Hands and High Street

High Street
handI’m feeling relaxed enough, as we wait for our bagels in the Caffé Capri, to draw a high-speed sketch of the view up Horbury High Street. After all, if it doesn’t turn out to be precisely in the correct perspective, what does it matter? It’s not like me to say that, is it?!

handNo vase of flowers to draw in the hairdressers today, so it’s back to hands.

Hands, yes my perennial subject but not a bad one to mug up on with my Waterton comic strip project looming. Twelve pages, eight frames per page, and average of, say two people in each frame, that’s 12 x 8 x 2 figures, about 192 figures, each with two hands so that could be a total of 384 hands to draw!

I need to keep practicing.

Exercise Book Encyclopaedia

Self portrait aged 17 in  my Batley art college days. Page 683, the title page volume 11.

Self portrait aged 17 in my Batley art college days. Page 683, the title page volume 11. Perhaps I was being a bit over ambitious in my subject matter!

exercise booksThis little pile of exercise books spans a decade of my creative endeavours.

In the winter of 1971 in volume 14 (page 741 as I’d numbered it as if it was part-work) I wrote; ‘Exercise Book Encyclopaedia apologizes for any incovienience (I didn’t have access to a spell-checker in those days!) caused by the intrusion of notes for a thesis, an enquiry into the nature and causes of invertebrate illustration . . . ‘

In the final year of my diploma in art and design, I finally accepted that my real life projects had finally caught up with this naturalist’s notebook come comic strip part-work. It had been my blank canvas. I remember the milestone of starting a fresh, crisp new exercise book, but every fresh page was an opportunity to experiment with a different layout.

I walked past Mr Chapel’s print workshop on my way to school and dreamt of walking in there with my book and getting it printed. As he worked in letterpress, monochrome only, that would have been impossible. How on earth did people break into print?

eclipse 1961

Eclipse of the Sun, from my exercise book, Thursday, 16 February 1961.

exercise booksI’d started, aged nine on Tuesday 14 February 1961, by writing about a journey through the Pennines, collecting a sample of millstone grit for our natural history club museum and ended in 1971 as I started work on my thesis, on a geological theme too with an article reflecting the buzz of excitement that I felt about the then fairly new theory of plate tectonics.

I’m impressed by how far my work came on in ten years (which doesn’t seem a terribly long period from the perspective of my present age) and I’m glad that I’ve still got my schoolboy enthusiasm for geology and astronomy. I’m still so keen to try and understand the world.

Here’s part of that first article from 1961:

“I brought some rock back for the museum and found out about the life of heather. A parable goes seed thrown on rocks withers away. But this is not so with the heather. The seed falls on the rock the roots sprout and go along the rock with new plants sprouting all the time (this is why we find heather growing in clumps). The roots will not stop growing until they reach the soil. We also saw some fieldfares which I will tell you about tomorrow.”

My first drawing in the 'encyclopaedia', 15 February 2015.

My first drawing in the ‘encyclopaedia’, 15 February 2015.

I think that I could surreptitiously slip that passage into my present day Dalesman nature diary and it would just about get past my editor with little more than a raised eyebrow.

Bee Moths

Bee moths are a little under 2 centimetres long. I think this is a female.

Bee moths are a little under 2 centimetres long. I think this is a female.

bee mothaWe’ve been noticing little brown moths appearing mysteriously in our living room for the last few weeks, so nondescript that we didn’t even attempt to identify them before releasing them outside. They often appeared by the door so I was starting to suspect that they might be connected with the bumblebee nest behind the now defunct air-brick immediately beneath this corner of the room.

They’re bee moths, Aphomia sociella, the larva of which eat debris such as old wax cells in the nests of bees, which is a useful service for the bee except they will also eat bees’ brood. They pupate in tough silky cocoons, which can be found tucked away as a mass.

La Dolce Vita

Trees from Starbucks

Wrapper from, Bella Italia.

Wrapper from the mini garlic bastoni, Bella Italia.

We’re living La Dolce Vita today and the decor in Bella Italia is suitably reminiscent of a Fellini film. I’m sitting looking at a large black and white print of the columns of the Vatican square which we visited on a European tour in 1963, when Rome looked very much like a Fellini film, but we were a few years too late to see Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni filming on location.

My ten minute sketch of trees in spring leaf is from coffee time, before we went to see Tomorrowland (which to me was a delight, I’m surprised that it’s getting such bad reviews for storytelling. It’s not Fellini, but it doesn’t have to be).

Everyone in Starbuck’s this morning is either working on a laptop or discussing business. It seems so relaxed and civilised and not so different from some of the more optimistic visions of the future of the early 1960s, such as the Futurama exhibit at the World’s Fair. Traffic hurtles past, as it did in the General Motors Futurama exhibit, but screened by leafy embankments, much appreciated by crows, dunnocks and house sparrows. But I don’t think anyone foresaw that one day you’d be able to sit with a coffee in Birstall and instantly access a large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge.

I remember overhearing a conversation in Batley bus station, c. 1968;

Woman; I don’t know why they want to go to the moon, I could tell them what they’d find there!

Man; What’s that love?

