or perhaps this was a false alarm from overexcited worker ants.

When I first uploaded this post, I identified it as a mistle thrush but the arrow-shaped spots show that it’s a song thrush.

Mist over Mam Tor

meadow crane's-bill

Coffee break at the Riverlife Cafe, Bamford.
Coffee break at the Riverlife Cafe, Bamford.

Losehill has its head in the clouds as we walk along Hollowford Road, the old route between Castleton and Edale. The verges are lush of meadow crane’s-bill, yellow vetchling and meadowsweet.

A male bullfinch investigates a blackthorn by an old field barn then joins his mate as they make their way along the tall hedgerow.


Dock leaf
Dock leaf with creeping buttercup.

Calf number 500196 takes a passing interest in us as I photograph him through the fence with Mam Tor in the background.

It still amazes me that we can reach this horseshoe shaped valley in just over an hour’s drive from home. We’re delivering books today, so we’ve come the long way around via Sheffield. On what’s become a regular run for us, I find it impressive that such a busy, and what I’d call vibrant city –  with galleries, theatres, museums and a botanic garden so close to lonely gritstone moors and green limestone dales.

In the Hope Valley we’re right on the border of these two Peak District landscapes, where tropical limestone seas gave way to the river deltas of where the millstone grit was deposited. Between the two, looming behind calf number 500186, we have a great pile of Mam Tor sandstones and Edale Shales. Which are notoriously unstable. Beyond 500196’s hindquarters, you can see that landslip that closed the A625 Sheffield to Stockport road in 1974.

Castleton barn

Silver birch, drawn as we had a late lunch at the Seed Room, Overton.
Silver birch, drawn as we had a late lunch at the Seed Room, Overton.

There’s more lush vegetation by the stream in Castleton including an umbellifer (hogweed?); a garden escape, yellow loosestrife and a clump of reed canary grass, Phalaris arundinacea.

Hope we’ll be back in the Peak District again before too long.


The Poachers’ Panels

poachers framespoacher pageYou can’t see how the page will work until you drop the artwork into the comic strip panels and add the speech bubbles. But there isn’t a lot of dialogue on this action-packed page.

The layout still needs some attention. The central circular panel needs to be larger and I’d like the knife to be breaking out of the panel but for now this version will serve as a rough cut.

The main lessons that I draw from working on this fight sequence are;

  1. Be bold
  2. Be relaxed
  3. Learn a bit more about Manga Studio (the program I use to add the borders)


Fruit Bowl

fruit bowlTomatoes are fruits, so I’m calling this a fruit bowl. I’m trying out the loose version of Victorian cross-hatching that I’m intending to use for the Waterton comic.

cotoneastermum in 1924I’m missing getting out to draw natural history. I’m glad that at this time last year I kept taking advantage of every free day to draw orchids, waders and reed-beds at the RSPB Old Moor reserve. But on Friday I did get half an hour, between other commitments, to sit and draw a branch of cotoneaster. The sketch of the girl with the ribbon in her hair is from a oil on canvas portrait of my mother, painted c. 1924.

high street treeWe grabbed a late lunch at the Caffe Capri on Friday, giving me a chance to draw a beech tree on Horbury High Street. The tree seems to be is suffering from being almost totally tarmacked in as the ends of many of its twigs are devoid of leaves but we’ve had a cool, dry June so perhaps in a milder, damper summer it would recover.