chardThe rainbow chard looks bedraggled but I thought that it would be worth leaving it in because, if the weather improves, it should start sprouting fresh leaves. I remove dead and nibbled leaves plus any that I don’t like the look of; the test is ‘if I saw this in a the supermarket, would I buy it?’ If the answer is no, it goes on the compost heap.

Definitely not going on the compost heap are the white rhizomes of couch grass. There are just a few blades showing so I need to dig down now before this invasive spreads any further. There are also a few rosettes of forget-me-not and opium poppy but they’re not a problem.


hawthorn stemshedge layingThese hawthorn stems are at a good stage for laying, which involves cutting through most of a stem near ground level, bending it over at an angle and weaving it together with other stems and stakes driven into the ground to create a hedge with no gaps at the bottom. It won’t be very high of course but new branches will soon start sprouting upwards.

wood pigeons
In the half hour that I spent drawing this, down in the corner of the garden beyond the greenhouse, a few wood pigeons flew over the wood and a robin hopped amongst the branches of the hawthorn.

blue titI was concerned to see a blue tit with an injured wing, closely accompanied by another uninjured blue tit. Hope it recovers.


A Hole in the Hedge

habitat pile

‘the twisted gorse on the cliff edge, twigs, like snakes, lying on the path, the bare rock, worn and showing though the path, heath hits, gorse burnt and blackened, the high overhanging hedges by the steep roads, which pinch the setting sun, mantling clouds, and the thunder, the deep green valleys and the rounded hills – and the whole structure simple and complex.’

Graham Sutherland,
Notes by the Artist, Tate Gallery, March 1953

On a walk alongside the hedge banks near the Pembrokeshire coast, Graham Sutherland came across a gap in the hedge that particularly appealed to him.

‘I may have noticed a certain juxtaposition of forms at the side of a road, but on passing the same place next time, I might look for them in vain. It was only at the original moment of seeing that they had significance for me.’

‘If at first I attempted to make pictures here on the spot,’ he recalled, ‘I soon gave this up . . . I found that I could express what I felt only by paraphrasing what I saw.’

robin in the holly3.30 p.m., 7ºC, 45ºF; For my hole in the hedge, on a showery afternoon, I go to the trouble of setting up my pop-up tent at the end of the garden. A robin hops into the hedge seven feet away from my and eyes me suspiciously. Perhaps because I’m so used to watching birds through the double-glazing of the patio doors, its colour seems more vivid at close range.

pheasantAlso eyeing me suspiciously is the cock pheasant who strolls through the meadow, pauses at the hole in the hedge and decides that he’ll give me a wide berth.

Link: Paintings and Drawings by Graham Sutherland, Tate Gallery. In his statement, I wonder what Sutherland meant by ‘heath hits’. Perhaps a typo. In the context, I assumed that ‘steep rods’ should have read ‘steep roads’.

The Dove Grey Sketchbook

A walk around Newmillerdam Country Park Lake, Christmas Eve, 2015
A walk around Newmillerdam Country Park Lake, Christmas Eve, 2015

tree in watercolour washTwo years ago, as the  run up to Christmas started, I decided that, however busy I was, I should be capable of doing a drawing from nature every day. Arming myself with a new Holly Green sketchbook, on some days I might give myself thirty minutes in the garden to draw, at other times I’d resort to drawing from a photograph that I’d taken on my travels. This minor daily challenge generated plenty of material when I came to write my monthly nature diary for the Dalesman magazine.

A year later, at the beginning of December 2015, having just reached the end of a sketchbook, I decided to try the same thing again and I started a new A5 landscape format Pink Pig spiral bound sketchbook with a grey cover. This time it hasn’t been so much of a success.

Magpie lookout post.We’ve been out walking a lot but drawing from photographs taken on our travels can be a slow process, so I soon ended up with gaps that I intended to fill in later. There’s no way that I can now go back and fill in all the blank pages that I left in so I’ve loaded the bits and pieces of drawings and notes that I did manage to do in a couple of galleries for December and for January (see links below).squirrel

Texel Ewe

texel ewe‘I do not seem to be able to go into the country for a long enough time to do a sufficient amount of sketching . . . ‘

texel headThat might sound like me moaning but it was Beatrix Potter writing to her friend Mrs Carr on New Year’s Day 1911. I thought of Beatrix Potter when I was drawing the Texel sheep at Cannon Hall Farm Park on 21 January. The ewes had been gathered together in a shelter prior to lambing which was due to start two or three weeks later.

Beatrix used the royalties from the sales of her children’s books to buy Hill Top Farm at Near Sawrey in the Lake District. texel faceShe became something of an expert in keeping Herdwick sheep and impressed the local shepherds with her drawings of them. She once asked her shepherd to save her the head of a still-born lamb and to skin it for her. The shepherd found her drawing it, with the head propped on a wall.

