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.


First Frame

There’s only one way to get into Clip Paint Studio and that’s to dive in and have a go. This is far from the look that I’ve envisaged for my Adam & the Gargoyle comic strip but I realise that – as happened with the scans of colour slides I’ve been doing recently – the way to get familiar with the process is to keep going through it, again and again, building from the bits that I can do now to the more subtle tweaks that should enable me to get things looking just as I want them to.

Newmillerdam, 1973

It’s hard to believe that the top end of Newmillerdam Country Park was ever as open as this. Richard Brook photographed the upper end of the lake from the end of the Causeway on Sunday, 9 September, 1973. He describes this as the ‘fish hatchery and cleared area’. I remember the slope on the right being birch woodland before it was clear-felled and, like Richard, I took photographs here, in my case before the felling started, so I must set about archiving those too.

But for the time being, I’m taking a break as I’ve now finished the first two boxes of Richard’s slides; there are three still to go. I’m looking forward to more glimpses of familiar habitats as they once were.

As with the Stanley Ferry Flash photograph, Richard returned to the scene, in this case seven years later, on Monday, 26 May, 1980, but this time he’s looking down the lake across what he calls the willow swamp with the Causeway in the background (to me it looks like the lake-shore path in the distance, rather than the Causeway).

Again there’s a bare slope which I believe was as a result of felling conifers which had been planted in the 1960s after the original deciduous woodland had been felled.

Very different from the dense woodland of today.

Stanley Ferry Flash

The same view of Stanley Ferry Flash, near Wakefield, taken by Richard Brook on Sunday, 9 September, 1973 (above), and on Friday, 24 January, 1986 (below). The colliery spoil heap in the background, from one of the Stanley Collieries, perhaps Stanley Deep Drop, has grown, or at least been reshaped in the intervening years.

Part of the spoil heap area became Stanley Marsh Nature Reserve.

Common Reed, Phragmites, has colonised the area, although some reedmace remains. The rough grasses, greater willowherb and water plantain seem to have been drowned out, so I wonder if the whole site subsided, or whether water levels stayed about the same but the reed out-competed the other plants.

Greater willowherb, reedmace and water plantain, 1973.



Swan Feeding at Fairburn Ings, 1966

One of the pleasures of archiving Richard Brook’s slides of West Yorkshire wildlife habitats of half a century ago is being reminded of familiar places from my earliest birdwatching expeditions. Already in 1966, Fairburn Ings was establishing a reputation for itself as a nature reserve. At that time, if I remember rightly, it was managed by the West Riding County Council.

As he was trekking around the wilder fringes of the area, there are rarely  figures in Richard’s slides, but he wasn’t quite able to crop this little boy feeding the swans out of the frame.

Richard took the photograph on Tuesday, 2 August 1966.

Ferrybridge Cooling Towers

I can make out just three cooling towers at Ferrybridge Power Station.  There had been eight but there had been a catastrophic collapse of three of them on 1 November in the previous year, due to vibration caused by a westerly gale with winds of 85 mph.


RSPB Fairburn Ings reserve

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

Little Book, Big History

A little book with an intriguing connection to Lawrence of Arabia; Richard Knowles tells the story. I filmed this afternoon at Rickaro Bookshop, Horbury.

I’ve added titles and, if you  watch the video, you’ll realise why we went for Caslon as the typeface.


Rickaro Books

Leventhorpe Lagoon 1973

I’ve been making a start on archiving a collection of colour slides taken by Richard Brook (1943-2017), for many years the Conservation Officer of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society. He photographed the East Ash Lagoon at Leventhorpe from the lagoon’s northwest corner on Sunday, 2 September, 1973. Pulverised fly ash was pumped from power stations into lagoons and left to settle out.

Richard could see the potential of these lagoons as nature reserves and he documented every one of them – along with subsidence flashes and sand quarries -within five or six miles radius of Wakefield, so his collection of slides form a unique record of post-industrial West Yorkshire.

Dust & Scratch Removal


I’m gradually learning my way around the slide scanning option of my SilverFast scanning program and also learning easier ways to remove specks of dust and other blemishes from the slides.

In Photoshop CS5, I’ve just discovered the Dust & Scratches filter, which is hidden away in the Photoshop Filter Menu under the heading Noise.


It’s a lot quicker than using the Spot Healing Brush to individually remove blemishes, although that has it’s part to play too: Dust & Scratch Filter for the whole sky, Spot Healing Brush for getting into more detailed parts of the image.

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.