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.
Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre, Heckmondwike, 11.15 a.m.: One of the ring-tailed lemurs is keeping an eye on the silver fox in the next enclosure. It backs up to a post and scent-marks with its anal gland, rubbing against the timber, then turns around to check, pressing its nose close to the spot.
It relaxes with a little grooming and pauses to watch a bit of thistledown drift up in front of it.
A male settles down to take a look out of the far corner of the enclosure. Soon the female comes over and displaces him and he climbs out of her way instantly, without any dispute. Lemur society is matriarchal.
One of the females does a handstand to leave her scent mark on a post but I get the impression that it’s mainly the males who act as look-outs for the group. They’re the ones getting up on their hind legs at the back of the enclosure staring at me as if they’re thinking ‘What’s he up to?’
There are four or five lemurs in the Ponderosa group.
The males appear to have scent glands on the inside of their wrists. Often when a male sits looking out of the enclosure at me or the other visitors, he’ll rub the end of his tail between his wrists. I don’t think that I saw a female do this; females seem more likely to use their anal glands for scent-marking.
It’s surprising how long they are when they stand on their hind legs or when they jump up onto the the mesh at the front of the cage, apparently to challenge me.
When one of the lemurs yawns, the shape of its jaw reminds me of that of a dog. In the brief glimpse that I get of its teeth, I think that I can see a pair of small canines at the front of the jaw.
Their feet look rather like hands. They bound around balletically with backs alternately arched then stretched.
I made a couple of quick colour notes then added the watercolour as we waited for our lunch. It was surprising how ochre, grey and black, plus a spot of dull amber for the eyes, brought the drawings to life.
As you can see, with these visual notes; I was observing behaviour rather than trying to complete a portrait of a particular animal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Petra is a working cocker spaniel (although she doesn’t actually work), from Berkshire but I drew her recently in the Lake District, where she was taking a break with friends, as her owners were moving house. She’s a dog who doesn’t like being on her own but she’ll happily set off in the company of other people.
We were at Sykes Farm Tearooms, Buttermere, where the resident border collie was keeping watchful eye on comings and goings, sitting on the grassy knoll opposite the farm gate, checking out a passing 4×4 with gimlet gaze.
In the interests of balance, I should explain that other spaniels are available, including my brother’s English springer, Frank.
This stone lion, reclining on the lawn, always takes me by surprise as we walk past a large evergreen oak and it springs into view. Surprisingly, a real lion was once kept here in the Menagerie at Nostell Priory, just yards from the Doncaster to Wakefield turnpike road, behind a high stone wall in an old quarry. There’s a story that it once escaped and roamed around the area.
Once again it’s an iPad drawing, which has the advantage that, even after I’ve added the colour, I can hide the paint layer and turn it back into a line drawing with one tap of my Apple Pencil.
Against a clear blue sky, the winter sun picks out slashes of creamy white on the top branches of a tall sycamore, which I suspect are the result of grey squirrels stripping the bark. There’s no sign of damage on the adjacent oak but its bark, loaded with tannins, is probably not as nutritious as that of the sycamore.
The sycamore is probably the nearest that the squirrels can get to the tastier-sounding sugar maple, which, like the grey squirrel, is a native of North America.
In the topmost branches of another sycamore, a squirrel leans out to pick off buds from slender twigs which it eats, one after the other: a healthy snack.
In the summer and early autumn, hornets nested in an old ash trunk in the parkland near the Pleasure Grounds. By mid-autumn the trunk had rotted through at the base and come adrift from its roots but it was prevented from falling towards the path by the surrounding stout stems, which had sprung up around it: a natural equivalent of coppice shoots.
Now it has fallen back in the other direction and it lies on the ground. I can’t see the cavity that contained the hornets’ nest – it’s probably hidden on the underside – but all the timber is riddled with tunnels, some of them stuffed with frass, which has set hard like fine-textured chipboard.
The fine cold morning has brought in fieldfares, twenty-five of them. We’ve been expecting them to turn up here on the grassy slopes of the Obelisk Park.
Also back this morning, on a small, partly iced over pool in the corner of a grassy field just beyond the park boundary, are fifty wigeon, which often graze on the short turf here.
Joining the regular great tits, blue tits, coal tits and robins in the lakeside woods is a goldcrest, which, thanks to its size – along with the firecrest, it’s our joint smallest British bird – can inspect the slenderest of twigs.
A jay flies up into a sapling and we notice that it seems to be keeping an eye on a kestrel, a falcon of open spaces which seems a bit incongruous in this woodland setting.
It settles for a while, looking out over the lake. We rarely get such a good view of a kestrel and I make a mental note of its yellow beak, tipped in black; the tear-drop shaped dark patch beneath its eye; and the russet tan plumage of its back, speckled with dark brown.
As it flies to another perch, it shows pale grey tail feathers, banded with dark brown, almost black, at the tips.
Mallards and Mute Swans
Midwinter is hardly over but already, on the ice-fringed Lower Lake, the mallards have mating in mind. A drake head-bobs as he swims around the duck prior to mating.
As we round a corner by a lakeside bench, we disturb a heron. It must be getting tired of seeing us as we disturbed it here, same time, same place, yesterday morning.
One of the two cygnets of the mute swan family on the Middle Lake has now lost the last of its grey feathers. It’s now almost an adult, except for its bill which gives it away as a juvenile: this looks as if that has been given a coat of grey undercoat prior to the final coat of orange, which looks so striking on the adults.
The other cygnet still has a some grey on its back, as do the four cygnets of the swan family on the Lower Lake. They seem to be spending more time away from the adults, this morning at the far end of the side arm of the lake.
At the lakeside, a cigar-shaped seed-head of reedmace disperses a couple of wisps of its downy seeds. It has been calculated that one stalk can produce 200,000 seeds.
It’s our great nephew Henry Roman’s christening today and I’ve been collared by Oliver, aged eight, and Ted, aged six. Oliver asks me to draw a snake – I’m going to need a bit more practice with that – and Ted requests a husky, which again I struggle to draw from memory; I definitely wouldn’t trust that character to pull my sleigh.
Oliver, who has been reading my Deep in the Wood, which he claims is his favourite book, asks me which was my favourite out of all the books that I’ve written. The Britain sketchbook, I guess.
“Did you write all the books in the world?” asks Ted.
“There are a few that I didn’t write.” I explain.
He’s asks me to draw a Dalmatian (and also could I write a book, just about dogs for him).
“What’s it’s name?” I ask him, having been slightly more successful than I was with my drawing of the husky.
I’m drawing some illustrations of red squirrels for my next Dalesman article but, when I visited the red squirrel feeding station at Snaizeholme last October, I concentrated on taking photographs.
My aim is to give the impression that my sketches were drawn from life. I don’t think that I’d ever be able to achieve the same feeling of spontaneity by working from a photograph, but I’ll try to suggest character and movement rather than getting too involved in details such as the texture of the fur.
I’m drawing direct from a photograph on the screen, rather than starting with a tracing, which would be a sure way of getting the proportions right. My inevitable second attempts at lines give a similar effect to when I’m drawing a living animal and it moves slightly, adding a degree of animation. That’s the theory, anyway.