Bedding Plants

The borders are looking more colourful as we’ve just put in an osteospermum and a dianthus, otherwise known as Livingston daisy and carnation. The osteospermum is cinnamon orange, the dianthus two shades of pink and they’re surrounded by three punnets of pansies, twenty-seven plants in total, in saffron, deep purple, pale lilac and lemon. It reminds me of Kaffe Facett’s philosophy when knitting Fair Isle jumpers: when in doubt, add another colour.

The Tang of Tarragon

The herbs that we’ve also just planted have already added a spot of colour to our lunch; Barbara roughly chopped a sprig of tarragon, which added a bit of oomph to our lunchtime tortilla, along with a few chives and some fried-up tomatoes and potatoes.

Plants, Plastic and the Planet

It’s great to get that instant effect but I felt guilty consigning the plastic pots and plant trays to the domestic waste bin, as they can’t currently go in with the regular recycling, although we’re assured that there is some further sorting for recycling before the waste goes to incineration.

When we did a lot of growing from seed, I’d save every pot and tray that came our way, but, after the long and sometimes dreary winter, we like to get off on short breaks as often as we can in the spring.

The Buzzard’s Stratagem

As I typed this, there was a commotion from the pair of crows that seem to be regulars at this end of the wood.”Karr! Karr! Karr!”, one of them croaked, as they began to repeatedly fly up, then dive down on a buzzard that was flying away from the wood. On one dive, one of the crows appeared to make contact with the buzzard’s wing.The buzzard’s strategy seemed to be to find a thermal and gradually spiral up over the meadow, using up far less energy than the irate crows, which gave up the chase after a few minutes.

iPad Pond Photography

I’ve typed this post on my iPad Pro, out in our back garden, and hoped to finish with a photograph of common blue damselflies in tandem, touching down together to lay eggs individually in the pond, but that was beyond my skills and patience as an iPad photographer, so I settled for an easier subject: a frog amongst the duckweed.

Right, time to continue my Battle of the Bean Bed against the chicory that is making such efforts to take it over.


Back gardenThe female blackbird from the nest in a hawthorn at the end of the garden has found a way to feed her hungry brood; she perched on a rock in the pond and plucked a newt from the water and immediately flew off into the hedge.

As I write this, on location in our back garden, her mate is checking out a more conventional foraging habitat; you can just see him in my photograph, immediately to the left of the narrower set of alkathene hoops, behind the polygonum flower-spikes, on my mini-meadow area, which I strimmed this morning.

After a number of attempts to get a meadow going here over the last twenty years, I’ve decided on a change this year. My problem is that I unwisely introduced chicory, which thrives in the rich soil and spreading, as it does, by underground rhizomes, it can pop up in any odd space and it easily out-competes the meadow flowers such as birds-foot trefoil that I’d prefer to get established.

I spent this afternoon removing chicory from the veg bed nearest the meadow, which we’re about to sow borlotti beans in.

The only way that I’m going to prevent chicory dominating my meadow area is by cultivating it as I would any other part of the garden. It will be interesting to try something new here.

Cartooning in Colour

I’ve got a strong idea in my mind of what the historical Robert Adam would have looked like, but this is a comic strip, not a dramatised documentary, and I’m going for a pantomime version of the character. I’ve pared down the drawing to a cartoony style, which I think should work much better.

I’ve delved into the colour wheel rather than sticking to a standard set of swatches as I previously did but this is just a start. I would probably also add some texture, for instance on the gargoyle, the original of which, at Nostell, has a scaly texture.

The Wind over Whitley

With a low over the North Atlantic, we’ve got the prospect of warm winds coming up from France and Spain but this morning it’s blowing so cold that, by the time I’ve drawn the ewe, my eyes are watering so much that I can hardly focus on the twin lambs which are following her.

Time to go indoors here at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour for coffee and scones and to draw the view looking up the Calder Valley to the moors.


Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour

Memories of Morandi

Can I ever draw bottles without thinking of Morandi? Certainly not when I’m drawing the stoneware bottles they keep lined up on the window sills at Filmore & Union in the Redbrick Mill in Batley.

