November Woods

View from Blacker Hall

I always go for the table by the French windows when we call for coffee, and in my case a date scone, at Blacker Hall Farm Shop cafe. The original of this sketch is 2.5 inches, 6 cm, across.

Newmillerdam woods

A few weeks ago we were commenting on how few goosanders we were seeing at Newmillerdam, but today there are twenty or thirty in loose groups scattered across the open water and the reedy narrow section.


Langsett in October

Langsett woods

Original size of drawing: 1.8 inches, 4.5 cm across.

So good to be back at Langsett, walking around the reservoir, across the more and back up through the woods where larch and beech are now in their autumn colours.


Common Earthball


Common EarthballScleroderma citrinum, has ‘a characteristic smell of old rubber’ according to Wildlife of Britain, the Definitive Visual Guide or strong odour ‘of gas or acetylene’ (Encyclopedia of Fungi, Michael Jordan). As I’ve mentioned before, this didn’t stop me from slicing the young ones, with firm white flesh, and frying them in a bit of butter when I was trying to survive on a very slender travelling scholarship on a student field trip to Iceland. To me, they tasted of mushroom, but I don’t recommend that you try them, as they’re variously described as inedible or even poisonous.

earthballThese were growing by the path in deciduous woodland at the top end of the Pleasure Grounds at Nostell Priory Park.


National Trust, Nostell

Woodland Flowers

I’ve decided to feature woodland flowers in my Dalesman magazine nature diary for May, but it’s still early in the season so I’ve dug out a copy of a drawing I made over forty years ago, in the 1970s.

Unfortunately I no longer have the original artwork: they were pen and ink drawings which I cut out of my sketchbooks – something I hate doing! – and pasted onto large sheets of card in same-size page layouts for my first book, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield. A few years after the book was published, I made the difficult decision to throw out the paste-ups. I really regret that now!

Each page was A5 landscape, so the individual drawings, made on location in Coxley Woods, were each only inches across. My original drawing of the ransoms or wild garlic was just 6 cm across, less than 2½ inches; my new version (above) is 8cm, 3 inches, across.

Bluebell, soft-grass, wood anemone and dog’s mercury.

I scanned the page from the book and blew it up to A4 size, then put it on a light-box to trace the outlines onto cartridge paper before re-drawing the whole thing as near as I can line for line. It’s fascinating to follow so closely the marks that I made all that time ago, a way of getting back into the thought process I used at the time. I can see that I was at pains to follow as closely I was able the curves of stem, leaf and vein, so pretty much what I’d attempt to do today.

The original was dip pen and India ink, the new enlarged version is Lamy Safari, filled with Noodler’s waterproof ink. I’m pleased when, despite my shaky hands, I can follow a line more smoothly today than I could when in my mid-twenties. But then I would have been crouching uncomfortably on the woodland floor, not sitting at my desk in the comfort of my studio, overlooking those same woods. The Indian ink that I used then didn’t flow as smoothly as the Noodler’s I use now.

Even with a white flower like the wood anemone (above), adding a watercolour wash adds information and clarifies what is going on the drawing.

The yellow of the lesser celandine adds a little brighter colour and I’ve still got to add watercolour to the yellow archangel in the top right-hand corner of the page. It should make an suitably spring-green nature diary spread for the May issue of the Dalesman.

March Hare

Lakeside path, pencil and watercolour, from a photograph taken at lunchtime.

10.15 a.m.: It’s almost a year since we walked the circuit of Langsett Reservoir. We always go anticlockwise as the lakeside path through the pines gets us off to a brisk start; we prefer to leave picking our way through the mud at the far corner of the lake until later.

coal tit flits about, investigating the branches of a lakeside pine.

As we climb the rocky path up to the moor, a robin perches in a shrub on the heathy slope.

On the moor, red grouse are calling: a repeated phrase, with the rhythm of several unsuccessful attempts to start a one-cylinder petrol mower.

curlew repeats its bubbling call over an expanse of heather. Down by the lake we hear a shrill piping, which we guess is a sandpiper.

On our way out here, near Cawthorne, we briefly spotted a brown hare running alongside a fence. On the moor, a dead hare, lying by the track, looks like a grisly image from a Ted Hughes poem.

2 p.m.: Close to the bank by The Island at Horbury Bridge, a dabchick is diving.

The Forest Scene

This morning we finished the village scene for this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, and this afternoon we’ve blocked in the forest, on the reverse side of the backdrop. I had no fewer than seven helpers – members of the cast and their mums – filling in the outlines for me.

The flat, rounded shapes remind me of Clarice Cliff designs, but we’ll add a bit of shading and outline tomorrow morning.

Dress rehearsal is tomorrow at two, but I’m sure we’ll be finished by then.

Watercolour Woodland

4 p.m.: This afternoon, the light is much the same as yesterday, so I get a chance to finish my watercolour. Working with a finer brush, a number 6 sable round, I start with the branches in the upper left-hand corner and work my way downwards.

I’m painting in a Pink Pig sketchbook on 270 gsm Ameleie watercolour paper which is smoother than the 300 gsm variety that I was using at the weekend but, as you can see from the close up, it still gives a hint of texture in the washes. It’s smooth enough to take a pen line.

It takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to finish the watercolour.

Link: Pink Pig sketchbooks

First Wash

This afternoon, instead of starting with a pen drawing, I quickly sketched the outlines in pencil then, working from the sky downwards, I added a wash of the lightest background colour in each area.

It’s the same technique as the ‘half-hour’ demonstrations that I followed at the weekend but I find that working from life gives me a lot more freedom as I’m not trying to follow a series of step-by-step instructions. The dark masses of the bare ashes and willows are varied so as I work I keep adding touches of sap green, French ultramarine or sepia to my background colour, blending them wet-in-wet.

With only twenty minutes available, I don’t get the chance to move onto the next stage which would have been adding details such as twisting branches, patches of ivy and darker patches.

Lost in the Forest

This ‘half-hour’ watercolour demonstration, again following the step-by-steps in Paul Talbot-Greaves’ Collins 30 Minute Landscapes in Watercolour, actually took me almost an hour but, as with any watercolour, part of that was waiting for the paint to dry.

I went wrong with the colour wash for the distant trees, accidentally mixing a darker green intended for the middle-distance trees. In trying to dilute this mid-wash, I ended up with wash-backs. But they do have a dendritic look to them!


11.30 a.m.: In the woodland glade of the Menagerie at Nostell one nuthatch is chasing another. There’s an exchange of ‘tickety-tick’ type calls followed by a high-pitched repeated ‘Chuieee’ call.

What I take to be the male bird is posturing, following the female from tree-trunk to the bough of the neighbouring tree.

In subdued winter plumage, the yellow on the breast of a grey wagtail is a good match for the buff colour-wash on the buildings of the stable block that overlook the walled garden.