January Sketchbook

A second gallery of pages which didn’t make it into my daily posts, taken from my Dove Grey A5 landscape Pink Pig sketchbook.

  • New year's day: a morning walk at Nostel Priory.

The Curtains were Drawn

curtainsFor today’s scene for Horbury Pageant Players’ production Sleeping Beauty we’re painting twin curtains to frame a star-cloth background. It reminds me of Spike Milligan’s sketch that begins: ‘The curtains were drawn, but the rest of the room was real . . .’

I grumble to Ken, a member of the cast who is a retired painter and decorator, that after 49 years painting scenery for the society, I still can’t paint a straight line. It always looks ragged when I paint it.

I make a mistake when I’m painting the pillar and end up with the line leaning slightly outwards at the top. I blot out my beige line with the background magnolia and the two colours blend into each other. I decide to use the technique to my advantage by blending the lines into shadows as I’m painting the pillar and the panelling. That way the raggedness of my line helps with shading.

Sleeping Beauty Castle

chateau backdropI’ve visited Château d’Ussé in the Loire, the château that inspired Perrault to write The Sleeping Beauty, but for our pantomime version Wendy the producer wants something nearer to the Disney Castle. We haven’t got the headroom for anything so lofty so for my backdrop I’ve gone for an impressive entrance with a suggestion of a hexagonal shaped castle going back into the perspective.

We’ve got a great team with the girls from the chorus singing one of the numbers from the show as they rollered over last year’s village scene with magnolia emulsion. Once that had dried, I scaled up my rough onto the eight canvas-covered flats, using the cross pieces of the framework, just visible under the canvas, as my grid.

My team followed my outlines, paint by numbers fashion, and by the time I’d finished drawing out at the right hand side, I was able to go back to the now dried out tree silhouettes on the left to add a bit of comic strip style definition by painting black outlines and a few suggestions of foliage.

First Snow

snow sketchSnow settled yesterday evening, the first covering that we’ve had during a mild, wet winter. It brought more than the usual one or two siskins to the feeder this morning: six or more.

Snow is a strange thing to draw. In fact you hardly draw it at all, it’s mainly the white spaces that are left when you’ve drawn everything around it.

Sage Advice

sage sketch

Nostell Priory Lake: A pair of mallards makes careful progress over an expanse of ice between two areas of open water. After a minute or so the female decides that it will be quicker to fly.

Focus on Teapots

teapotWe spot our friend Roger in the cafe, so naturally the conversation comes around to photography. Focussing on a teapot, I ask him how I can get over the problem that when I use my bridge camera, a Fujifilm FinePix S6800, on macro setting I have to get in so close that the proportions of my subject get distorted: the spout looks jumbo sized.

teapotsYou need use a bit of zoom, suggests Roger. That works, the spout is now in proportion with the teapot, but, with my shaky hands, I’ve got a problem: the zoom magnifies any camera shake and the smaller aperture of the lens means that the camera will be selecting a longer shutter speed, again increasing the risk of blur.

FujiFilm FinePix S6800I tell Roger that I’m considering upgrading to a camera with image stabilisation and he tells me that my camera probably has that as an option. He drills down through the menus and sets it to always use sensor shift image stabilisation. It’s a well hidden option and looking back through the settings menu, I can’t now see where he found it.

Depth of Field

rosemarysageBut it works. I hand-held the camera for this shot of rosemary in a stone trough in the courtyard. Introducing a bit of telephoto to a macro shot results in a smaller depth of field than I’d get at the wide angle end of my zoom lens, throwing the background out of focus and giving more emphasis to the subject.

I use the photograph of the sage as reference for my sketchbook page for today. I’m reading a couple of books on botanical art so I decide to try drawing in 4H and then HB pencil before adding the watercolour, lightest shades first, which in this case is the pale yellow of the stipples on the leaves.

lemon yellowsI’ve just replaced the Winsor lemon in my pocket watercolour box. As Winsor lemon is no longer available I went for cadmium lemon.

herbThis green-leaved herb looks like marjoram or oregano. I cropped my original photograph to show this detail because I couldn’t get in this close with the macro. There’s a limit to how far you can zoom in before the auto-focus ceases to work. A red box marked ‘AF’ appears centre screen. I found that I had to zoom back out a little before the auto focus would work successfully.


Bonnet Fungus

bonnet fungusGrowing on a lush mat of moss on our front lawn, this looks like one of the bonnet fungi, Mycena.

Buds of winter aconite are swelling in the flower beds in Holmfield Park.

Drawn to the Dales


My January Dalesman article

‘It would be a pity if he disappeared to Yorkshire & just wrote for the Dalesman’

That was the typically wry comment of my professor, Brian Robb, head of illustration, as he looked through my folio at the Royal College of Art in March 1975. So, with apologies to Brian, you can probably guess what I’ve been writing for the last three years?

This month's Dalesman includes spectacular photographs of the waterfall at Malham Cove, following persistent rains at the beginning of December. A once in a lifetime event.
This month’s Dalesman includes spectacular photographs of the waterfall at Malham Cove, following persistent rains at the beginning of December. A once in a lifetime event.

With this January article, I’m starting the fourth year of my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the monthly magazine, described as the parish magazine for the whole of Yorkshire by Alan Bennett. As my deadline is always four or five weeks ahead of the month in question, I’ve based my articles on the observations and sketches in my online Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, which I started on Sunday 4 October 1998.

I’ve kept the focus of my Dalesman diaries on the kind of things that anyone can see in Yorkshire if they get out and about in their local patch and explore gardens, country parks, woodlands, waterside and moor. Now I’m ready to go a little further . . .
Northern EnglandHere at Middlestown, five miles south west of Wakefield, close to where Coxley Beck joins the Calder, I’m well placed for heading for the hills with four National Parks – the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors and the Lake District – and I mustn’t ignore the Vales of York, Pickering and Mowbray, the Humber Estuary and the Yorkshire Coast.

I should be able to find plenty of material for next year’s Wild Yorkshire diary!

Soaring Around Town

peregrine, meadow and loosestrife.2 p.m.: Peregrine flying past the town hall, over Wood Street, Wakefield, heading in the direction of the cathedral.

4.30 p.m.: Two weeks or so after the shortest day, the light already seems to be lingering longer in the afternoons. It helps that today has been a lot brighter than the wet, overcast days that we’ve had so much of recently.

The purple loosestrife seed heads were drawn with a dip pen, using Winsor & Newton peat brown ink.

Birds on a Wet Afternoon

birds on the feedersIt’s so dim this afternoon that I can’t make out all the colour on the great tits, blue tits, goldfinches and siskins coming to the feeders and I’m determined not to saturate the colour by adding what I know must be there in the gloom, such as the yellow wing bars and red mask of the goldfinch.