Spring back into Sketching

View from Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, yesterday morning. Even in the mist and rain there’s something to draw in the panorama of the Calder Valley.
Houseplant, Howarthia, a South African succulent, a member of the lily family, Filmore & Union, Redbrick Mill, Batley.

In search of a drawing for my latest Dalesman article, I’ve been delving back through my sketchbooks of ten and eleven years ago. Browsing through pages that I drew while we were travelling or at family gatherings, I realise that it’s time for me to get back into everyday sketching

As a small start, here are a few pages from my current pocket-sized Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. It’s paper isn’t intended for watercolour but, inspired by those 2007/8 sketches, I feel that colour adds a lot to rapid line drawings; not just extra information but also mood.

If you use a sketchbook as a visual diary, colour can evoke a memory more effectively than black and white.

So far, it hasn’t been a hard winter, but it has often been drearily wet so the veg beds in our garden are sodden and the paths in the wood muddier than usual, but snowdrops and winter aconites have been in flower for weeks and we do keep getting brighter days, encouraging Barbara and I to begin to thinking about setting off for the coast or the hills or to take a city break or a Eurostar break.

When we do I want the sketching habit to have become second nature.

Spurred on, I drew people on the platform at Leeds station last week, adding colour from memory later.

I’ve taken to scanning my sketches a high res, 300 dots per inch, then scaling them down for the web, but seeing the full res version on screen, I realise that I lose a lot of texture in the smaller version. In fact, I can see the drawing better blown up on the screen of my iMac than I can in the original sketch.

This figure pulling along a case is just an inch and a half tall in my sketchbook.

Hatstand at Peter’s Barber’s shop.
Peter the barber, drawn yesterday in Ossett.



Autumn Sketchbooks

We got a couple of funny looks as we photographed this blank Pig Pig sketchbook at Aysgarth, but there is a purpose: I can use it as the background for my Dalesman nature diary next autumn.

My autumn sketchbook work isn’t very impressive; between online courses and fitting in my ten thousand paces a day, I haven’t given myself much time for drawing, which is a shame as we’ve taken short breaks in the Lake District, the Dales and on the Yorkshire Coast.

We’re now into winter proper, specks of snow are drifting down over the garden and I’ll be quite happy to stick to day trips for the next couple of months.

Rush hour at Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale, in November, white shorthorn.

We saw large flocks of fieldfares one misty morning on our Dales break in Langstrothdale but we’ve seen very few on our home patch. On our regular visits to Nostell Priory, we’ve seen flocks of crows and rooks on the grassland, along with a few mistle thrushes. As it has been such a good year for berries, perhaps our winter thrushes are still foraging in the hedgerows.

Lower Falls, Aysgarth, 2 November.

Tufted ducks and gadwall have joined the resident mallards and Canada geese on lakes and there are now two or three pairs of goosanders beginning to gather in their regular spot on the quieter side of the Middle Lake.

Fern-leaved beech, the Menagerie, Nostell Priory, 8 November.

The grey squirrels – all of them looking sleek and bushy-tailed – all seem to be engaged in caching their sweet chestnuts for the winter. We haven’t seen many examples of them chasing each other, prior to mating.

Some Recent Sketches

House plants.

The end of the long summer holidays seems like a good time to catch up with my online diary. It reminds me of my school and college days, when I realised that it was time to wind up my summer projects and aim to be freshly productive in the autumn term.

These sketches are from my  Leuchtturm 1917 pocket book. The paper is thin, like a pocket diary, so the fibre tip Pilot Drawing Pen which I’ve been using blots right through the page, leaving a few stray dots of ink.

I thought that a good way of getting back into the sketching habit would be to draw whatever was in front of me when we paused while out visiting or stopping somewhere for lunch or coffee.

The dog with the poodle-like wavy coat in the local bookshop proved a patient sitter for me while it’s owner sat on the floor with her grandchild reading Room on the Broom.

It’s been good to see so many parents and grandparents taking their children out into the countryside during the summer holidays. When we were down by the canal yesterday, one dad took a leaf from a dandelion and explained to his young son how the plant got its name:

Dent-de-Lion: can you see how the edge of the leaf looks like the teeth of a lion?”

