At Home with the Watertons

Waterton, Eliza and HelenI’ve enjoyed the detective work involved in researching the scene in my comic strip biography in which we meet the Waterton family at home in Walton Hall. I’ve been unable to track down any portraits of Charles Waterton’s young sisters-in-law, the Miss Edmonstones, so photographs of their close relatives have been the next best thing but I’ve also found a clue from art history.

As I understand it, Eliza and Helen, were, like Waterton’s late wife Ann, half Scottish, half Arawak. Whether this is true or not, I can take Edmund, the only son of Waterton and Ann as my starting point for the Edmonstone look. In photographs, he has a broad face and tightly curled hair which I’ve also found in a photograph of a Josephine Waterton, who I assume is Edmund’s daughter.

St Catherine, detail from an etching by Maratta.
St Catherine, detail from an etching by Maratta.

Ann Waterton died shortly after the birth of Edmund in April 1830. Charles later acquired a painting of St Catherine by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713) which he felt bore a close resemblance to Ann. I’m unable to track down this particular painting but Maratta’s models for St Catherine and the Virgin Mary do have a similar look to the photograph of Josephine.

The hair style and the full-sleeved dress in Maratta’s etching of St Catherine aren’t so different to the fashions of the early 1830s that I’m using in my illustration.

Charles Waterton's seal on a letter dated 2 June 1855.
Charles Waterton’s seal on a letter dated 2 June 1855.

Although I’ve yet to discover a portrait photograph of Charles Waterton himself, there are contemporary sketches, a bust and a portrait, plus a death mask which I have yet to arrange to see.

Links; An icon in York Art Gallery, Virgin with a Breast on her Neck appears to have links with Edmund. He liked to style himself ‘Lord of Walton Hall’ and he collected rings so I think that the flamboyant seal on the back of the York painting must be Edmund’s. Charles Waterton’s seal (left), was a simpler affair.

My reference for fashions from the Wonderful 1830s, from Whilhelmina’s Antique Fashion blog.

Ann Mary Edmonstone on the Overtown Miscellany website

Cross-hatched Headline

defence logoWith so many drawings to do, it might seem counterproductive to lavish a few hours on the title for my comic strip, which I could have added in minutes in Photoshop or Manga Studio but it helps me establish the mood of the story. I’ll probably modify it later but this will suffice to set the scene.

The inspiration for the blocky lettering comes from the Channel 4 series Amazing Spaces Shed of the Year. Their freehand, cross-hatched logo suggests the blockiness of a shed and its homespun design. I’m going for a Victorian feel in my illustrations, so why shouldn’t I try cross-hatching my lettering.

Waterton campaigning against the enclosure of Heath Common, January 1844.
Waterton campaigning against the enclosure of Heath Common, January 1844.

I was also thinking about the posters that Waterton had printed for his campaign to save the last open spaces available to the people of Wakefield.

The starting point for my title was a typeface called Superclarendon Bold, which I’ve squared up as a visual metaphor for the wall that Waterton built around his nature reserve in a heroic attempt to save it from poachers and pollution.

Waterton's signature from a letter dated 1859 (see below).
Waterton’s signature from a letter dated 1859 (see below).

We’ve discussed using a font or handlettering based on Charles Waterton’s handwriting throughout the comic but I think that would give the story an elegant period flavour, introducing a hint of Jane Austen. I’m aiming at something more robust and chunky.

scarbro 1859

Like so many of us from the West Riding of Yorkshire, Waterton liked to spend his holidays at Scarborough.

A Warning from Waterton

Waterton warns the poacherThanks to various disruptions, I’m taking a while to get to the end of my battle with the poachers page but here we as the poacher runs off and Waterton warns him ‘You will NOT touch the birds in MY park!’

Needless to say, the poacher protests that this is a waste because it’s great game.

Taking a stand taking a standWorking from my rough I tried having Squire Waterton in the foreground but it’s awkward to have him looking into the picture and to see the expression on his face. Why not, I thought, try and convey the Squire’s resolute mood in his body language?

At first I tried having him springing into action but this threw him off balance. In fact he looks like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever!

