Coxley Beck

This digital painting has turned out looking like the starting point for one of my acrylic on hardboard paintings, before I’d started adding details of tree, water and ferns.

Coxley Beck is running opaque with sediment where it passes through an old mill race at Horbury Bridge. I’ve draw this on my iPad Pro, using an Apple Pencil in the Clip Studio Paint program.

I pasted a photograph that I’d taken this afternoon into the lowest layer of my Clip Studio Paint document, then added a layer for pencil above it. So that I could see where I was going with the pencil, I partially faded out  the photograph by using the opacity slider for that layer.

I traced the trees and the line of the beck in pencil, then hid the photograph by clicking its eye symbol in the layer palette and drew using the pen tool, using my pencil tracing as a guide.

Paint Layer

Once I’d finished with the pencil layer, I hid it and added a new layer for paint. In order not to paint over my pen lines, I added the paint layer below the pen layer.

As I worked, I kept referring back to the photograph layer, now with the opacity slider set back at 100%, and used the eye-dropper tool to sample colour. I couldn’t always get the colour that I wanted, so I also used some of the standard swatches and the colour wheel.

In the odd spots that I hadn’t painted, the default white background of what Clip Studio refers to as ‘paper’ showed through, making Coxley Beck look more sparkly than it actually does this afternoon, so I added a background layer of a suitably muddy brown.

Pen, initial pencil sketch and first attempts at adding colour.

It reminds me of when I painted in acrylic and I’d start by painting the whole canvas in a neutral light grey, so that I wasn’t misled when mixing tones by a brilliant white background.

I used various digital pens, finishing up with the textured pen and various versions of the watercolour brush, including dense watercolour.

I look forward to trying the technique with another subject.


Clip Studio Paint

iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

A Hawthorn by the Beck

hawthorn3.25 p.m., 45°F, 7°C: This ivy-covered hawthorn has rotted through near its base and collapsed across a bend in Coxley Beck. When I painted this hawthorn twenty years ago, the bank on the outside bend had already been undercut.

brambleThe ivy will survive by putting out adventitious roots where the upper branches of the thorn have come to rest on the opposite bank.

Straggly stems of bramble hang over the water. One has climbed up a slender elder bush and dangles midstream, touching the surface of the water.

leavescrack willowGold, ochre, russet and yellow-green leaves of alder and crack willow are strewn along the edge of the stream. Tall shuttlecocks of fern help give a jungly look to the tangled stream-side vegetation. Himalayan balsam has been withered by frost but its tall fleshy canes are still hanging on to a few green leaves.

Signal Crayfish

beckClearing away vegetation from the side of this stretch of Coxley Beck, a neighbour came across what I guess must be a signal crayfish, a North American species which has become established in this country and which is ousting our native white-clawed species.

My neighbour described a living specimen he came across as ‘large’ and brown. He then turned over some vegetation and found a dead individual, which was upside down, revealing red markings on the underside of its claws.

This is bad news for any white-clawed crayfish that might have been present in the beck. A friend who remembers the beck as it was before any of the houses were built on the beck side of the road told me that there were crayfish there, but this would be about fifty years ago.

But perhaps there is some potentially good news as signal crayfish are eaten by otters. One of the members of our local natural history society, Wakefield Naturlists’, Francis Hickenbottom, showed me a photograph of an otter pellet he’d come across at a nature reserve by the River Aire. The pellet included a number of those distinctive red claws.


Oughtershaw BecksandpipersEvery time we drive over the cattle grid, a sandpiper pipes at us in obvious annoyance and arcs around in an ostentatiously level flight, flashing its wing-stripes. It’s on sentry duty again this afternoon as we walk down the track. It perches on a fence post to pipe at us until we leave its marshy patch but a little further along a pair of sandpipers fly up from the rushes alongside Oughtershaw Beck.

We find a spot downstream where we can sit at the beck-side, undisturbed by waders. The beck, which is rather low at present, plunges over a bed of limestone. The blocks and cracks remind me of the clints and grykes of the limestone pavement at Malham Cove.

Oughtershaw BeckWhen I’m drawing a subject like this which is almost abstract with its interlocked, repetitive shapes, I keep finding distinctive features to act as landmarks as I map out the adjacent sections of the formation, briefly giving them names so that I can plot a point as “level with ‘The Brow'” or “directly below ‘The Triangle'”.

I’m wishing that I had a length of string so that I could strap my spiral bound sketchbook around my neck. I really wouldn’t like it to drop in the beck.

As I look down I notice water avens growing from the turf that projects out over the water. Here, probably somewhat beyond easy reach for browsing sheep, there are probably half a dozen species within a square foot, including lady’s mantle, birdsfoot trefoil, plantain and a sedge.

Redstart and Redpoll

redstart6 p.m.: perching on a tree guard by the edge of the birch wood alongside Oughtershaw Beck, a male redstart sits preening. It occasionally darts up for insects.

redpollOnce again siskins outnumber other birds at the feeders. A more unusual visitor is a redpoll. It isn’t much bigger than the siskins and is considerably smaller than the occasional goldfinches and chaffinches which fly in to feed.

Tawny Owlet

tawny owl chick

owletThere’s a single tawny owl chick sitting in the morning sun perching on the lower section of the barn door. The owls have nested under the roof beam in the barn, stuffing sticks into the end of a piece of sacking that had been draped beneath.

The resident blackbird scolds it. This is the farmyard’s resident blackbird that, Fiona tells us, has been angry ever since it arrived.


gatepostgatepostCoxley Valley, 5.30 p.m., 45ºF, 8ºC: At the entrance to the woods this rough hewn stone gatepost stands by the beck next to an ivy-covered alder. Fresh leaves of wild garlic grow behind it, escaping being trampled on a wide and muddy stretch of the path.