Coxley Valley

On a consistently fine bank holiday weekend, we took advantage of the welcome shade of the woods on Saturday afternoon to walk up through Coxley Valley to Stoneycliffe Wood Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, pausing for a drink at a bench.

I started a drawing of an oak tree (above), which is growing out over sandstone outcrop at the edge of the stream. On our return journey, when we stopped at the bench for another break, I added more to the drawing.

Ten Thousand Steps

Following my suspected TIA (mini-stroke) two or three months ago, I bought myself a Fitbit Charge 2, which keeps track of how many steps I take a day and also monitors my heart rate. I’m pleased to have kept up my 10,000 steps a day over the six weeks that I’ve been wearing it and it describes my heart rate as ‘excellent’ for a man of my age.

Barbara bought herself a Fitbit a year ago and I reckoned that if I stuck with her I could be sure of getting my 10,000 steps. I hadn’t realised that as I’ve got longer legs than she has I was only managing 8,500 steps for every 10,000 that she clocked up!

The Fruits of our Labours

We haven’t found a way of growing kiwi fruit (left) in the garden but we’re certainly self-sufficient in autumn raspberries at the moment. From a patch the size of a dining table, we’ve had enough to add a small handful to our porridge at breakfast-time plus a surplus which we’ve been using in batches of muffins.

The courgettes have been even more prolific and they’ve been a part of almost every meal for the past ten or eleven weeks.

I’m hoping that having started to get back to normal and having made a bit of an effort to get back into drawing, that it will be second nature to me when we start the new season and autumn, meteorologically speaking, starts on Friday.

Sketchbooks to Go

small sketchbooksSnow aside, I’m starting to feel the urge to set out on adventures again, armed with a fresh travel sketchbook. As I’m always tempted when I see a different kind of sketchbook, I now have a drawer-full to choose from, ranging from one from Amsterdam which has handmade Thai paper to a waterproof notebook with its own graphite stick.

Industrial unit seen from Birstall Retail Park.
Industrial unit seen from Birstall Retail Park.

But my next travelling companion is going to have to be the Moleskine 8×5¼ inch sketchbook, which I bought from the 1893 Gallery shop in Salts Mill last summer and which I’ve been looking forward to getting started on ever since. I’ve never used a Moleskine sketchbook before and I’m guessing that it’s not going to be brilliant for watercolour but its advantage over my regular Pink Pig is that, lacking a spiral binding, it slots snugly into my A5 format art bag without getting snagged on the inner pockets or the zip fastening.

Only twelve pages to go in my Wainwright sketchbook, so it shouldn’t be too long before I can set off with my new ‘Legendary Notebook’.

Sketchbooks & Notebooks

Those sketchbooks and notebooks from the top to the bottom of the pile;

  • Sherlock Holmes Letterpress notebooks
  • waterproof notebook
  • two A6 landscape Pink Pigs
  • ECO Grey recycled leather Freewriters in A6 and A5
  • Moleskine Sketchbook
  • Yodels of Kendal watercolour spiral bound hardback
  • A5 Pink Pig
  • Olino ‘Karen Hill Tribe’ sketchbook with handmade paper from Thailand
  • Daler Rowney Lyndhurst High White 10 x 7 inch spiral bound pad.

Cataloging Sketchbooks

sketchbooksSometimes I can spend so long looking for a particular drawing amongst the stacks of my sketchbooks in the attic that I realise it’s going to be quicker to redraw it.

For the past two years I’ve been writing my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for The Dalesman magazine and, a couple of weeks ago working against the clock to get my November article off, I found that even a couple of sketches from November last year had gone astray.

They’re there somewhere but I use so many different sized sketchbooks simultaneously that I couldn’t track it down.

I decided that it was about time that I settled down to cataloging my sketchbooks, so that I can use them as a picture archive. Thanks to my long-running online nature diary come drawing journal I can usually track down the date that I drew a particular drawing so I’m writing a start and a finish date on a sticky label for each sketchbook and then writing a few words to indicate content.

If I line up each size of sketchbook on the shelves in date order, it shouldn’t take too long to track down any sketch even if I can’t remember what size book I drew it in. If I can work out how to do it, I’ll enter each sketchbook on a database as well.

‘Do you mind if I draw you?’

Daler sketchbook 1979It’s fascinating going right back with my sketchbooks. For instance, this Daler A5 portrait format hardback from spring 1979  when I was starting on my Britain sketchbook for Collins features ‘People, buses, zoo and Hathersage’.