How about having him stand his ground. I thought of boxers at a weigh in, trying to look rock solid.

night sceneI’m not happy with my first attempts at shading for this night scene but we’ll have to see what it looks like when I add the watercolour. Once again, it’s the lively little sketch of the standing figure that appeals to me more than the laboured shaded version.

I might end up using watercolour only rather than inked and hatched shadows.

Soap Bubbles

Simpson v. WatertonI’ve been looking forward to seeing this drawing in colour. It looks rather stagey but it tells the story clearly, so I’ll stick with this version.

Simpson v. WatertonThis is the first time that I’ve added a curved tail to a speech balloon. In Manga Studio EX5 this kind of tail is known as a spline. Mathematically, a spline curve is one that moves through a given series of points. Because of lack of headroom in this frame, a straight tail would have to emerge from the side of the balloon, which would look rather awkward.

No wonder Simpson looks so pleased with himself, he’s the first character to get a spline bubble in this comic strip. I don’t blame Waterton for storming off indignantly.

Soap worksI’ve left the background muted because I can easily add more colour if it’s needed but, as it’s transparent watercolour, I can’t remove it if I overdo it.

Walton Soap Works

soap comicAt last, I’m getting started on the final artwork for the Charles Waterton comic strip project. I’m starting with the confrontation between Waterton and Mr Simpson the soap manufacturer, whose factory in Walton village has polluted air and stream and killed trees in the Waterton’s park.

Did the soap works look anything like the scene I imagined in my rough? I’ve been unable to track down a photograph of the factory as it was, so using a map in Peter Wright’s 1985 book A History of Walton I made a 3D model in Sketchup.

soap factoryThe factory was built on a triangle of land between the Barnsley Canal and Shay Lane. Shay Lane runs eastwards out of the village towards Crofton. I tried to use the satellite image from Google Earth as my starting point but that got a bit fiddly as I’m not familiar with the program so I started with a blank and drew out the buildings on the ground plane by eye, then I extruded them up into 3D objects using the Push Pull Tool.

soap factoryWith the two chimneys this isn’t so very different to the scene I conjured up from imagination but it’s not quite what I need for the showdown scene, so I’ll take the essential features from it and bring them together to make it a bit more dramatic.

A photograph taken after the factory closed shows that the canal ran past the soap works on an embankment, so the barges were passing by at roof level.

Storyboarding Waterton

It’s unusual for me to work in pencil but it’s the quickest way to produce so many drawings. I abandoned the tonal conte crayon shading after the first couple of frames. The Faber Castell eraser doubles as a cap for the HB pencil and proved useful, as it’s so much quicker than diving into the drawer for my regular eraser.

I recently read Guiseppe Cristiano’s Storyboard Design Course, so I’m keen to organise my ideas for my latest freelance job, a comic strip, in storyboard form. My work usually starts with a drawing in a sketchbook, or with days, weeks, months, sometimes years of research but I’ve got a midsummer deadline to work to for this job, so that isn’t an option. The starting point here has to be a story that works.

John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museums, is providing the script for this 36 page comic strip to mark the 150th anniversary of traveller and naturalist Charles Waterton. I’m working on Part 3, The Defence of Natural History which tells the story of the nature reserve that Waterton set up at Walton Park, near Wakefield, when his exploring came to an end in the 1830s.

park mapI’ve split John’s initial outline for the story into 33 frames. After a dramatic opening in which Waterton fights hand to hand with poachers, there’s a tour of the nature reserve. This doesn’t give me much of a chance for storytelling. Waterton simply takes us around his park like a presenter on Countryfile.

We might try introducing a character being taken on a tour of the estate just to create a bit of dialogue and tension. Charles Darwin was a visitor who admired Waterton but could also be rather scathing of Waterton’s views and eccentricities. Another possibility is that Waterton’s son Edmund could be the one being dragged around the estate.  Edmund was, like so many children, a polar opposite to his father.

Soapy Simpson

In The Storyboard Design Course, one of the artists says that he never starts his storyboard at frame one. He’d rather go straight in to the confrontation with the villain of the piece. In my case that’s ‘Soapy’ Simpson, whose factory polluted the stream in Waterton’s park and killed the trees in his heronry.