There’s a bit of an evening chorus amongst the birds – the wistful robin, the monotonous wood pigeon and the powerful projection of the wren – but when the blackbird starts singing we’re in a different league: melodious, mellow and relaxed.

First Chiff-chaff

Coxley Beck2.40 p.m.: I keep hearing a chiff-chaff in the background but always slightly drowned out by the sound of other birds or the sound of the beck, which is rushing along today brownish with sediment after yesterday’s rain. It’s only when a warbler hops along the branches of a willow that has fallen across the stream that I really believe that I’ve heard it. I get a better chance to hear the song when a chiff-chaff starts singing from the top of the willow at the other side of the stream.

chiff-chaffchiff-chaffBritish Summertime started at the weekend so it’s appropriate that warblers are now touching down after their return from Africa.

41ºF, 5ºc, pressure 998 mb, 29.4 in, sunshine and fairly heavy showers

Hemlock Water Dropwort

hemlock water dropwort10.45 a.m., 48ºF, 9ºc, overcast, cool; Hemlock water dropwort grows on a silty, gravelly inside bend of the stream by the sawn-off bough of a crack willow. Its luxuriant, fresh-looking rosettes spring up along the banks and even in a few places from the stream bed itself. It’s not surprising that none of the leaves has been nibbled because every part of this plant is extremely toxic.

squirrel poleThe harsh chatter of magpies contrasts with the restful rhythmic babbling of the brook. That’s a cliche but babbling is the only way to describe it this morning.

wagtailA smart looking grey wagtail, a male, performs a mid-air pirouette when I disturb it and its mate flitting about over a gravelly section of the stream at the entrance to the wood.

A grey squirrel has been leaning over to reach our solid-looking ‘squirrel proof’ sunflower heart feeder. As it hangs upside down from the pole, it rotates the feeder with its front legs, always in a clockwise direction. Eventually this unscrews the feeder from its hook and the lid comes off as it crashes to the ground. I pick pigeonup what seed I can and replace the feeder. Blackbird, robin, goldfinch and pheasant appreciate the bonus of spilt seed but it’s the wood pigeon that steadily gets through it.

Golden Saxifrage

golden saxifrage3.10 p.m., 45°F, 7ºC; A little black fly visits the tiny flowers dotted with yellow stamens of the golden saxifrage, growing on the bank of the beck in the wood. In Plant and Planet, Anthony Huxley writes that golden saxifrage is also pollinated by springtails. Springtails feed amongst the leaf litter and need humid conditions.

Coxley beckIt’s not obvious from my drawing, but, when I went back and checked, I found that this is the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (there’s also an alternate-leaved species), Chrysoslenium oppositifolium, a common native plant of wet, acid soils in habitats such as woodland flushes, springs and stream sides.

The golden saxifrage is dotted along the waters edge like dapples of sunlight in this rare un-trampled corner of the wood, alongside bramble, nettle, lesser celandine and bluebell (not yet in flower) which spread further onto the banking amongst holly, hazel and hawthorn.wood pigeon

Blackbird and robin are singing, a pair of wrens perch on a log and flit off into the undergrowth. There’s a clatter of wings in the top of an ivy-covered alder as one wood pigeon harasses another.

Langsett Reservoir

Langsettlangsett sketch, crayons‘Doesn’t it make you feel lucky?’ says the woman who walks by as we sit drawing and writing at North America, the ruined farm overlooking Langsett reservoir. That’s just what we were thinking. Yesterday, which was equally sunny we’d been stuck inside, so we didn’t take any persuading to get out into the Peak District today.

As a change from the little wallet of children’s wax crayons that I’ve been slipping into my pocket recently, I’ve brought a selection of Derwent Watercolour pencils which I bought some years ago at the Pencil Factory in Keswick at the top end of Derwentwater. They came in a plastic pod which didn’t survive long in my art bag but they fit equally well into a long thin ArtPen tin.

crayon pod

I haven’t brought my water-brush so, after I’ve added the crayon to my drawing, I crouch by a puddle and use a wet finger to spread the colour about.

Red Grouse, Brown Trout

moor smokeThey’re burning a patch of the moor this morning, to improve the habitat for red grouse by providing a patchwork of heather at different stages of growth.

little don or porterResearchers are sampling the sediment above and below the weir on the River Little Don or Porter at the top end of the reservoir. A study by the University of Hull of tagged brown trout in Langsett Reservoir has revealed that trout attempt to move into the tributary streams from October to January, probably to spawn. Yorkshire Water are considering constructing a fish ladder here to allow the trout to access the suitable habitat upstream.

Link: Movement of brown trout in and between headwater tributaries and reservoirs (PDF), J.D. Bolland, L. Wallace, J.P. Harvey, M. Tinsdeall, J.L. Baxter & I.G. Cowx, University of Hull

The Old Mill Race

ashbankCoxley Beck, Capri car park, 1.50 p.m., 39ºF, 4ºC, sun and showers: This ash and sycamore are growing on top of the steep bank that was once the mill race of a corn mill. The stone embankment has been eroded here, probably by flood damage. On the exposed mud banks fresh leaves are sprouting: dock, dandelion, cow parsley(?), hemlock(?), creeping buttercup, seedlings of himalayan balsam and a clump of snowdrops, which was no doubt washed down from one of the stream-side gardens. hart's tongeHigher up the bank, where it hasn’t been scoured so much by the December floods, there are a few clumps of hart’s tongue fern.

There’s a passing shower but I’ve brought my fishing umbrella so that isn’t a problem. I start adding the watercolour, lightest tones first, and, just when I’ve got those in, the sun comes out again and I’m able to mix in some neutral tint and paint in the shadows.