Squirrel-nibbled Cones

grey squirrelSquirrels will make an appearance in my Dalesman nature diary this autumn, so I picked up these squirrel-nibbled cones at Nostell this morning to illustrate the article. I’ll be writing about the red squirrels of Snaizeholme near Hawes but these cones have been nibbled by greys.

An ecologist recently told me that the last red he’d seen near Wakefield had been running down the road at Newmillerdam; I think that this would have been in the late 1970s or possibly early 1980s.

It sounds as if the unfortunate creature had an inkling that the greys had taken over and was heading off like a lemming on one last desperate migration. Lets hope it finally arrived at Snaizeholme.

Old School Chair

We believe that this old school chair was made by one of Barbara’s mum’s uncles. It looks handmade; slightly less regular than you’d expect if it had been the product of a workshop where hundreds were made.

My office chair is beginning to look worn, as the fabric on the seat begins to tear. It’s a look that is very much in fashion at the moment, at least when it comes to jeans.

Wing-back Chair

I know that, when the next person walks into the waiting room, out of all the chairs, they’re going to go for the one that I’m drawing.

She does, but luckily by then I’ve drawn the chair itself and I can move on to the houseplant and the drawer unit next to it.

It’s a chair that would go well in the consulting room at 221b Baker Street.

Back at Barbara’s brother’s, I draw the end of the sofa that sits next to the laid-back armchair that set me off sketching seating last week.

It isn’t Holmesian like the wing-back, but it’s got enough character to be the centrepiece in a set for a retro situation comedy.

There are some drawable dining chairs at Filmore and Union in the Redbrick Mill in Batley but how can I resist drawing the box of fruit (and a head of broccoli) behind the counter.

I take a photograph, so that I can add the colour later (although I think that I could have managed perfectly well from memory this time).

This old car – a Morris Oxford? – brings back distant memories for me. That shade of pale green was popular in the late 1950s and early 60s; as I remember it, our Austin A40 was a similar colour.

Drawing Chairs

Drawing this relaxed-looking armchair set me off; whenever I’ve had the odd moment during the last week, I’ve looked around for a chair to draw.

At Frankie & Benny’s, I focused on the chair itself and omitted the surroundings, such as the table leg in front of it.

As has so often happens, I started at the top but didn’t appreciate that I’d need to draw at a slightly larger scale to accommodate the detail of the chair’s back, so it has turned out taller and narrower than it should be.

Every detail of Frankie & Benny’s has been chosen to evoke the atmosphere of a 1950s New York Italian American diner: furniture, fittings and cut-out metal lettering. The F&B logo is brush-lettering, similar to the Walt Disney signature of the same vintage.

In a local independent cafe, Rich & Fancy on Queen Street, Horbury, the lettering on the blackboard is hand-drawn, and the chair is less chic and cosmopolitan.

Pizza Express goes for a retro style that might have earned a Design Council label in the 1960s.

Back in the studio, I was at last able to study a chair which wasn’t partially obscured by a table, a customer or a waitress.

The folding Ikea chair gives me a better chance to observe the negative spaces between the tubular metal framework and the plastic seat and back: triangles and shapes that remind me of a wedge of cheese with the nose cut off.


Back to Basics Booklets

Placeholder image for my speed test booklet.

It’s frustrating at times, but I have to admit that I’m enjoying going back to basics with my printed booklets, doing a bit of detective work to see where the hold up in printing speed is creeping in. So far, so good: this ultra-simple booklet with placeholder text prints out in a couple of minutes and it makes no difference if I use GIF images or larger format TIFs, which are about twice the size.

It’s such a pleasure to construct a really simple booklet, dropping little rough sketches in wherever I please, that it makes me want to design another booklet for real, perhaps taking a sketchbook and scanning the illustrations separately then typing up my handwritten notes.

I’m using Adobe InDesign CC 2017, a program which seems to have its quirks if, like me, you’re more used to Microsoft Publisher or Serif PagePlus.

Image manipulation and booklet printing get me every time: I always grab the frame rather than the image itself when I want to change its size, but surely by now I’ve learnt that you don’t select ‘Print’ if you want to print a booklet!

I’m steadily getting there.

Mini Meadow

When I bought three packets of different kinds of meadow seed mixes three months ago, I wondered if I would ever end up with anything resembling the colourful photographs on the boxes. I’m delighted that all three mixes have done well, sown, each in an area roughly a metre square, on the raised bed behind the pond. On a sunny day the flowers are popular with hoverflies.

I’ll definitely repeat the experiment next year. I think that a lot of these flowers will seed quite freely around the garden, so I’ll try leaving a few bare patches here and there to encourage them, but for the raised bed itself, I’ll sow a fresh seed mix.

What appears to be an all-black bumblebee visits several flowers in the mini meadow, bending the slender stem right over when it lands. A smaller gingery ochre bumblebee is more suited to the size of the flowers.

Amongst the hoverflies is one of the familiar species with the boat-shaped striped abdomen and a small, duller-looking spindle-shaped hoverfly.

