Black Swans Preening

The Calder Valley beyond Mirfield is disappearing into the haze this morning.

In the waterfowl pen at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, black swans are preening.

This disconsolate-looking West Highland terrier was sitting by a table at the the Caffe Capri.

These are the first scans from my sketchbook made using Affinity Photo. Aspects of the process are still slightly unfamiliar but there are plenty of short tutorial videos on specific subjects, like setting levels, so I’m not finding it too difficult to get into the program.

I do still miss the the preview that you get in Adobe Photoshop, which takes the guesswork out of exporting an image for the web. In practice, as I stick to pretty much the same settings every time, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be surprised by the end results.

The sketch of black swans preening looked very similar when I saved the same image in Photoshop.

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo: for readability, I’ve gone for the light version of the user interface with large print, and with the tool names popping up as soon as I hover the mouse over the icon.
My original scanner, in a GIF image from 2002, so please forgive the pixelation.

I’ve been using Photoshop for twenty-two years but I might finally be moving on.

In 1996, I bought my first scanner which came with an OEM version of Adobe Photoshop 4.0 included in the box. This was quite a bargain as, at that time, if you wanted to buy the same version of Photoshop on it’s own, it would have cost you more than the scanner and Photoshop bundled together! Continue reading “Affinity Photo”

Patio Patrol

In close-up, this paved area at the end of Barbara’s brother’s South Ossett garden is a miniature landscape; a sun-baked plateau dissected by a network of canyons. Brown ants patrol the edges of a dense forest of mosses.

Moss is still green in the crevices but on the surface of the concrete paving slabs, it’s dried up. White whiskers give the clump a little protection from the direct glare of the sun.

Spore capsules of the mosses are like pepper-pots on wiry stalks. One (left) has split open, leaving the teeth around the rim splayed out, like the petals of a miniature daisy.

Spots, Stains and Splatters: Crustose Lichens

There are a few spots of a dirty yellow crustose lichen on the concrete. It’s dotted with orange sporangia, each with a narrow yellow rim.

This black crustose lichen looks like little more than a tar stain on the concrete but my macro photograph reveals a surface cracked like dried mud.

A white lichen looks like splatters of paint. In close-up almost every individual scale in the colony is dotted with a small depression, perhaps the lichen’s spore-producing body.

I’m guessing that the single orange sporangium is a different species of lichen – probably the yellowish species – that has become engulfed by the white one.

Bluebottles and Bumblebees

When I drew these a month ago on 11 June the temperature was climbing to 34°C, 92°F, in this sunny corner, so insects were active. A half-size version of a bluebottle touched down while a small marmalade-coloured bumblebee visited the white clover at the edge of the lawn.

I was soon adopted as an extension of the habitat by a small brown spider which climbed over me.

Weaners

At Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, the piglets are getting to the stage where they’d be better being separated from the sow. She’s getting increasingly irritated by the continual rough-and-tumble of her nine little porkers.

Rough-and-tumble except for the numerous occasions when they’re taking a break.

Rhea

Rhea eggs laid in the paddock in May.

Two of the rhea eggs in the incubator at Charlotte’s have hatched, although we haven’t yet had the chance to see the chicks as they have to stay in there for a while. Rhea eggs are large but, even so it’s surprising how large the chicks are – about a foot tall apparently – so, they must have been well folded up in there.

Quails

In the lovebird aviary, a female quail is being pursued by an insistent male. He keeps grabbing her by the feathers of her nape so she’s starting to look a little the worse for wear.

The View from the Café

On Sunday morning when I drew the old scouring mill at Horbury Bridge from the Di Bosco Café, the temperature was climbing to 81°F, 27°C, so it was good to have the shade of their well-ventilated conservatory to draw in.

Yesterday, Monday, afternoon, I drew a buddleia-dotted development site through the open doors of Create Café, Wakefield One. The hoarding advertises the adjacent Merchant Gate development of flats, steak house and offices as ‘diverse & striking’. They seem to have given up on the ‘vibrant hub’ slogan.