Sun Spurge

sun spurgeI’m reading Linda Lear’s Beatrix Potter, A Life in Nature, which I came to because I’ve been reading a lot about botany, botanical illustration and, in particular, the history of Kew Gardens. As in previous years, I’m hoping to be up to speed on botany when spring arrives. During this mild winter that hasn’t presented much of a problem. I found two species of spurge growing as weeds in the greenhouse. Common ragwort has stayed in flower throughout the winter.

I wouldn’t abandon my tried and tested brown ink plus watercolour which I started using on a field trip in my student days, which I think was partly due to seeing an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Sepia is dark enough to give definition without being as stark as a punchy black.

tree, CluntergateBut I’m aware that I ought to keep varying my approach which is why there are pencil and watercolour drawings and, in a few cases, areas worked up in watercolour only, like the Texel sheep’s fleece.


oliveI went for my Lamy Safari with the broad nib for these oak leaves and, although I originally intended to add colour to the olive branch, just for a change, I’ve left it as a line drawing.


The Dove Grey sketchbook December

The Dove Grey sketchbook January

Little Black Journal

black journalI’ve tried all three of my Lamy Safari pens – fine, extra fine and broad – on the 200 gsm acid free paper of my new sketchbook, a pocket-sized Derwent Black Journal, and the one that works best is the Lamy AL-star with the fine journal


chairWith a Bijou box of Winsor & Newton professional watercolours and a Kuretake water-brush, that’s all I need for my everyday drawing.

This is the sketchbook that I’ll use when I have the odd few minutes, such as before the Nat’s meeting starts or as we’re waiting for the train to set off.

Leeds station 13116I started off feeling that I should be bold in my sketches but the broad nibbed pen seems out of scale for the size of the page and the absorbent texture of the paper.

I can struggle even when I’m drawing the simplest chair. I started on a small scale as I drew the back of the chair then when I got down to the detail of the legs I found that I couldn’t fit them in. With a finer pen I could have incorporated the detail into the space available.

After the Flood

From the train near York

In mid-January we spent a day in York, which was still in the early stages of recovering from the Boxing Day floods. Crossing the flood plain between Church Fenton and York was like sailing across a lake. Mute swans and ducks had gathered on the downstream bay of the temporary lagoon to the south of the railway.

We walked half the circuit of the medieval walls but decided to leave the full tour until the weather and the paving stones dry up a bit.

gulls over the floodputtoIt’s the first time that we’ve had lunch at the Georgian Assembly Rooms, now an Ask Italian, where I briefly sketched the plaster bas relief of a harp-playing putto riding on a lion. It’s worth coming back in the evening to see the place candlelit, the waitress told us.

As we walked out of the double glass doors of the Fenwick’s department store, opposite the Merchant Venturer’s Hall, at the Coppergate Centre, we were able to help a woman shopper who was trying to persuade a dunnock to leave.
dunnockWhichever of the doors she held open, it flew to the closed one and fluttered against the glass, so with Barbara on one door and the woman on the other, I acted as beater and stalked around the stairs to guide it out onto York’s Piccadilly.


poinsettiapepperpotI drew the banana and poinsettia on a visit to Barbara’s brother’s. I decided that on this paper the brown Noodler’s ink didn’t seem crisp enough, probably because the paper is that bit more absorbent than the cartridge that I’m used to in my regular Pink Pig sketchbooks.



canvas bagSo I’ve come around to using my Lamy AL-Star with the fine nib, loaded with black Noodler’s ink. Whenever I have time, I like to add some suggestion of colour. I did have doubts that I’d be able to mix the grey of Barbara’s bag because of the way the colour picks up reflected light indoors but, when I got the sketch back into a good light, I found that I wasn’t so far out with my colour matching.

In daylight the bag takes on a neutral grey cast.

charity box


bent-wood chairiPadOn a walk through powdery snow at Langsett last week I didn’t bother taking my watercolours but, just in case, I put a credit card-sized wallet of children’s crayons in my pocket.

crayonsNot the ideal range of colours but better than nothing for giving a suggestion when I drew a bent-wood chair at the Bank View Cafe.


Derwent pencils and sketchbooks

Lamy pens

Ask Italian, York


pheasantsrobin3.45 p.m.: Three female pheasants walk up the wood-chip path to peck at spilt sunflower hearts beneath the bird feeders.

blackbird bathingA robin’s bathing routine is interrupted by a blackbird, a more enthusiastic bather.

Two male and one female blackbird patrol the lawn. The female comes lower in the pecking order and is seen off by one of the males when she darts forward to pick up a morsel.

female blackbird female blackbird

Snowdrops by the Pond

pond sketch view from pop-up tent10.30 a.m.: Snowdrops are at their freshest around the pond so I set up my pop-up tent and start a sketch in the gusting wind and passing showers.

Before the afternoon rain sweeps in I roll up the tent into its dustbin lid-sized bag. I can never quite work out how such as large tent fits into such a small bag but it does, in what seems to me like the most tent folderillogical and inelegant fashion. I resort to grabbing the writhing figure-of-eight coils and pushing them to the middle. I’ll try and practice with it on a regular basis until it becomes second nature.