Just my Bag

mantaray bag

I dream about drawing, literally; in one dream I was looking through a booklet thinking these drawings look like mine but I don’t remember doing them and is that really my signature?

In another dream I was trying to find a space in a busy workshop to continue work on a rough splodgy oil painting.

mantaray bagIt’s my subconscious reminding me – as if I needed reminding – how frustrated I’m feeling because of my current enforced break from creative work.

tree tops

foliageTo make things as simple as possible I wanted a discrete still life kind of object; not my hand which is my usual subject when I’m stuck for anything else to draw and not, for instance, a tree, attractive as the autumn colour is just now, which raises the issue of simplifying the foliage.

I wanted something with a definite outline and simple interlocking shapes. And, heavens to Betsy, what’s this, yep, the A5 art bag that I take everywhere with me.

mantaray bagI was drawing this in subdued light and picked up the purple crayon instead of the black, but I like the high colour key that gives the drawing.

mantaray bag
I’m  getting on with this new pen, a Uni-ball Signo Gel Grip, which is free flowing but, unlike the liquid ink pens that I normally prefer, it doesn’t bleed through the absorbent paper of my current sketchbook.

gel penEach of the bag drawings took between half an hour to an hour, drawn while Barbara was catching up on episodes The Great British Bake-off Masterclass, which makes reassuringly homely background viewing.

satchelA hour is about right for getting involved in drawing a bag. I didn’t have as long when I drew this green satchel the other day. But that’s not my bag.

Links; a larger version of a Mantaray bag, as sold by Debenhams. I like the idea that for each Mantaray bag sold a donation goes to the British Marine Conservation Society.

Uni-ball Signo Gel Grip by Mitsubishi

Cathedral Plane Trees

maplesI’ve got a chance to linger over coffee at a table overlooking the cathedral precinct listening to a song I’ve never heard before, but which could provide a theme-tune for the urban sketcher;

‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag
And bury them in the sea . . .’

Sung by Lloyd Wade in the song by Eliza Doolittle. In my case, I can pack up my troubles in my A5 art-bag.

A friend spots me and tells me that she’s finding watercolour painting a wonderful escape from some ongoing medical problems in her family that she’s been coping with for years.

Nothing could be more therapeutic than sitting here with a latte, a toasted teacake and a sketchbook.


At last I’ve seen a peregrine in Wakefield!peregrine

As we came out of the Apple dealers at Trinity Walk I looked up at the blue sky and got a good view of it flying at just above rooftop level.

A few pigeons were disturbed as it disappeared in the direction of the cathedral and when we got to the precinct Barbara spotted it on a crocket – one of the decorative projecting stones – half way up the spire.


bikehandA wrecked bike, just the sort of thing I’d expect to come across on a walk through the woods on the edge of a city but this, I have to admit, was drawn from a photograph hanging in a corridor that I was waiting in.

The photographer wasn’t credited.

tree topsAt least I got the chance to draw these tree-tops from a third floor window the other day.

 scones and Danish pastriesMy glimpses of the natural world might be through photographs or through windows but I shouldn’t complain as I am getting to spend a lot of time in my other favourite habitats recently; cafes and coffee shops.

Maple Syrup

maple syrupToday’s still life sketch is my mum’s maple syrup. This Waitrose Organic Canadian Maple Syrup, No. 1 Medium, is from Beauce in the south-east of Quebec Province ‘on the Chaudière River where there is a naturally large concentration of sugar maple trees’.

It takes forty litres of sap, harvested in the first few weeks of spring, to produce one litre of syrup after evaporation.


Small Pleasures

costa coffee‘If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.’

John Cage

ficus leavesLife has been such a series of unfortunate events recently but I’ve so enjoyed a short pause drawing whatever object came to hand.

With no chance of getting out to draw the autumn colours, I settled for the evergreen branch of an artificial ficus mugbenjamina in a waiting room.

But I find it a fun to just draw my cup. Even the disposable cups in the hospital cafe have a certain charm when you stop to look at the them for John Cage’s suggested eight or sixteen minutes.

In a Nutshell

I’m getting better with the nutcrackers. The walnuts are from one of Clive Simms’ trees, from his orchard near Peterborough and they break open more easily than the rock-solid walnuts that I remember attempting before.

Clive, who I remember from school days, is something of an authority on growing fruit and nuts trees and he modelled his Nutshell guides (no longer in print) on my little local booklets and the bestselling Grandma’s Guide to the Internet which my sister and I put together inspired by my mum’s attempts to get online in the late 1990s (no longer in print either).