Cushions in an armchair at Barbara’s brother’s.

Mr Thompson

Continuing my experiments with drawing with a brush, here’s my third-year teacher from St Peter’s Junior School, Mr Thompson. In those days of the post-war baby boom our class, 3T, was a short walk from the school itself, in the Ebenezer Hall. I’ve got an image of him in my mind leading us from school to overflow classroom and vice-versa. As to whether he wore a trilby hat and a scarf, I’m not certain, but I’ve tried to keep to my impression of his character.

There’s a gap between the picture in my mind and the drawing that appears on paper, so why should I add further to my difficulties by not going for the more familiar medium of pen and ink? I scan my initial pencil before inking over it (right), just in case that turns out to be the version that I prefer.

I couldn’t resist adding colour this time. The brush pen drawing works well with the flat colour produced by the paint bucket tool in Photoshop, so I’m definitely going to keep on experimenting.

I’ve got one more class teacher to draw, Mr Lindley from the fourth year, then there’s the headmaster, the caretaker and about half a dozen other teachers who made an impression on me, so hopefully I’ll get better with practice.

Mr Thompson has ended up looking a bit like J B Priestley in my pencil drawing and like Priestley’s main character in his play An Inspector Calls. That’s appropriate because Mr Thompson was a great storyteller.

Car Park Lichens

Two species of lichens are thriving on the trunks of trees in the Asda supermarket car park in Dewsbury but nationally, as sulphur dioxide levels decrease, one of them appears to be gaining ground while the other is becoming rarer.

The yellow lichen with the pale-rimmed orange apothecia (the fruiting bodies of the lichen) is Xanthoria polycarpa, which has spread as levels of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere decrease.

It’s common on the coast but in urban settings you’ll often find it on twigs, fences and even on painted signs. It can tolerate high levels of nutrients and nitrogen, so it’s common around farms.

What is the source of nutrients or nitrogen here? Do these trees serve as starling roosts or, here in the middle of a car park, does the nitrogen come from vehicle exhausts?

The majority of lichens don’t have common names but the Latin name often includes a succinct description of the species. The genus name Xanthoria means ‘golden yellow’ while the species name polycarpa refers to its many fruiting bodies.

Acid Rain

Between the splodges of yellow, a grey-green lichen, Hypogymnia physodes, covers most of the bark. It grows in similar situations to the Xanthoria and tolerates acidic conditions but, nationally, this lichen has declined as air quality has improved. The introduction of smokeless zones and the phasing out of coal-fired power stations has resulted in less sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere and less acid rain.

It’s only in unpolluted sites that this lichen will produce fruiting bodies; there are three or four of them in my photograph above: red-brown discs on short stalks.

This lichen might be thriving here because it’s growing on the bark of a flowering cherry: cherry bark is highly acidic and in a dried, powdered form, has been used  for medicinal purposes. The horizontal linear scar, visible amongst the lichens on my photograph, is characteristic of cherry.

The ‘Naked-below Bellows-like’ Lichen

The genus name of this lichen, Hypogymnia, means ‘naked below’ and refers to this lichen having no rootlike growths – rhizinae – on its undersurface.

Bellows from ‘Theatrum instrumentorum et machinarum’, 1582

The species name, physodes, means ‘bellows-like’ and I guess this refers to the lobes along the fringes of the lichen which are shaped like a pair of bellows.

In places the fan-like margins appear to be sprinkled with flour. These are described as farinose soredia. Farinose means ‘flour-like’. The soredia produce powdery granules which contain the fungal and algal cells of the lichen; these become detached and can grow into new lichens.

Leaf-like Lichens

Both these lichens are foliose, which means they can easily be detached from the surface they are growing on. Other lichens can be crustose and can’t easily be detached or fruticose: bushy.

Lichens, an Illustrated Guide

Coming across these in the Asda car park in Dewsbury gives me a chance to test out my new lichen field guides. 

