The Little Flash Rabbit

IT’S THE WEEKEND, so as a break from my normal work I decided to have a go, once again, at creating a Flash Animation. This rabbit, which would have failed the audition for Watership Down, is from a tutorial on ‘Simple Animation’ in Ivan Hissey and Curtis Tappenden’s The Professional Step-by-Step Guide to Cartooning.

A year ago, I read right through the Teach Yourself Visually Guide to Flash MX but that has the disadvantage that when you get to Chapter 9, ‘Create Tweened Animations’, they expect you to have picked up the basics. I’m afraid that with Flash, which I use only once or twice a year, I’ve invariably forgotten the basics. The Step-by-Step Guide gives you clear simple instructions in full.

Effects like this Shape Tweening are simple to achieve once you know how. I like the way the Step-by-Step Guide casually mentions a few really useful keystrokes for Flash in the two paragraphs of instructions for shape tweening.

But I’m afraid that’s going to be the end of Flash for me for another six months! What a complex program! Everything seems designed to do what you don’t expect it to do. What finally stumped me was trying to do the simplest of processes, the selection of a sequence of frames in the animation: ‘select frames . . . by clicking and dragging the mouse across the timeline’. In my version of the program, that just drags the first frame along the timeline, leaving a sequence of blank frames. Most discouraging.

I’m not completely illiterate when it comes to computers but Flash does win the prize for the most abstruse and contrary program ever designed. Perhaps it’s too much to expect to run an old program like Flash MX on Windows 7.

A Good Drenching

OUR LONG SPELL of mainly dry weather has ended with a good drenching which we’re hoping will persuade the runner beans and courgettes to spring into action again. At least the dry spell has meant that we’ve had plenty of raspberries ripening.

In the heavy rain at 5 a.m. yesterday morning, the electricity went off and we didn’t get it back until 12 hours later. Fortunately we have a gas hob (and a whistling kettle standing by for such emergencies!) so we were able to turn the ripe Victoria Plums that my mum had given us yesterday into 6 lbs – ten jars of various sizes – of jam. We’re getting used to not over-setting it.

The Handbook

AS I STAGGERED back from my 16 mile walk in the sun the other week, a neighbour stopped and asked me if I was interested in some bird books he had been given which were sitting in his garage, waiting until he could find for a suitable home for them. He showed me four hefty volumes published by the RSPB in the early 1980s. They were still in their original packaging and in excellent conidition. It shows how incoherent I was after my walk that I didn’t immediately realise what they were.

A short search on Google revealed that these were in fact the first four volumes of the monumental nine volume Birds of the Western Palearctic. That’s the subtitle by which they’re generally known but the actual title is Handbook (some handbook; you wouldn’t get far with these in your haversack!) of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The RSPB printed an ‘orthnithologists edition’ limited to 5000 copies. With a bit of reorganising I’ve managed to fit them on my shelves. Now all I need to do is track down the remaining five volumes.

When Barbara and I were staying on Skokholm Island, the warden described Birds of the Western Palearctic as ‘the most boring bird book ever published’; what he meant was that you couldn’t really browse through it for pleasure but when it comes to information about a species, if something you’ve observed isn’t mentioned in the text, then it’s probably new to science. Barbara and I had been watching Jackdaws carrying shells into their nesthole in a rabbit burrow on the cliff-top near The Neck on Skokholm. The warden was soon able to tell us that there is no mention of shells in the list of nesting materials in the entry on Jackdaws, so that’s probably something that has never been observed and recorded in birdwatching literature.

I’m really grateful to my neighbour and I feel as if the books waiting for me to come along and put them to some use. Earlier this year, I decided that it was about time that I started exploring the wilder corners of Europe – hence our holiday in Switzerland – and the Western Palearctic is the ecozone that our continent occupies. I don’t know why I should ever need to refer to a description of a bird with that level of detail but it’s reassuring to have such an authoritative source of birding wisdom available.

The Wall by the Tithe Barn

I HAVEN’T noticed this inscription before, on a stone on an old wall by the car park on Tithe Barn Street, Horbury. In my photograph of the wall (right), you can just make out the spire of St Peter’s Church in the background. The barn where the church tithes – traditionally one tenth of the village’s harvest – were gathered stood a little to the left of this photograph. Unfortunately the barn burnt down in the early years of the 20th century and all that remains of it are timbers built into a wall behind a brick-built house that stands on the site.

I wonder if the inscription ‘C C 1831’ could have been made to mark a boundary at the time that the common fields of the village were enclosed. The area now occupied by the car park was once Horbury’s cemetery, which I assume was established here at about the time of the enclosures. The original churchyard must have been full to capacity by then. As a schoolboy I remember that the wall extended around the area alongside the road (and had an opening to a urinal built into it). There were old headstones and table tombs in what was by then a rather overgrown cemetery. Many of the remains were re-interred in Horbury’s newer cemetery, opened in Victorian times on Hall Cliffe, a quarter of a mile to the north, when the red shale car park was made in the 1960s but I believe that some of our Horbury ancestors still rest in peace under the car park.

Reception

I don’t know what makes a noticeboard, the back of a monitor and a pile of bags so compelling but I find the view of the back of the reception desk in the health centre an enjoyably absorbing subject to draw.

Kingfisher

THIS MORNING I spotted a Kingfisher flying to a perch on a branch on a pebbly bank at the edge of the river by the Bingley Arms. It spent a minute or two bashing the small fish it had just caught against the branch.