My first commission after leaving college was to spend a weekend drawing at a house, a Victorian vicarage, not far from Oxford. I took down my Natural History Illustration degree show at the Royal College of Art, got on the train to Oxford and enjoyed drawing for a long weekend. My favourite subject was the interior of the potting shed, which included a wooden wheelbarrow, tools, a trug and, of course, stacks of assorted terra cotta plant pots. That pen drawing became the centre spread of the small sketchbook that I produced, which consisted of eight or perhaps as many as a dozen pages, carefully extracted from my Bushey foolscap sketchbook, which they had bound as a slim hardback.

I remember thinking that if this was life after college, I could get used to it, as it was basically a continuation of what I’d done at college, just draw, draw, draw, day in day out, except that now someone was willing to pay me to do it!

Morandi Sketchbook

The man who I was working for had been in the British Army in Bologna during World War II, and had befriended Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) and, I think, helped him out during a difficult time. Morandi presented him with (or more probably, he bought from Morandi) a small sketchbook of drawings – of bottles, naturally. Morandi had used whatever had come to hand and my memory is that at least some of the drawings were in ballpoint pen on cheap paper.

Earlier this month, on a previous visit to Filmore & Union.

Morandi’s bottles were never as standoffish as the bottles in Filmore & Union, but I guess that’s the reserved character of British bottles compared with Morandi’s highly sociable Italian bottiglie, which were always getting together with boxes, jars, jugs and vases.

When I was a student, my favourite painting in the National Gallery was Vuillard’s La Cheminée but probably, if I had the choice today, the painting that I’d most like to live with would be a small Morandi.


I choose the ducks that appear to have settled down by the pool at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, but sleeping ducks are soon disturbed; preening ducks soon go on to the next stage in their routine; and all of them, as soon as I get my watercolours out, seem to remember that they’ve got urgent business in the duck shelter and they disappear out of sight altogether.

It’s such a pleasure attempting to draw them and, like my attempts at creating frames for a comic strip yesterday, I realise that all I need to do is keep at it, try my best and some of the character of each bird will come over in my drawing.

After dinosaurs, mallard drakes were one of my earliest inspirations for drawing natural history. They’re so handsome at this time of year and even a basic drawing soon appears mallard-like when you add the bottle green of the head, the brown of the breast and the yellow of the bill.

When Sir Peter Scott was a young school boy and wanted to paint nothing but ducks, his art teacher told him:

“Go away and paint a pudding, when you’ve learnt to paint a pudding, then you can move on to painting ducks.”

As so many of my sketchbooks feature drawings made in coffee shops and tea rooms, I think that I can say that I’ve now had adequate practise at painting puddings.

Bring on those ducks, I’m ready.


Wonderland or Nightmare?

Continuing to archive Richard Brook’s slides of potential wildlife habitats in the Aire and Calder valleys in the 1970s and 80s, I came across this spread, which Richard had photographed, from a Yorkshire Post Magazine from 1986 which sums up what was at stake. Journalist Derek Foster, who interviewed Richard at the time, writes:

“. . . the birds still come, though in dwindling numbers, and the question is; can they wait until 2001 to resume the good life they have built up over a hundred years?”

Richard has made a note on the slide that the aerial photograph of Fairburn Ings dates from 1983.

So ‘wonderland’ or ‘nightmare’? I don’t think that Richard, even in his wildest dreams, would have predicted that spoonbills, which haven’t nested regularly in Britain since the 1700s, would ever nest in an area that at that time was so largely dominated by colliery spoil tips but which is now the RSPB Fairburn Ings Reserve.

Stanley Sewage Farm, 1973

It might have taken some imagination to see the potential in derelict spoil heaps but the reed beds at Stanley Sewage Farm, which Richard photographed on Tuesday, 11 September, 1973, already looked like a nature reserve.

In recent years, Stanley Church (far left) has been demolished and I’d be surprised if those rhubarb forcing sheds, in the field on the right, beyond the reed bed, are still there.

Looking up the Calder Valley, this is the bed at the south-east end of the sewage farm, with the houses of Ferry Lane, Stanley, in the background. This does look more utilitarian, and, looking at the photograph, I can recall the smell that lingered around sewage lagoons.

Finally, here’s the main bed with the houses of Aberford Road, Stanley, in the background. I think that large brick building on the left must be the former Stanley Picture House, built in 1930. According to the Stanley History Online website, this was once known as ‘The Clog and Rhubarb’.