I found myself snarling as I drew Simpson and thinking of the kind of confrontation that Clint Eastwood  has with a smug but dangerous villain – Lee Van Cleef rather than Eli Wallach – in the Fistful of Dollars trilogy.


storyboardThe other scene that comes alive for me is the one of Waterton’s sisters-in-law, the Miss Edmonstones being racially abused in Wakefield. They were Arawak on their mother’s side, Scottish on their father’s so you feel that at that time they must have appeared quite exotic in the old market town. But so far we’ve got no definite evidence that this actually happened, just the odd hint that John Whitaker is following up with some additional research.

I’d like to feature the Miss Edmonstones as a contrast to the all-action adventures of Waterton. There’s often a woman (or in one case ‘the Woman’) in a Sherlock Holmes story to provide a contrast to the male world of Holmes and Watson.

Waterton's WakefieldHere’s a Waterton comic strip that I produced in the 1980s for a Wakefield Naturalist’s Society display at the Wakefield Flower Show.

Link; The Storyboard Design Course; The Ultimate Guide for Artists, Directors, Producers and Scriptwriters by Guiseppe Cristiano, published by Thames & Hudson

Waterton’s Watchtower

I’D ALWAYS assumed that the stone watchtowers that Charles Waterton(1793-1865) built around Walton Park were primarily birdwatching hides where Waterton, accustomed to life in the tropics, could take shelter on walks around his nature reserve but when I read an account of a visitor to the Park in 1835, I realised that these were intended as sentry boxes. It was all very well for Waterton to enclose his sanctuary with a long high wall but in order to ensure that his pheasants and wildfowl wouldn’t be disturbed by gangs of poachers from the local towns, he had to organise night patrols.

I believe there were four towers originally of which I’ve seen three. Two of them were in ruins and have now disappeared without a trace but the third has been restored. They are positioned in strategic points such as where the stream flows out of the Park under the wall and at the diagonally opposite corner with a view down the slope to the Lake.

On an evening visit to a neighbouring wood Waterton once surprised a poacher. In the ensuing fight Waterton, who was on his own, without the support of his trusty gamekeeper, John Ogden, was wrestled to the ground. Fortunately he fought off his assailant by grabbing him by the cravat and choking him until he ceased his attack and fled.

Again for this illustration I’ve worked from reference, this time from two photographs kindly supplied by John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museum. I hadn’t realised that the towers originally had a conical turret roof. When the watchtower was restored a few years ago the roof was omitted, I guess for structural reasons, but what a difference it made when I reconstructed the tower with the roof in place. It changed from looking like a military installation to looking like something out of a fairy tale, the sort of enchanted little tower that a traveller would find on a walk through the woods.

No doubt one or two gangs of poachers were in for a big surprise on the night that they they went down to the woods and first came across the tower and the band of guardians that presumably hid inside it.

Waterton’s Wall

CHARLES WATERTON completed his wall around Walton Park in 1821. It had taken five years to build and cost £9,000. Refusing to go into debt to complete it, Waterton, who as a teetotal Yorkshire squire was something of a rarity, quipped that he’d paid for it with the money he hadn’t spent on claret.

It seems a simple concept today but it had never occurred to anyone before to enclose an area with the sole purpose of providing a sanctuary for wildlife. Enclose an area to hunt wildlife, yes, but not to preserve it for the purposes of enjoying it for its own sake and studying its habits.

He also pioneered the concept of a country park by providing an area for picnics and outdoor concerts in a clearing in a small wood near the farm buildings known as the Grotto. Keeping some areas strictly for the birds and allowing open access to the public in others ensured that visitors didn’t unduly disturb the birds and animals in the perfect patch of unspoilt countryside (a rare commodity in the industrial districts of mid-Victorian West Yorkshire) that they’d come to enjoy.

Waterton been inspired by his experience of the wilderness of what is now Guyanna to recreate a pristine version of as many English natural habitats as he could fit into his park; lake, swamp, hedgerow and woodland. He regretted that he didn’t have an arm of the sea available to complete his selection.

