Spring back into Sketching

View from Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, yesterday morning. Even in the mist and rain there’s something to draw in the panorama of the Calder Valley.
Houseplant, Howarthia, a South African succulent, a member of the lily family, Filmore & Union, Redbrick Mill, Batley.

In search of a drawing for my latest Dalesman article, I’ve been delving back through my sketchbooks of ten and eleven years ago. Browsing through pages that I drew while we were travelling or at family gatherings, I realise that it’s time for me to get back into everyday sketching

As a small start, here are a few pages from my current pocket-sized Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. It’s paper isn’t intended for watercolour but, inspired by those 2007/8 sketches, I feel that colour adds a lot to rapid line drawings; not just extra information but also mood.

If you use a sketchbook as a visual diary, colour can evoke a memory more effectively than black and white.

So far, it hasn’t been a hard winter, but it has often been drearily wet so the veg beds in our garden are sodden and the paths in the wood muddier than usual, but snowdrops and winter aconites have been in flower for weeks and we do keep getting brighter days, encouraging Barbara and I to begin to thinking about setting off for the coast or the hills or to take a city break or a Eurostar break.

When we do I want the sketching habit to have become second nature.

Spurred on, I drew people on the platform at Leeds station last week, adding colour from memory later.

I’ve taken to scanning my sketches a high res, 300 dots per inch, then scaling them down for the web, but seeing the full res version on screen, I realise that I lose a lot of texture in the smaller version. In fact, I can see the drawing better blown up on the screen of my iMac than I can in the original sketch.

This figure pulling along a case is just an inch and a half tall in my sketchbook.

Hatstand at Peter’s Barber’s shop.
Peter the barber, drawn yesterday in Ossett.



An Unlikely Warble

4 p.m., 1°C, 34°F: A grey afternoon; a blackbird’s scolding alarm call. One hundred wood pigeons disperse from the wood – or, more probably, from the field behind the wood – flying over quietly as I draw our compost bins.

There’s an unlikely warble, which soon gets extemporised; only a song thrush would improvise such a varied and eccentric song.

Twenty or thirty winter gnats are dancing in a loose column, five or six feet above my bedraggled square of meadow.

There’s a thin song from a robin and repeated nasal chirrs from a blue tit. As sunset approaches every bird seems tetchy and alarmed, then there’s a strident insistent call that sounds exactly like a house alarm. Hang on, it is some kind of alarm which my neighbour is testing out.

Dick Whittington

Fitzwarren’s shop.

Who would have thought that copying the lettering on a Georgian satirical etching would be of any practical use so soon. The freely hand-drawn italics and capitals from Darly’s Antique Architect were what I had in mind when I added the name to the sign over Alderman Fitzwarren’s shop for the London scene in this year’s Pageant Players’ pantomime, Dick Whittington.

Talking of lettering, a little tip: if you’re fitting lettering into a particular space, work out which is the middle letter and start with that.

In the case of the ‘Fitzwarren’s’  shop sign, I started at the halfway point above the Georgian bow-fronted window and painted the second half of the word – ‘arren’s’ – before working my way, in reverse order, through the first half: ‘Fitzw’. Just be careful not to smudge the lettering you’ve already added.

I was careful not to look at a photograph of the real St Paul’s Cathedral before I added a pantomime version of the familiar landmark on the right-hand side of the London back-drop.

Sadly, this will be the last pantomime with our producer Wendie Wilby at the helm, as she’s stepping down, and I’ve decided that it’s a good opportunity for me to call it a day, after fifty-one years painting scenery for them. It’s a shame because, as one of the younger members commented today, being in the Pageants’ is like being part of a family; she was referring to the mutual support that helps members make progress, from complete beginners to – in some cases – a career in show business.

That certainly refers to our team of scenic painters today as we more or less completed the desert scene after the lunch break.

As this is Wendie’s last production we’ve thrown everything at it: beach, palm trees and even a volcano.

The Antique Architect

My iPad copy of the 1773 etching by M Darly. There’s no indication of colour in the original, so I’ve loosely based that on the Willison portrait, see below.

I was determined not to do any research for my comic strip, working title Adam and the Gargoyle, but here I go again . . .

My characters might have been reasonably convincing in the pencil roughs but, when it came to inking and resolving the details, it didn’t seem to be working. I realised that, for instance, I don’t know what kind of tailcoat my architect character, Robert Adam, might have been wearing c. 1770, when he was busy with improvements and decorative schemes for Nostell Priory.

Of course, I’m creating a pantomime version of Adam but it needs to relate the historical character so I was delighted when Google turned up a caricature, an etching dated 11th October 1773, by the prolific satirist Matthew Darly (fl. 1741-1778), now in the collections of the British Museum. It occurs to me that this might be the work of his wife Mary Darly (fl. 1756-1779), who was was also a publisher, satirist, teacher and caricaturist.