I’m typing this post on my iPad as I sit on one of the stones at the corner of the raised bed. It’s the first post that I’ve ever typed, drawn, photographed (using the built-in camera on my iPad) and uploaded entirely on location in the back garden. I wonder how far I can get from the house and still use the wifi in my studio.

Around the Pond

Like any other part of the garden, the pond needs weeding occasionally. There’s never a time of year when the pond isn’t a vital time for some form of wildlife but, as I’d been trimming around it this morning, I decided to put on my long waterproof gloves to see if I could create a bit of open water by pulling out some of the moss which has grown to blanket most of the surface.

I was surprised how easily I could drag handfuls out, even the floating clump of creeping buttercup came out in several heavy armfuls. I’ve left all the debris close to the edge to give the tadpoles, newt-poles and any other pond life a chance to find its way back into the water. The pond is looking more like a water feature and less like a marsh now that I’ve topped it up.

Matchbox Models

Actual size of drawing, 5×3 cm.

There’s a scene in Joby, Stan Barstow’s novel of childhood in a small Yorkshire town, where Joby has to decide which of his small collection of model cars he’s going to take with him when he has to leave home because of some family trauma. The boy lines them up to assess the personality of each car and eventually goes for the one that seems mundane but dependable, rather than the flashy and spectacular.

Sand and gravel steam wagon, one of Lesney’s Matchbox Models of Yesteryear.

I must have gone through a similar process with this Dinky Toys die-cast van (above). At a time when we wanted to buy an Emgee Memo Stamp (a kind of hand-held duplicator) to print a little club magazine, my brother Bill and I sold most of our childhood toys to Steele’s Surplus, the secondhand shop in the wooden hut down the road (now a beauty and tanning salon), but I decided that I couldn’t part with this van which, even in the 1960s, seemed to have the dependable and practical look and feel of a bygone age.

I kept this Matchbox Austin A50 because it reminded me of our family car in the mid-1950s, an Austin A40.

It originally came to us secondhand, with a box of cast-off toys that had belonged to Mick, the son of our butchers, Mr and Mrs Thompson. I notice that I’d replaced the nearside front tyre with a slightly larger spare, which you could buy in a pack from the newsagents. It’s now the van’s only tyre with legal treads the other’s are bald.

The Bedford Removals Van (below) was a smaller scale Lesney Matchbox model. This was a gift and I went to bed clutching it in my sweaty hand during our annual seaside holiday at Filey on the Yorkshire coast. In the morning the transfer on the side of it – ‘MATCHBOX REMOVALS SERVICE’ – had been rearranged like an anagram in a crossword.

I was so taken with the model and the concept of removal vans in general that when we moved from Wrenthorpe to Horbury, my sister Linda and I persuaded our parents, and the removal men, who should have known better, to allow us to travel in the back of the van. I imagined a great adventure that consisted of sitting in comfort in an armchair on the journey but by the time that we got to the end of our road, my sister and I were convinced that a large piece of furniture lurching and rattling over our heads was going to come crashing down on us.

As we slowed down at a junction in the centre of Wakefield, passers by might have heard the muffled sound of two young children shouting ” Help! HELP!”

Watering Cans

I bought this two gallon (10 litre) galvanised watering can at the closing down sale of a hardware store on Wood Street, Wakefield, c. 1983. It’s a traditional design, the sort that my dad used.

It’s the easiest of all my cans to fill, just leave it under the tap of the water butt. But don’t forget about it and leave it overnight as I did recently, draining what was left in the butt.

This green plastic Ward’s watering can is my current favourite; it’s well-balanced to carry down the garden and free-flowing but easy to control when you’re watering. Not the finest of sprays from the rose, but I don’t have delicate seedlings to water these days, so that”s not a problem.

This 5 litre Haw’s watering can would be the best choice for the gentle watering of seedlings and, with it’s long spout, you’d be able to reach a tray at the back of the bench.

I first become aware of Haw’s watering cans at Kew Gardens in the winter of 1976-77, when I set off to draw tree ferns for a coal forests illustration (detail above).  I’d been looking forward to drawing in tropical warmth but the greenhouses were closed for maintenance, so I stood outside in freezing conditions, drawing the tropical scene.I noticed that the all watering cans dotted about the greenhouse were Haw’s, so I decided that, if they were good enough for Kew, that would be the one that I’d go for.

I bought one in the sale at the hardware store. In those days Haw’s watering cans were metal and this one had been hanging on the display so long that the joint between spout and can had opened enough to allow water to seep out but I filled it with plastic padding and used the can for years. It appears in a sample illustration (left) which I painted when I did some work on Dr Hessayon’s bestselling Garden Expert Guides.

We bought this as a spare can, a bargain from a DIY store or garden centre but it works well: the wavy handle is well-balanced for carrying and for watering.

From a garden gift hamper, this cream-coloured retro metal can is intended to be decorative rather than practical. The rose is soldered to the spout but it works well, giving the plant a gentle dousing.

Finally, we bought this one litre Haw’s plastic watering can for plants on the kitchen windowsill. With that long spout, it’s a slow but precise pourer. The brass and plastic rose produces a gentle spray.