It watched from the perch for a while then dived down into the shallows beneath, emerging without catching a fish. Back on its perch but looking the other way, it watched, then dived again, once more without success, before flying off downstream.

It’s a long time since I saw a Kingfisher and I don’t remember ever seeing one dealing with a fish but it’s good to know that they’re still about.

Monkeying about with Elements 5

As I listened to the radio, I started doodling on the back of an envelope. Envelopes are often pleasant to draw on, smoother than the cartridge I’m used to but still with enough grain on the surface to provide some character.

I’ve recently loaded up Photoshop Elements 5 on my computer. It came bundled with the scanner but I’ve never given it a try. I’ve yet to find a program that makes animated GIFs as simple as they should be. The Elements version won’t allow me to vary the speed between frames so this ape is doomed to roll his eyes continuously at a rate of 0.2 seconds between frames.

Fossil Shells

22°C, 5.50 pm.
THESE PIECES of sandstone at the corner of the pond provide access to the water for birds and perhaps some cover for newts and frogs. They also help disguise the edge of the black plastic pond-liner. The first pond that we dug when we moved here was lined with builder’s damp-proofing plastic – blue polythene sheeting – which wasn’t resistant to ultra-violet light. I covered the edges with turves and spread garden netting across the bottom of the pond and pressed sub-soil from the hole we’d dug into it. This produced a more natural-looking pond than our present one but it had a tendency to wick water away and the netting wasn’t a good idea; on one occasion I saw a frog that had been drowned when it had gone down into the mud and got caught in it.

Brachiopods

I noticed these impressions of fossils shells in the rock on the far right (top). Superficially they look like cockle-shells but these fossil creatures weren’t bivalve molluscs; the Brachiopods (the name is from the Greek meaning ‘arm-foot’) appeared in the Cambrian explosion of life on Earth and have been around for 570 million years. Three thousand fossil species have been described but today only about 100 living species remain. They have suffered from competition with bivalves such as cockles, oysters and mussels.

Modelling clay cast of brachiopod. I can't decide whether this is a complete shell or whether these are two valves from separate individuals which just happen to have fossilised together.

These fossils are negative impressions of the shells so I pushed a piece of modelling clay into the hole and made this positive  cast of the original shell. When this shell was last visible on the surface of the earth it was on the seabed at a time when our part of the Earth’s crust lay close to the equator, some 300 million years ago in the Upper Carboniferous period. As the fossil is in sandstone, I guess these brachiopods must have been living near the mouth of a river.

The ribs on the shell bear this out as they indicate that this species of brachopod was adapted to live in shallow water in a strong current. A smooth shells would indicate a species that lives in deeper, calmer waters. That zig-zag line which marks the opening of the shell is known as the commisure (below right); brachiopods developed a folded commisure to increase feeding area while preventing sand particles entering.

Brachiopods stood on a pedicle stalk anchored on the seabed and opened and closed the two valves of their shells to feed. The hole in the shell where the stalk protruded led to them being given the name ‘lamp-shells’, as the larger valve resembles a Roman oil-lamp, with a hole for the wick.

Gladiolus

THE WILD GLADIOLUS, Gladiolus ilyricus, is a native of south and west Europe but is considered to be a native of the British Isles with a very local distribution in the New Forest where it grows on acid grass heaths. The showy variety that I’ve drawn here is a florist’s variety of the plant, perhaps the Italian Gladiolus, Gladiolus italicus, which is the one most often grown in this country. It is sometimes seen growing as a garden escape on rubbish tips.

As you might guess, the name comes from the same root as ‘gladiator’. Gladius is the Roman word for a small sword; the name refers to the shape of the leaves.

Gladioli are members of the Iris family and I can see the resemblance to Yellow Flag.

Cat’s-ear

Height: 16 - 47 cm.
Flower: 2.5 cm (1 inch)

THIS RELATIVE of the dandelion grows around the edges of the lawn, mainly on the shadier side. It tends to be larger than the Autumn Hawkbit which I drew the other day. It’s leaves aren’t as narrow as those of the Hawkbit and the teeth of Cat’s-ear don’t point backwards.

Cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata, is a plant of meadows, heath, dunes, lawns and roadsides, on mildly acid soils. The ‘cat’s ear’ of its name refers to the scale-like bracts on its stem.

Plum Jam

WRITING the labels for our latest batch of jam – Victoria Plum, which we picked from my mum’s tree on Thursday – gave me the perfect excuse to try out another colour from my new set of Winsor and Newton inks to write the labels. The bottle of purple ink has an illustration of a plum on the label but it’s a purple Damson, not a light red Victoria Plum.

This second illustration is drawn with a Q Connect fineliner with an 0.4 tip; an ordinary office pen. Both the Winsor and Newton ink and the ink of the fineliner penetrate to the reverse side of the soft, absorbent cartridge pages of my current sketchbook. I’m looking forward to finishing this sketchbook – a Crawford & Black 96 gsm acid free A5 portrait sketchbook from The Works discount store – and getting back to a more ruggedly made Pink Pig sketchbook but there’s still half the pages to go and I can’t waste them; it’s acceptable for everyday use but I have another sketchbook on the go for when I have a day out drawing.

Red Cabbage

THIS RED CABBAGE might be protected from Rabbit, Wood Pigeon and Cabbage White Butterfly under the green garden netting supported by lengths of blue alkathene water pipe but that hasn’t kept out the Whitefly which are wafting about and resting on the undersides of the leaves in little drifts. Without the netting in place, perhaps our resident House Sparrows would have pecked around and kept their numbers in check.