The Antique Architect

My iPad copy of the 1773 etching by M Darly. There’s no indication of colour in the original, so I’ve loosely based that on the Willison portrait, see below.

I was determined not to do any research for my comic strip, working title Adam and the Gargoyle, but here I go again . . .

My characters might have been reasonably convincing in the pencil roughs but, when it came to inking and resolving the details, it didn’t seem to be working. I realised that, for instance, I don’t know what kind of tailcoat my architect character, Robert Adam, might have been wearing c. 1770, when he was busy with improvements and decorative schemes for Nostell Priory.

Of course, I’m creating a pantomime version of Adam but it needs to relate the historical character so I was delighted when Google turned up a caricature, an etching dated 11th October 1773, by the prolific satirist Matthew Darly (fl. 1741-1778), now in the collections of the British Museum. It occurs to me that this might be the work of his wife Mary Darly (fl. 1756-1779), who was was also a publisher, satirist, teacher and caricaturist.

The ‘Antique Architect’, one of a series of Characters, Macaronies & Caricatures that Darly published, most probably depicts Robert Adam (1741-1797) as Robert and his brother James had recently published their first volume of Works in Architecture.

Porte Crayon

As I copied the etching on my iPad (in Clip Studio Paint, as usual), one detail that I found odd was the writing implement. It looks like a double-ended pen, topped and tailed with steel nibs, which I imagine would have been impractical to use.

Again, thanks to good old Google, I’m able to identify it as a porte crayon, a travel pencil: a piece of bamboo split at both ends to accommodate two crayon leads, with two brass rings to keep the leads in place. In the one that I’ve drawn from a photograph on an auction site, there’s red at one end and graphite at the other.

Robert Adam portrait

Image re-used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence

Robert Adam
George Willison (1741–1797) (attributed to)
National Portrait Gallery, London


The Antique Architect, etching by M Darly at the British Museum

Nostell Priory and Parkland, National Trust

The Menagerie Lion

This stone lion, reclining on the lawn, always takes me by surprise as we walk past a large evergreen oak and it springs into view. Surprisingly, a real lion was once kept here in the Menagerie at Nostell Priory, just yards from the Doncaster to Wakefield turnpike road, behind a high stone wall in an old quarry. There’s a story that it once escaped and roamed around the area.

Once again it’s an iPad drawing, which has the advantage that, even after I’ve added the colour, I can hide the paint layer and turn it back into a line drawing with one tap of my Apple Pencil.

Nostell Gargoyle

This gargoyle guards a collection of medieval finials, pillar fragments and a battered font housed in one of the stalls in the stable block at Nostell Priory.

Drawn – closely following a photograph I’d taken – in Clip Art Studio with an Apple Pencil on my iPad Pro.


Nostell Priory, National Trust

Winter Aconites at Nostell

After the snow and black ice over the weekend, it’s good to be out at Nostell again. The place seems to have sprung to life: blue skies, sunlit trees and the breeze picking up sparkling ripples on the lake which had been leaden grey with ice last time we were here.

Winter aconites and snowdrops are at their freshest.


It’s ten degrees warmer than it was yesterday and one of the cygnets on the lower lake has been stirred into action: she – I assume this is a female – is sitting at the water’s edge in a quiet  backwater behind a small screen of reedmace, practicing her nest-making skills; plucking pieces of vegetation and throwing them back with a flick of her head. They’re tending to land on her tail, but she’s so enthusiastic, she’ll soon build on her skills.

There’s nesting activity here at home too: Barbara spots a blue tit leaving the nest box on the back wall of our house.

Goose Chase

1.51 p.m.

Five pink-footed geese have touched down on the Middle Lake at Nostell Priory, but they’ve been spotted.

12 seconds later.

The cob mute swan of the lake’s resident family increases his speed as he draws nearer to them and the geese appear to be increasingly uneasy.

Another five seconds, and they’re taking off.

They soon decide that it’s time to make an exit and they take off heading down the lake, then double back to fly up the lake, heading off in the direction that they appeared from, only fifteen minutes earlier.

The goosanders (in the foreground in my last photograph) don’t get involved.

The cob mute swan has defending his territory uppermost in his mind. He spends a lot of time looking up at the small waterfall where the overflow channel beneath the bridge on the Doncaster Road flows through from the Upper Lake. There’s another family of swans on that lake and I’m sure they’d expand into our resident cob’s territory if they got the chance.

Meanwhile the four cygnets of the Middle Lake family are looking increasingly like adults, with fewer and fewer grey patches. I’m afraid that he will soon want them to move on, so that he and the pen can start raising their next brood.

Goosander Central

You could imagine The Lady of the Lake emerging with Excalibur from the Lower Lake at Nostell Priory this morning. There’s a mist hanging over it, which melts away as we walk along the shore. In the shade of the trees, ice still covers half of the surface but it’s covered by a film of water so that mallards can stand about in groups in the middle of the lake.