The first one that I reach for is the Field Studies Council’s Guide to common urban lichens 1 (on trees and wood). There aren’t many yellow lichens to choose from, so I soon narrow it down to Xanthoria polycarpa, then, taking a good look at my macro photographs of the grey-green lichen, I immediately pick out Hypogymnia physodes from the chart. I need illustrations; I’m not methodical enough to work my way through a key to identify a species.

There’s a brief summary of key features and habitat in the symbols and the tables included in the FSC guide, but it’s useful, now that I’ve got a name to look it up in an index and to go for the more detailed description and notes on distribution in Lichens, An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species, by Frank S. Dobson, which has just been republished in a revised and updated edition.

There are six FSC guides to lichens in particular habitats – such as churchyards, rocky shores and moorland – so if you’re in one of those habitats it’s easier to have the few dozen of the species you’re most likely to come across to choose from, rather than trying to find it amongst the one thousand plus lichens in Frank Dobson’s book. The two publications work well together.

I already had five field guides on my bookshelves which include a selection of lichens but only one of them, The Observer’s Book of Lichens, briefly mentions the particular Xanthoria that I’ve photographed, but it isn’t illustrated and there isn’t enough of a description to enable me to identify it.

If you’re interested in lichens, I’d say it’s worth investing in these two publications (below). I went for the hardback and I’m pleased to say that it’s been given a binding that stays open when you put it down on the desk, which is so useful when you’re looking something up!

Links

FSC Wildlife Pack 20: Lichens at NHBS (Natural History Book Service)

Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species at NHBS

Flying Ants

This afternoon, for the first time in a week or more, the sky is overcast. It’s so grey over to the east that you could believe that we might get a rain shower; we don’t, but these still, sultry conditions are perfect for the brown ants that have a colony under our patio to release their winged queens and males. Hundreds of them are lined up ready to take off over the lawn as the ground crew, the colony’s workers, scurry about excitedly.

It seems that some of the queens don’t go far on their nuptial flights. A few hours later, as I’m watering a small patch of the lawn that I’ve reseeded, I spot three or four of them running around and, when one of them finds a likely cavity, it heads straight down; the start of a new colony, if all goes well.

The queen ants are so much larger and plumper than the workers, with glistening abdomens, so that when I first see them I think that they’re some kind of ground beetle. They’ve already discarded their wings, which are used solely for the nuptial flight.

Feeling the Pressure

With high atmospheric pressure giving us a prolonged period of hot weather, it’s a good time to calibrate our barometer, something that I’ve never got around to doing since I inherited it from Barbara’s dad.

According to the Met Office website, the pressure today should remain stable at 1020 millibars, which is equal to about 30 inches of mercury, classed as ‘Fair’ on the barometer. Our reading was just 10 mbars out, so it needed no more than a quarter turn of the small screw on the back to put it right, which is pretty good after twenty or thirty years.

It’s an aneroid barometer so the adjustment changes the tension of a spring which is there to prevent the pressure-sensitive metal chambers inside it collapsing.

It would have been impossible to calibrate the thermometer on the day that I drew this sketchbook page in early spring, 2014, when a low pressure system was sweeping across Britain.

Link

Met Office

Teachers

 

Continuing to experiment with drawing comics in line only, I’ve made a start on trying to capture memories of my class teachers from junior school days.

Miss Andrassy – I think she was ‘Miss’, not Mrs – was our teacher when we started at St Peter’s Juniors in Horbury.

Miss Andrassy was keen on art and I remember her setting up a still life for us to draw.

In our second year, Mr Harker, then in the pre-fab in the playground, was the teacher who first introduced us to dip pens and joined-up writing.

I’ve got strong mental impressions of these characters but some details of their appearance are guesswork, for instance did Miss Andrassy wear glasses?

I’ll come back to her after I’ve drawn Mr Thompson (third year) and Mr Lindley (fourth year), as I’m sure I could get nearer to the character I see in my mind’s eye.

Mr Harker didn’t tax my memory to the same extent as I saw him earlier this year in Debenham’s cafe in Wakefield, and he’s very much the same personality that I remember from almost sixty years ago.