Stanley History Online -Village Photos

Eco-T Fountain Pen

First sketch to test the new pen.

This Eco-T Fountain Pen, by TWSBI of Taiwan, is chunkier than my regulars, which suits my large hands. The grip is triangular, or rounded triangular, which means that it’s easy to be sure that you’re holding the nib at a consistent angle to the paper.

The view from Charlotte’s this morning, a bit of a change from last Monday, when there were still snow drifts on higher ground.

The screw-off cap and the filler at the end of the pen also have a triangular cross section so it’s just the transparent barrel that is cylindrical. This pen doesn’t have an option to pop in a cartridge so the whole barrel can serve as a piston filler, giving extra capacity.

It comes with a small plastic spanner, which is used for maintenance on the piston filler: you can lubricate this with silicone grease, a small bottle of which is included in the kit.

The youngest of the alpaca clan at Charlotte’s. Like it’s cousin, the arrival of this one last year came as a complete surprise.

This is the version with an Extra Fine nib, so, filled with my favourite Noodler’s Brown Ink, these drawings are probably indistinguishable from those that I’d make with my Lamy Safari or Rotring Art Pen, but after just a few days of using it, I think that I can say that the Eco-T is going to be my favourite, mainly because of that extra chunkiness but also because it has a firm, positive feel to it. At first I felt as if I’d be holding it a bit too close to the nib but as soon as I got into drawing and became less self-conscious about the unfamiliarity of a new pen, it felt perfectly natural.

Sussex cockerel: the hens of this old breed supply the eggs that are used in the scones they bake at Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour.

It was supplied by Pure Pens, so thank you to them for flagging it in one of their e-mails and, after I’d ordered on the Friday afternoon, for getting it to me via first class post by the next morning.

The lime green is a new colour but it’s definitely the one for me to go for, as it’s different to any other pen that might be lurking in the front pocket of my art bag.


TWSBI at Pure Pens

Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour

Desk Top

When I’ve finished a project – such as the Dalesman nature diary that I sent off this afternoon – it’s such a relief to be able to create order out of chaos again and clear my desk . . . but, before I get started, surely I can spare half an hour to  draw a corner of clutter.

This is drawn with a new pen, more of  that later, with a rapid wash of watercolour added, just as information, rather than getting in to the light and shade.

Wild Garlic

In yesterday’s post, I’d got as far as the pen and ink for the ransoms or wild garlic for my woodland flowers spread. Adding the watercolour makes such a difference. As I painted it, I started thinking about the wood in spring with a waft of garlic drifting through the shadier, damper valley bottom by the beck.

Despite the recent snows, it’s young leaves are already beginning to appear, so I couldn’t resist tearing off a small piece yesterday morning, to crush it between my fingers to release that gentle scent of garlic.

In a month or two, when it’s at its lushest amongst the crack willows and alders alongside Coxley Beck, it looks rather tropical. When we moved here, thirty or so years ago, that area was open and meadow-like. Alder saplings started to colonise the open ground; now it’s alder woodland with ransoms spreading like weeds. Except ransoms isn’t a weed – in the sense of ‘a plant growing in the wrong place’ – because in Coxley Wood, it’s growing exactly where it should be growing. It’s good to see a wild flower doing well and spreading for a change.

Another drawing that’s been transformed by a wash of watercolour is the yellow archangel, which is one of my favourite woodland plants, as it’s supposed to be one of the indicators of ancient woodland. My original drawing, in my Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield, was just an inch and a quarter across, line only, so it resembled a Victorian engraving. Adding colour  reminds me how this plant brightens up the odd corner alongside woodland paths.

Wood sorrel isn’t nearly as widespread as lesser celandine, wood anemone and bluebell in the wood. I like those clover-shaped leaves, which are usually, if not always, folded back.

Next stage is to drop these scanned images onto a sketchbook background for my May nature diary spread in The Dalesman magazine. I realised that I’d need landscape format this time, not a double-page portrait sketchbook with the spiral binding in the centre, which is what I’ve used so far for my articles.

As luck would have it, the afternoon light was still suitable for me to go out to photograph an A5 sketchbook on a mossy rock on the raised bed behind the pond. I look forward to putting the whole design together and adding some lettering: not too much as I don’t want to crowd out the flowers.