Dalesman Nature Diary

Dalesman September 2018

The September Dalesman magazine just dropped through the door and I’m delighted with how my Wild Yorkshire nature diary has turned out this month. The drawings have a bit more room to breathe than usual and the daisies and germander speedwells, photographed in Thornes Park this summer, give a suitably relaxed frame for my Pink Pig A5 sketchbook.

As usual the lettering and drawings were dropped in later, as it would be so difficult to get the exposure just right for each element.

Sketchbook v. Notebook

I’ve been using the sketchbook format in my articles for a year now but starting in the new year, we’re going to try something different as it so difficult to tell a story in the few paragraphs of hand-written text that can be comfortably fitted in amongst my drawings.

I’m hoping that I can still keep some of the quirkiness of the visual joke of popping a sketchbook down on the turf or on the beach, so perhaps I’ll go back to my regular text and illustrations for the diary but incorporate some element like a real feather or fossil resting on the page or a ladybird crawling across it.

A Curious Cat

Dalesman magazineSeptember’s issue of the Dalesman is, as usual, full of all things Yorkshire: the Wakefield’s Mystery Plays, Leeds Library (wish I lived nearer, I’d join), the dolls houses of Newby Hall and bird of prey conservation.

And yes, also as usual, my sketches are upstaged by watercolours and oils from Yorkshire’s artistic talent –John Harrison’s Healaugh and Chris Geall’s Mallyan Spout – but  my favourite image in this issue is Stephen Garnett’s double-page spread photograph of a back alley in Robin Hood’s Bay village.

How did he manage to find that comically curious cat which so perfectly matches the sun-dappled stone of the cobbles and cottages?

Links

Dalesman magazine

John Harrison: Drawn in Yorkshire

Chris Geall

Stephen Garnett photography

From Sketchbook to Finished Article

Scarborough Castle, October 2015.
Scarborough Castle, October 2015.

I write my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the Dalesman magazine five or six weeks ahead of publication so in the past week I’ve turned my attention to the October article, which really makes me feel as if summer is coming to a close!

Usually I have plenty of material to sift through but last October we’d only just got over selling my late mother’s house and we had so much on that Barbara and I managed only a book delivery excursion to the Peak District and a couple of days in Scarborough.

Moleskine sketchbook page, October 2015.
Moleskine sketchbook page, October 2015.

juvenile heronWith such a short time on the coast, I tried to draw whenever I got the opportunity but that meant that I didn’t get around to writing many notes, certainly not enough for my 800 word Dalesman article.

Barbar's notebook.
Barbara’s notebook.

Luckily while I was perching on the sea wall at North Bay sketching rocks and birds, Barbara was sitting on a bench nearby writing in a pocket notebook, so I’ve filled in the blanks in my article from her observations.

rocksIt reminds me of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy: she wrote meticulous descriptions of the scenery and natural history that they’d encountered on their walks and he’d put them into verse, implying that he’d been wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’ (except for Dorothy following him and scribbling in her notebook).

Scrivener

In Scrivener you can easily move around the sections of the article you're writing using the virtual corkboard.
In Scrivener you can rearrange the sections of the article you’re writing using a virtual corkboard.

seaweedI’ve got the chance to be more productive than Wordsworth: I don’t have to lie on my couch ‘in vacant or in pensive mood’ because I can get my ideas together using my favourite writing program Scrivener, which is set up so writers can drop rough drafts in, rearrange them on a virtual corkboard and then go into a full screen, distraction-free writing mode (that’ll be the day, when I don’t get distracted!).

Even so it took me a couple of sessions to polish up the article so that it flows but, even using Barbara’s notes, I’d only got to 500 words. Having set the scene on the coast I didn’t want to change the location to the Peak District or to our home patch to finish off the article.

Halcyon Days

kingfisherAs I drew last October I’d been amazed to see a kingfisher fishing in the sea, diving in from a concrete post, so I decided to write a little more about that. I looked up the kingfisher in Birds of the Western Palearctic but even in the twelve pages of closely written notes of this nine volume handbook I couldn’t spot a suitably fascinating fact that would draw my article to a close.

the white goddessBrewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology weren’t all that helpful either but then I remembered my favourite study of the roots of classical mythology, The White Goddess by Robert Graves. I’ve still got the copy that I bought as a student. His explanation of the myth of the kingfisher mentions the account written by Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, which I was able to track down via Google. Pliny describes the floating nest that kingfishers were believed to make at sea during the calm halcyon days of December:

“Their nests are truly wonderful; they are of the shape of a ball slightly elongated, have a very narrow mouth, and bear a strong resemblance to a large sponge. It has never yet been discovered of what material they are made; some persons think that they are formed of sharp fish-bones, as it is on fish that these birds live.”

That struck me as the perfect way to round off my article.

Links

Scrivener writing software.

Dalesman Yorkshire magazine and visitor guides.

Drawn to the Dales

 

My January Dalesman article

‘It would be a pity if he disappeared to Yorkshire & just wrote for the Dalesman’

That was the typically wry comment of my professor, Brian Robb, head of illustration, as he looked through my folio at the Royal College of Art in March 1975. So, with apologies to Brian, you can probably guess what I’ve been writing for the last three years?

This month's Dalesman includes spectacular photographs of the waterfall at Malham Cove, following persistent rains at the beginning of December. A once in a lifetime event.
This month’s Dalesman includes spectacular photographs of the waterfall at Malham Cove, following persistent rains at the beginning of December. A once in a lifetime event.

With this January article, I’m starting the fourth year of my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the monthly magazine, described as the parish magazine for the whole of Yorkshire by Alan Bennett. As my deadline is always four or five weeks ahead of the month in question, I’ve based my articles on the observations and sketches in my online Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, which I started on Sunday 4 October 1998.

I’ve kept the focus of my Dalesman diaries on the kind of things that anyone can see in Yorkshire if they get out and about in their local patch and explore gardens, country parks, woodlands, waterside and moor. Now I’m ready to go a little further . . .
Northern EnglandHere at Middlestown, five miles south west of Wakefield, close to where Coxley Beck joins the Calder, I’m well placed for heading for the hills with four National Parks – the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors and the Lake District – and I mustn’t ignore the Vales of York, Pickering and Mowbray, the Humber Estuary and the Yorkshire Coast.

I should be able to find plenty of material for next year’s Wild Yorkshire diary!