The ‘Squirrel-proof’ Nut Tree

walnuts‘I’m currently having my annual battle with the grey squirrels as to who gets the lion’s share of the walnuts from the tree in our garden.’ Clive tells me, ‘I ‘squirrel proofed’ the tree with old litho plates on the trunk (see Nutshell Guide for details) last week before leaving for a short holiday inYorkshire just as the nuts began to fall. I returned to a scene of carnage with broken shells and husks everywhere… the squirrels were certainly enjoying themselves and had even recruited the local crows to add to the mayhem.

‘Fortunately a neighbour who looks after the place when we’re away collected a lot of the fallen nuts and I’ve collected as many as I can since I returned. The recent stormy weather brings down most of the crop in one huge deluge of nuts and after collection I dry them on newspaper spread over the floor of the house. Having under-floor heating helps a lot!’

‘Fresh ‘wet’ walnuts taste very different to the more mature dried ones, being much lighter in colour and sweeter in taste. However, eating them too early, almost as they fall, isn’t always appreciated by everyone as they can be a little astringent.’

Fruit Bowl Sketches

bananas lemonA ballpoint pen wouldn’t be my first choice for a drawing but, as I’ve explained before, I’ve struggled to find something that doesn’t go through the absorbent paper of my current sketchbook.

orangeCataloging my old sketchbooks, I’ve been reminded that in the early 1980s, when I did a lot of travelling and commuting, I found a particular make of black ballpoint pen useful.

Link; Clive Simms, talks and courses

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!


Mac Maple

mapleMaple syrup pancakes, a mocha and a maple tree. A suitably leafy outlook for my morning break. The man with the blue gloves is about to shampoo the driveway of McDonald’s, here at the Cathedral Retail Park, Wakefield.

I added the red sign as a spot of colour contrast then realised that it’s in the wrong place; Staples office supplies store is over to the right but they’ve just put up their sign on the store that was left empty following the collapse of electrical retailer Comet a year ago.

tree topsRather than abandon the Wainwright sketchbook with the absorbent paper, I’ve been looking through my pens, trying a Mitsubishi Uni Power Tank ballpoint for these tree tops and a Sharpie Liquid Pencil for the Mac’s maple.

blue chairI’m longing to settle down to some real drawing with more sympathetic drawing materials but at the moment I’ve got a lot of waiting rooms and wards to visit so it’s a good opportunity to finish off my current so-so sketchbook.

Langsett September

A perfect September morning to walk around Langsett Reservoir; through the conifer plantations, across the river Little Don and up onto the moor.

grouseNot such a restful day for the red grouse and the brown trout though. The gamekeepers and beaters were getting in place (you might spot them moving through the trees on one of the shots of the river) to wave flags while walking across the moor whooping and hollering, accompanied by their dogs, driving the grouse towards the guns.

We hurried across the moor before they started and missed out on our coffee stop at the ruined farm known as North America, pausing instead by a lichen-covered rock overlooking the stream on the far side of the moor.

troutA student in full-length waders emerged from the stream. He explained that he was from the University of Hull, setting up a project to monitor the movements of brown trout by tagging them and installing a couple of electronic sensors, one where the stream runs into the lake, the other further upstream.


FujiFilm FinePix S6800Unfortunately my recordings of natural sounds – running water, bird calls and the wind in the heather – were interrupted by the sound of the plastic lens cap, which is attached to the camera by a loop, rattling in the breeze so I’ve added a music track.

My thanks to Silent Partner for making Days are Long available for use on my YouTube video.

If you’ve got a fast connection, Langsett looks good in HD.

Filmed with my FujiFilm FinePix S6800. The shots that I didn’t use my little ‘Spider’ tripod for needed image stabilisation in iMovie.

Link; Silent Partner on YouTube

Grand Arcade

Grand ArcadeLooking for some old slides I came across this Leeds street scene from the early 1970s. It’s the sort of everyday view that it would never normally occur to me to photograph. Martin Salisbury, one of our tutors in graphic design at Leeds Polytechnic, suggested that I should go out and photograph the city to bring a bit of contrast to a project on prehistoric Yorkshire that I was working on.

busThe streets that I walked through are already part of history and I wish that I’d taken more shots.

When I see archive film of events such as the miners strike of 1974 (there was another ten years later) it’s hard to believe that the environment looked so  monochromatic and dismal.

Today television dramas set this period are usually shot in low key colour. My Agfa Gavaert colour slides show that that’s not artistic license; it really was like that.

miniIt’s so long ago that even the minis were half-timbered. In every photograph that I’ve looked at so far, all the vehicles that I can identify are British-made. Those look like Rovers in the background.

And would you believe that there are no parking restrictions so near the centre of the Leeds?!