The ‘Antique Architect’, one of a series of Characters, Macaronies & Caricatures that Darly published, most probably depicts Robert Adam (1741-1797) as Robert and his brother James had recently published their first volume of Works in Architecture.

Porte Crayon

As I copied the etching on my iPad (in Clip Studio Paint, as usual), one detail that I found odd was the writing implement. It looks like a double-ended pen, topped and tailed with steel nibs, which I imagine would have been impractical to use.

Again, thanks to good old Google, I’m able to identify it as a porte crayon, a travel pencil: a piece of bamboo split at both ends to accommodate two crayon leads, with two brass rings to keep the leads in place. In the one that I’ve drawn from a photograph on an auction site, there’s red at one end and graphite at the other.

Robert Adam portrait

Image re-used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence

Robert Adam
George Willison (1741–1797) (attributed to)
National Portrait Gallery, London


The Antique Architect, etching by M Darly at the British Museum

Nostell Priory and Parkland, National Trust

Getting to know the Gargoyle

I called in at the Stables at Nostell Priory this morning to take a another look at the gargoyle. He’s bigger than I imagined – about half as big again – that’s one of the disadvantages of drawing from a photograph.

I photographed him from an angle this time, to get a three-quarters view, which brings out different facets of his character, so, whereas before I thought that he was rough around the edges, cracked and crazy-looking with dinky little ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’ style horns, I now see that he’s rough, yes, crazy and cracked, yes, but with the rather stylish, swept-back horns of a young goat.

A good-looking guy, for a gargoyle, that is.

Snow Flurries

Mandarin snoozes by the pool in the wildfowl pen.

11 a.m.: Flakes of snow drift down from grey cloud but that hasn’t put off the golfers on a green of Dewsbury District Golf Course above Whitley Wood. A flock of gulls fly across and line up on the embankment of the reservoir.

Patches of snow on distant moors disappear into the mist.

A Little Rough

First rough; having got that on paper – or at least on the iPad – I can now improve characters, dialogue and setting as I move on to the next layer and work in pen.

Whenever I think about drawing a comic strip I start to get white page syndrome. If I thought too hard about this little idea, inspired by the gargoyle that I drew last week, I’d likely break off to research the historical setting and the costumes.

After my recent experiments in drawing on the iPad in Clip Studio Paint, this is my first attempt at using the program to generate a comic strip, so I’m keeping the layout ultra simple.

Limiting myself to four squares, each with a ruled border around it, means that – if the final strip was ever used anywhere – it could be four horizontal frames or four vertical and if, as I intend, I was to draw five strips on the same theme, as you’d see in a daily paper, they could go together in a four by five grid, for the Saturday morning supplement, in comic strip tradition.

Layers in Clip Studio Paint.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of adding frames in Clip Studio, partly because there are several alternative ways to do that so I’ve gone with the method that I’ve become familiar with, treating each frame as a separate drawing.

The main difference is there’s no photographic reference this time, and I’m enjoying working from my imagination for a change.

Sticky Bud

Flaky bark and even flakier tree recognition: I take a closer look at the tree that I photographed on Friday and, although the bark is flaky, it isn’t as flaky as that of London Plane: it’s Horse Chestnut, which probably explains why the bark is so polished; it’s been climbed by generations of conker collectors.

At this time of year, the swelling buds are almost as distinctive at the autumn conker fruits. The bud scales are red-brown and sticky and beneath them are the shield-shaped scars where last year’s leaves were attached.

The lenticels that dot the twigs are raised pores which allow for gaseous exchange.

Fossil Sponge from Flamborough

This fossil sponge was collected from the beach at Selwicks Bay, Flamborough Head, on a Rockwatch weekend in the early 1990s.

It was embedded in a fragment of chalk that had fallen from the cliff, so it dates from the Upper Cretaceous Period, 95 to 65 million years ago. I drew it for my 1996 book Yorkshire Rock, A Journey Through Time but since then the chalk that surrounded it has split into shards. The collar of the smaller sponge has disintegrated too.

How I imagine it might have looked, growing in the chalky ooze of the Cretaceous sea bed.

Sponges were common as the age of the dinosaurs drew to a close. They had a sac-like body with a central cavity known as the cloaca.

The nearest species that I can find is Laosciada, a mushroom-shaped lithistid, a kind of demosponge, informally referred to as a calcisponge. It lived in deep water, between 100 and 400 metres.

The skeleton of the collar of this sponge is made up of interlocking spicules, which look like little pyramids in close-up. They’re made of silica which, remineralised, forms the layers of flint found in the chalk.