Most of the Middle Lake is ice-free and eight drake goosanders have gathered in the middle of it, probably accompanied by as many females, but it’s difficult to make a definitive count as at any time one or more of them is likely to be underwater.

As we stand on the top of the banking, trying to count them, I’m aware that the lake’s resident pink-footed goose has started swimming towards us. As I lower my binoculars, I’m astonished to find that it’s waddling along beside us. While we were counting goosanders it must have walked up the near vertical banking!

Winter Thrushes

There are thirty fieldfares on the south-facing slopes of grassland by the Obelisk Gate at Nostell. Redwings sometimes join them but today they’re amongst the trees nearer the house, probably attracted by holly and yew berries. Also on the parkland slopes, there are more mistle thrushes than we’d normally expect to see together: at least a dozen in total.

Foxglove leaf rosette.

The open parkland is white with frost so parties of wood pigeons are gathering on the sheltered rings of leaf litter beneath oaks and beeches.

The resident family of mute swans and the local mallards have gathered on a small patch of open water on the sunny side of the iced-over Lower Lake.

The drumming of a great-spotted woodpecker on a tree in the Pleasure Grounds carries well in frosty air, as does the manic laughing ‘yaffle’ call of a green woodpecker in Top Wood.

Sage Advice

sage sketch

Nostell Priory Lake: A pair of mallards makes careful progress over an expanse of ice between two areas of open water. After a minute or so the female decides that it will be quicker to fly.

Focus on Teapots

teapotWe spot our friend Roger in the cafe, so naturally the conversation comes around to photography. Focussing on a teapot, I ask him how I can get over the problem that when I use my bridge camera, a Fujifilm FinePix S6800, on macro setting I have to get in so close that the proportions of my subject get distorted: the spout looks jumbo sized.

teapotsYou need use a bit of zoom, suggests Roger. That works, the spout is now in proportion with the teapot, but, with my shaky hands, I’ve got a problem: the zoom magnifies any camera shake and the smaller aperture of the lens means that the camera will be selecting a longer shutter speed, again increasing the risk of blur.

FujiFilm FinePix S6800I tell Roger that I’m considering upgrading to a camera with image stabilisation and he tells me that my camera probably has that as an option. He drills down through the menus and sets it to always use sensor shift image stabilisation. It’s a well hidden option and looking back through the settings menu, I can’t now see where he found it.

Depth of Field

rosemarysageBut it works. I hand-held the camera for this shot of rosemary in a stone trough in the courtyard. Introducing a bit of telephoto to a macro shot results in a smaller depth of field than I’d get at the wide angle end of my zoom lens, throwing the background out of focus and giving more emphasis to the subject.

I use the photograph of the sage as reference for my sketchbook page for today. I’m reading a couple of books on botanical art so I decide to try drawing in 4H and then HB pencil before adding the watercolour, lightest shades first, which in this case is the pale yellow of the stipples on the leaves.

lemon yellowsI’ve just replaced the Winsor lemon in my pocket watercolour box. As Winsor lemon is no longer available I went for cadmium lemon.

herbThis green-leaved herb looks like marjoram or oregano. I cropped my original photograph to show this detail because I couldn’t get in this close with the macro. There’s a limit to how far you can zoom in before the auto-focus ceases to work. A red box marked ‘AF’ appears centre screen. I found that I had to zoom back out a little before the auto focus would work successfully.


Nostell Priory

  • Cross-bedding in sandstone on the kitchen extension to Obelisk Lodge at Nostel Priory.

Catching up

Burton Agnes Hall, near Bridlington, drawn when my friend Helen Thomas spent a week as an artist in residence there.

I’VE BEEN catching up with my holiday diary for Corfu today. I wanted to write about the experience while it was still fresh in my mind but I don’t think that I’ve done anything like justice to impressions that the island made on me.

After catching up with book orders, accounts, the garden, jobs around the house and doing a refresher course on Dreamweaver since I got back, not to mention attending a wedding and a funeral within four days of each other, I’m looking forward to getting back to work on my next book.

To draw a line under a rather disrupted month, here are the meagre contents of my recent sketchbooks, the drawings that didn’t make it into my online journal.

Langsett Moor, drawn from a photograph taken on a recent walk.

On the radio today there was an article on the increase in sales of fountain pens. Some specialist shops report a doubling of sales. I can see the attraction, they often give you a more fluid feel as you write or draw, so it’s very suitable for quick sketches like this Blackbird preening, which I drew when we took my mum for lunch at the Bella Italia at Birstall. I like restaurants where you can bird watch as you eat.

The bar at the Bella Italia, Birstall, drawn with my new Safari fountain pen.

I went back to ArtPen, the one filled with Noodlers waterproof black ink, for these last two drawings, again drawn while we were out and about with my mum. These were drawn in my new 8 inch square format sketchbook but I’d forgotten to put a spare set of watercolours in the bag that fits it, so they’ll have to stay in black and white.