Amongst those sketches is an attractive young woman who I met in a pub when I asked if she’d mind if I drew her.

I still see her a lot today as we got married four years later!


Finishing off

treeHAVING GOT to the end of one sketchbook with a short burst of drawing on reserves and in the farm park, I thought now would be a good time to set about bringing my other current sketchbooks to a close so that I can make a fresh start in the new year.

In compiling my Wild Yorkshire nature diary articles for the Dalesman magazine, I’ve realised how useful it is to have a straightforward chronological run of sketchbooks if you ever want to retrieve a particular drawing for later publication.


cushionsIf you’re doing what I’ve been doing for the last year, keeping five sketchbooks in assorted sizes going at once, six if you include the large format sketchbook that I keep for book illustration in the studio, it gets very difficult to search for a drawing made on a particular date.

Perhaps I’ll rationalise this a bit in the new year and concentrate on a particular size.

Square versus Landscape

orchidHigh StreetThe A5 landscape Pink Pig spiral bound sketchbook that I’ve just completed seems a good compromise between portability and page size, but the 8 inch square of A5 format that I used at the weekend proved good for wildlife as there’s more space on a deeper page to add quick notes.

M62 bankingI find that anything that I write on location – about colour, incident or atmosphere, for example – is more precise than my later memories. But I’m reluctant to write when I’m out there because I love to spend as much time as I can drawing.

Wainwright Sketchbook

Wainwright sketchbookAll these sketches are from an A5 sketchbook that fits neatly in the little grey bag that goes with me on everyday errands. The spiral binding on a regular A5 sketchbook won’t quite squeeze in.

Great binding, shame about the paper; fountain pen ink goes straight through it, watercolour soaks in instantly but blotchily.

I might try crayons until I finish the book but it’s a shame that it’s not more sympathetic for fountain pen drawing because when I’m grabbing the odd moment to draw it flows better than any fibre tip.

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.

Black Bag

I’VE DRAWN this in dip pen and Winsor & Newton Indian ink then added a premixed ink wash. I used this method for my High Peak Drifter sketchbook, taking four small plastic containers of pale to dark washes with me.

This proved ideal for subjects in the Dark Peak in late winter and early spring, such as drystone walls and running water and places like Thor’s Cave but as summer approached it seemed wilfully contradictory to use the same monochrome treatment for wild flowers and butterflies. But I stuck with it to the final page, drawn one sultry early summer’s evening at Jacob’s Ladder, the zig-zag path that climbs up to the Kinderscout plateau.

I recently kitted myself out with a fresh batch of Pink Pig cartridge paper sketchbooks in a range of sizes and my plan is to have art-bags ready to go in a small (A6), medium (A5) and largish (A4) sizes.

I’m still looking for a bag that is suitably compact for an A6 sketching kit, perhaps it will all go into a wallet and fit into my pocket. My growing collection of art-bags tend to flop around the studio, usually getting parked on a chair, so I’ve attached a hook to the wall and hung them there, ready to grab one depending on exactly where I’m heading;

  • A National Trust organiser bag in natural canvas is ideal for what I intend to be my natural history sketchbook, an A5 landscape format spiral bound Pink Pig.
  • The black Timberland backpack, a birthday present from a friend last week, is the one that I’d use for more ambitious outings, perhaps to draw whole landscapes rather than smaller details. The bag is designed to hold a laptop, so there’s plenty of room for my A4 landscape format sketchbook and it has extra compartments so that I have the option to include some more ambitious media, dip pen and bottle of ink rather than my habitual fountain pen for instance.
  • Finally, hanging like a shadow behind the National Trust organiser in my sketch, there’s the black shoulder bag (described as a ‘fisherman’s bag’) that I bought at Marks & Spencer’s in Glasgow last year. This is my sketchcrawl around town bag, probably the one that I’ll take most on my errands and book deliveries. This fits my new square 8 by 8 inch holly green Pink Pig like a glove.

But the square page of the holly green sketchbook doesn’t accommodate long thin drawings; that’s why my A5 bag ended up hanging out of frame off the bottom of the page! (Pink Pig do some quirky long thin sizes, perhaps I should go for one of them for tall, thin subjects).