10.30 a.m., 44ºF, 6ºC: Robin and song thrush are singing in the wood; other than that the soundtrack as I’m drawing is the wind in the willows, the patter of rain on my umbrella and the rippling of water over a gravelly bend of Coxley beck. The shower passes so that I’m able to discard the umbrella when it comes to adding the watercolour. That makes the process a whole lot easier.
I call this bend in the beck Willow Island but it’s only after heavy rain that this overgrown side channel fills with water. Wellies are essential when I’m drawing here as I have to wade along a 20 yard stretch of the beck. I proceed with caution as on one constricted bend the stream has scoured out a channel that looks more than wellie deep.
1.50 p.m., looking east, cold wind from southwest, 40ºF, 5ºC: From medieval times, villagers had the right to graze their animals on Stocksmoor Common but, since grazing ceased there, silver birch and other trees have spread. In order to preserve the now rare habitat of unploughed, unimproved acid grassland, the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Trust has in recent years started grazing sheep and cattle on the reserve.
As I finish my drawing, two of the White Park cattle come down to drink at the pond.
4 p.m., 43ºF, 8ºC: Two herons touch down at the far side of the flood lagoon on the Strands. There’s an indignant ‘kirrack!’ from one of them. A cormorant flies high over the river. Cormorants prefer the river or the canal for fishing; perhaps the lagoon is too shallow for them to dive in. Three coots forage together on this side channel.
The low afternoon sun gives a warm glow to dry grasses and bare willows. When it drops behind a cloud, the glowing grasses instantly switch to dark silhouette and of course the reflections in the water change instantly too.
After forty minutes drawing I start striding back home along the towpath, timing myself as I go; just fifteen minutes from wilderness and wet to our front door.
A song thrush sings strikingly from the canal-side trees. Strikingly, but you couldn’t describe his varied, thrice-repeated improvisations as melodious.
These lush weeds grow in a corner of the cold frame. As I draw, there’s a confrontation between two pairs of magpies with a lot of irate clacking. They meet on our chimney and two of the rivals lock feet together and roll down the roof tiles. The dispute moves on to the next door neighbour’s roof and, as I pack in, I can see them in the top of one of the ash trees in the wood, joined by at least two more magpies and a carrion crow who seems to be just an onlooker.
In December there was so much water coming over this weir by the Hepworth gallery that a large barge was almost swept over it. The chain of orange barrels that straddled the river above the weir was snapped from its moorings on the far bank and now it trails down in front of the Hepworth like a giant string of beads.
I drew the weir from a table in the cafe then, as we walked around the galleries, I paused to make a couple of sketches of the turbulence at the foot of the weir, crouching or standing to draw. It was only then that I spotted that folding stools are available, which makes drawing in the galleries a whole lot more comfortable.
Wet media aren’t allowed in the galleries so I’ve added the watercolour later from memory.
Barbara Hepworth’s Workbench
Hammer, mallet and the ‘Parkinsons’ Patd Perfect Vise’ (that’s the American spelling) on Dame Barbara’s workbench all look well used.
Barbara’s dad always referred to this kind of heavy square-headed hammer as a lumping hammer.
Picking up an activity sheet, I went in search of two wrestlers; Henri Gaudier-Brzeka had drawn wrestlers in a gym in Putney in November 1912 and he carved these two in herculite plaster the following year.
Sixty years later, in 1972, when I started as a student in London, I remember seeing the posters for Ken Russell’s film Savage Messiah. The poster features Brzeka drawing by chipping away at the tarmac with a pneumatic drill. The tagline is:
Every man has a dream that must be realized . . a love that must come true . . a life that must not stop.
What impressed me about Brzeka was that he’d head for the London Zoo on Sundays where he’d draw at lightning speed, working so quickly that the ink didn’t have time to dry before he turned the page of his sketchbook. In contrast, as a student, I tended to choose one of the more sedate animals to draw, like the Indian rhinoceros.
‘It’s taking a long time to drain off.’ says a dog walker as I drawn the Strands, a field between the river and the canal, ‘I came down on Boxing Day and the path by the old railway was half underwater. It’s underwater again today.’
I thought that I’d heard a horse clip-clopping across the field but it was a mute swan taking off at the top end of the lagoon. I think the noise must have been its wing-tips clattering as they hit the water.
Using Roger Phillips’ Weeds, a photographic guide to identify garden and field weeds, I’ve identified a dozen species springing up on the raised veg bed at the end of the garden. Forget-me-not and bush vetch didn’t get included in my short YouTube video.
Look out for the guest appearance by a tiny slug, ready and waiting for us to plant some tender juicy seedlings.
I like the extra fine nib Lamy pen filled with brown ink for detailed natural history drawings but this afternoon, as I set off in a wintry shower to draw this willow by the canal, I find the bold nib and black ink more useful. Shower over, the tree goes into high contrast, backlit by the sun, so it’s useful to be able to quickly build up tone in the shadow areas, following the pattern of the bark with quick pen lines.
As you can see from my photograph, the bold nib (in the yellow pen on the left) has a rounded end which moves easily in any direction over the cartridge paper of my sketchbook. Being larger, it is freer flowing, giving an satisfyingly inky line.
Common or field forget-me-not has hairy leaves, hence its Latin name, Myosotis arvensis, which translates as ‘mouse ear of the fields’.
Hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, reminds me of a small version of lady’s smock, Cardamine pratense. It’s one of the earliest of weeds to flower and one plant can produce 50,000 seeds.
I always think of groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, as a user friendly weed. It doesn’t have a taproot or spreading rhizomes, so you can soon clear a bed of groundsel just by pulling it up. Although it will probably soon appear again as its seeds can germinate within a week.
So far I’m struggling to identify this little weed. Possibly common whitlow grass, Erophila verna. As my drawing is is just an inch and a half across, I’ve scanned it at a higher res to show a bit more detail but I’m not drawing it with the aid of a hand lens so my slightly blurred macro photograph is better for showing details of the flowers and seed-pods.
We get several dandelion relatives in the garden. This is smooth sowthistle, Sonchus oleraceus. Note the slug that has already made itself at home in the rosette of leaves.
Sow-thistle stems ooze a milky sap when broken, so the slug must have a way of dealing with this latex.