At this time of year there are juvenile teal around, which look rather like the females but the drakes are in eclipse plumage so they too look very similar. It won’t be until the autumn that they moult into their winter plumage.
It’s warm this afternoon, 24°C, 77°F, and, typically for the summer, there’s not a lot going on. At the Reedbed Hide a family of swans swim by; there are coot dotted about on the lagoon and moorhen probing the vegetation alongside the reedbed.
As they peck at the mud, the young moorhen are currently in dull brown plumage with lighter streaks. They remind me of waders, but without the long, probing bills.
On the Mere, along with the teal, there’s the odd lapwing and a little egret.
It’s a quiet time for the birds but dragonflies are busy, hawking over the paths around and egg-laying in the lagoons.
If you’re trying to track down one of my books, this bookshop on Horbury High Street is a good place to start. In addition to my local booklets, walks guides and sketchbooks, bookseller Richard Knowles often has copies of my long out-of-print titles such as my first, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield; I spotted two copies of the paperback version on his shelves recently.
This is the first time that I’ve tried the Adobe Illustrator trace option on a colour photograph. The results remind me of the British Library’s reprints of vintage detective fiction, which often have a period travel poster or similar artwork on the cover, hence my book cover design (all I’ve got to do now is write the mystery novel to go with it).
I could learn something from Illustrator when it comes to being bold and confident in the use of colour. In comparison with this posterised effect, my watercolour is soft and tentative. Not always a bad thing but bold and confident would be good from time to time.
I love the printmaking effect that I can get by converting one of my sketches into a vector graphic in Adobe Illustrator CC 2018. I’ve reproduced this image at almost its full screen size (the original sketch is much smaller) because I didn’t want to soften it by reducing it too much.
I’ve downloaded the program this morning as part of my year’s subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and I’ve been going through the beginner’s tutorials as it’s so many years since I last used Illustrator.
I’d never come across the option to automatically trace a scan or a photograph of a drawing and turn it into crisp black and white vector artwork. I immediately started thinking of how I might use that in my work.
For instance, I’m currently working on a historical article for the Dalesman magazine and I feel that vector graphics could give the effect of a woodcut. Even after a lot of practice, I’m more used to drawing with a pen than an Apple Pencil, so this might be an effective way of combining the freedom of drawing with the graphics effects available on the computer.
In both of the examples above I went for the ‘Shades of Grey’ preset in the Trace Image dialogue.
We haven’t caught up with our friend Diana for a while, which gives me more time than I usually allow myself to sit and draw and, for once, PC the black cat is in a cooperative mood and doesn’t decide that the sitting is over after ten or twenty minutes as he usually does.
The A6 sketchbook that I’ve just finished was so handy for slipping into a pocket or into my smallest art bag but the A5 format that I’ve just switched to gives me the opportunity to keep starting again when PC moves, building up a page of different poses.
In this larger art bag I’ve got room for crayons as well as my usual watercolours, so I’ve used them for a change. Obviously black is the colour that I’ve used most but I could see that PC was picking up a bit of reflected light on his glossy coat from the carpet, although this looked orangey to me rather than the pinkish red of the carpet.
Later PC’s friend, a long-haired Siamese, strode in through the conservatory. He didn’t pause to return PC’s greeting but carried straight on to the food bowl in the corner of the kitchen. He knows his way around.
I’m learning to use Photoshop CC 2018 so I’ve been trying out a tutorial to redesign the Cover Photo for my Facebook page, so that the Profile Picture is integrated into the design. The photograph of me looking windswept at Sandal Castle was so bright compared with my sketchbook pages that I toned it down with a sepia wash, another Photoshop technique I needed to practice.
I’ve set up a Wild Yorkshire Facebook Page, so if you’d like to see updates about this blog:
On our journey to Leeds via Morley Tunnel, the bracken by the trackside is turning autumnal and the rosebay willowherb has mainly gone to seed. Birch, ash and sycamore foliage is tinted with ochre but buddleia and Himalayan balsam add a splash of purple on waste ground by Morley station.
I’m returning to an A5 portrait sketchbook after a few months using smaller travel sketchbooks but none of my quick sketches of a cupola and a Dutch-style gable, drawn from the M&S cafe on Trinity Street and the White Stuff on Vicar Lane even begins to fill the page.
Room for one last little landscape sketch in my postcard-sized Seawhite Watercolour Travel Journal: a stubble field at Field House Farm, Overton, seen from the Seed Room Cafe at the Horticentre. The houses of Thornhill Edge sit amongst the trees on the ridge in the background, on the far side of the Smithy Brook Valley.
The original sketch is 9 cm, just over 3 inches, across.
This female Common Cucumber Spider, Araniella curcurbitina, scuttled away as I gathered up the ivy that I’d cut back from behind the herb bed. I’d spread an old shower curtain on the ground to catch the trimmings, hence the background; the weave of the cloth gives a clue to the scale: the spider is just half a centimetre long, excluding legs.
The cucumber spider is common on trees, woods and hedgerows, where it spins a small orb web. It has a conspicuous red spot on its underside, just below the spinnerets. The male has boxing-glove style pedipalps (the small front pair of legs).
Britain’s Spiders, A Field Guide
Identifying it gave me a chance to use my new field guide, Britain’s Spiders, by Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith (2017).
As I already have two spider field guides on my shelf, Collins Field Guide Spiders of Britain & Northern Europe, by Michael J. Roberts (1995), and The Country Life Guide to Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe by Dick Jones (1983), did I really need another?
Dick Jones had support from Kodak and Pentax when he photographed 350 species of spiders and harvestmen for the Country Life Guide(top right), but his Kodachromes can’t quite match the clarity of the digital photographs in the latest guide, which also has the advantage of up-to-date distribution maps, even so, the Country Life Guide is useful to have for a second opinion when you’re checking out a species.
Collins Field Guide
If you were getting serious about identifying spiders, you’ll need a copy of Michael J Roberts’ guide, because, in addition to 288 colour paintings, he includes 1,500 line drawings of the spiders’ reproductive organs, which would be essential if you were trying, for example, to distinguish between the Common Cucumber Spider, Araniella curcurbitina (which is most likely to be the one that I found), and it’s near identical relative, the Cucumber Spider, A. opisthographa.
“The distinguishing features of the male palpal organs are best seen from below,” says Roberts, “and this is difficult with a field microscope, unless the specimen is particularly obliging.”
He explains how to construct a homemade ‘spi-pot’ to harmlessly examine a spider in the field. But don’t feel inadequate if you can’t tell one species of cucumber spider from another because it seems that even the spiders themselves occasionally get it wrong:
“Very rarely, specimens may appear rather intermediate, possibly due to hybridisation.”
I had airbrushed cigarette card portraits of football stars of the 30s and 40s in mind as I traced this newspaper photograph of Lincoln City full back (1939-1947), Alex Thompson (who would later be one of my teachers at junior school). You can see the coarse dotted screen tones of the original in the background of my drawing.
Unfortunately, by enlarging the photograph, I’ve lost clues to the shape of the face that you can pick up in the small version. They get flattened into amorphous grey areas of pixels when enlarged.
Drawn from Memory
If you allow for his face filling out since his lean, fit footballing days, I don’t think that my drawn-from-memory brush and ink of him as a teacher was too far off the mark. I drew this before I came across the photograph.