He picked up ideas on his travels in Europe, notably the use of ivy to cover ruins which he’d seen in Italy in a park where pheasants could coexist with the throng of townsfolk taking a stroll because the birds had instant access to dense cover.

I’ve enjoyed working on this illustration even though I decided not to go on location to draw it, which is usually my preference. I’d taken a photograph of one of the few complete and uneroded sections of the wall in the summer, so I worked from that. As you can imagine drawing the sandstone blocks of the wall had a therapeutic effect on me. Unlike when I’m writing, I find that I can listen to the radio as I do this kind of step by step drawing, alternating from classical music on Radio 3 and news and documentaries on Radio 4. Bliss.

I don’t as yet know whether the final use for this illustration will be in black and white or colour so I took a high resolution scan before I started adding the watercolour. The illustration has to sit easily with nineteenth century engravings of the Park.

The line drawing was in Noodlers black ink, using an ArtPen with an extra fine nib.

Frost at Fairburn

IT’S A PERFECT crisply frosty morning and we get out early enough to enjoy the sparkle of the low morning sun on the hoar frost at Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve. I’m pleased to see that they’ve tried building a Sand Martin wall (on the far right in my panorama above) on the south-facing side of the lagoon in front of the Pickup Hide as this is a form of nest box which was invented by local naturalist Charles Waterton, who set up a sand martin wall in the kitchen garden at Walton Hall over 150 years ago.

The original wall was dug out by a JCB, presumably to the recycle the stone, about 30 years ago by the farmer (who used to tell me that he was a Waterton fan!). Brian Edgington, who was writing his Waterton biography at the time happened to turn up on the day of the demolition and had to watch helplessly as this cornerstone of conservation was destroyed.

But look, you can build one again, it’s easy. Waterton would have approved and I think that he’d concede that the RSPB have sited it more appropriately than his, which was abandoned by the martins after a few years. A few Starlings were nesting in it when I photographed it (probably the only photographic record we have of it) in the 1970s.

It’s such a pleasure to walk around the reserve which has been transformed by the frost and snow.

It’s good to see dozens of Tree Sparrows at the bird-feeding stations.

They’re joined by other species, notably Goldfinches, which, thanks to the simple fence with slots cut into it, I’m able to attempt to photograph with my little Olympus Tough, a camera that was never designed for this kind of subject.

It might be a bit limited but that wasn’t going to stop me having a go at capturing the aggressive behaviour of these Coots on one of the frozen ponds. The body language of the pair on the right was quite enough to send the single bird scurrying away. Despite the magical backdrop, you couldn’t describe Coot choreography as Swan Lake on Ice.

By the way, this photograph had to be stitched together from two taken in quick succession. With a delay of what seems like a whole second, but probably isn’t, the Tough can’t instantly catch fast-paced action of Coots.

We make our way across what I remember a decade or two as grey open colliery spoil heap, later an open space with thousands of newly planted ‘whips’ of trees. It’s now grown into mixed woodland, although one of the volunteer wardens tells us that it isn’t yet mature enough to attract Nuthatches, although they do see Treecreepers.

We continue on this path to take a look at the main lake, which isn’t frozen over like the smaller pools. I sketch a greyish/brownish duck. It has the shape of a Goldeneye but I decide to check it out by making a field sketch (colour added later).

Checking it out with the bird guide at home the key feature that identifies this bird as a female rather than a juvenile or a drake in eclipse, is the white ring around its neck. But I also noted that it has light-coloured eyes, and the book points out that the juvenile has darker eyes.

That was the limit of my drawing on this cold day. We decided not to take a flask of coffee to drink in the hide (which with no door and no window flaps is a rather chilly one today) and instead we headed back for a Fair Trade coffee from the machine in the Visitor Centre with a view of the bird feeders.

Barbara put together a do-it-yourself bird-feeder log, stuffing the larger holes drilled in it with fat-ball mix and the smaller ones with peanuts.

Here’s one last photograph; the view from the side window of the Bob Dickens hide by the main lake.

Link: RSPB Fairburn Ings