Woman; Nowt but fire!

Man; Nay love, that’s the sun.

I’m glad that they went to the trouble of sending an Apollo mission there and didn’t rely on the accumulated knowledge of the woman in Batley bus station.

Treacle Tins

treacle and syrup tinsThe red and gold Macfie’s Old-Fashioned Black Treacle tin has been sitting on one or other of my shelves since about 1975, and I’m sure that the Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin must have been their almost as long as neither of them have a barcode on them.

Drawing them reminds me that I must at some stage go through my pens and weed out any that have dried up. At least they give me something to draw.

I tend to have favourites which I use all the time, then there are experimental pens that I’m keen to try out which don’t quite make the grade and get relegated to treacle tins.

Once again this drawing is with my new pen – definitely a favourite – my Lamy AL-star fountain pen with the Noodler’s black ink (I’m sure that I must have inadvertently picked up my Lamy Safari, loaded with Noodler’s brown yesterday,which is just as good to use but I’m going to need black for my Waterton comic strip).

Tropic of Coxley

Coxley beckhawthornThere’s a tropical feel to Coxley wood this afternoon. On the path beyond the old quarry the beck flows at the foot of a steep earth bank and, on what I remember long ago as being an open grassy space, lush wild garlic, now in full flower, spreads between tall alders and willows. Also in full blossom a straggly hawthorn bush arcs its branches in front of the quarry face.

song thrushSong thrushes are remarkably loud, repetitive and insistent, like tropical birds. I’m also picking up an unfamiliar ratchet-like sound. Not a mistle thrush, I realise that it’s the neighbours’ dog, Poppy, pulling on her extendable lead.

The top end of the wood is looking equally good with the oaks in fresh leaf and dripping with little light green catkins.

lapwingThere are more song thrushes singing as we walk alongside the canal. On the Strands, the marshy field between the river and canal, a lapwing is calling. I’m glad to see them making a comeback over the past two months I’ve occasionally spotted them flying over our street, not so far away.

Falcon Enamel Jug

falcon jugI bought this Falcon housewares enamel jug, made in Hong Kong, in Chester in the early 1980s as a prop for a Granada television film of me painting a pen and watercolour of an old watermill. The director didn’t think my little plastic water bottle from Boots looked the part.

He would also have preferred it if it hadn’t looked so brand new and he suggested that one of the crew batter it about a bit, but he must have seen the disappointment on my face because it appeared in the film unscathed.

Thirty years later, it has acquired an ambience that would grace any arts film, so if there are any film crews in search of a subject, I’m now available and I can bring my own convincingly rugged water container (and I promise not to bring my squeezy plastic waterbrush, which really doesn’t look the part).

Drawn with my Lamy Safari with the extra fine nib (had intended to use my new Lamy AL-star but picked up the wrong pen and got lost in the drawing!). I thought that I’d leave it without a watercolour wash as I like the animation that the line gives to the drawing.


bumblebee and aquilegiagarage off Queen Street, HorburybumblebeeBumblebees are attracted to the tiny flowers of cotoneaster rather than the showy clematis that is climbing over the bush. A smaller, faster bumblebee visits the flowers of aquilegia.

bramble leaf mineA leaf mine in a bramble leaf maps the life so far of the insect that made it which was probably the larva of a small moth.

Drawing with a Lamy AL-star Fountain Pen

handsI got on well with the Lamy Safari with the extra fine nib that I bought a week or two ago so I’ve decided to go for the aluminium version of the Safari, the AL-star, this time with a slightly thicker Fine nib, to use for both writing and for drawing.

Lamy Al-Star fountain pendoodle doodleAfter writing ‘the quick brown fox . . .’ and ‘jackdaws love my sphinx of quartz’ a couple of times on an envelope and doing a couple of doodles I tried it on those perennial subjects, my hands and my feet.

Bulletproof Black

Drawn in Noodler's black ink, Winsor & Newton artists' watercolours

Drawn in Noodler’s black ink, Winsor & Newton artists’ watercolours

I’ve decided to stick to Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink in this pen. On the strength of these test drawings, I’m intending to use the pen for my Waterton comic strip project. It doesn’t lend itself to the Hergé Claire Ligne (clear line) technique which I so much admire but that’s not my natural style anyway, as I’m not as decisive and clear-thinking as Hergé.

I’m working with two very different comic strip artists on this project but we’re not aiming for a house style that is consistent across the three sections of the story. In fact the more my section looks like my own work the better.

Energy and Eccentricity


From my semi-comic strip diary of 1975.

My painter friend Jill pays me a compliment, from my semi-comic strip diary of 1975.

I’ve been reading my diary from forty years ago this month, in the summer of 1975, the year of my degree show at the Royal College of Art, and it reminds me of the energy that I used to put into my work. More energy than expertise, I’d say, I was waywardly ambitious, but there’s something charming about that, and the style lends itself to the energetic and eccentric Victorian character whose life I’m trying to evoke. I don’t want it to look like a facsimile Victorian naturalist’s notebook but I’m happy for it to have a rich, loosely cross-hatched ambience.

My tutor Professor Brian Robb disuades me from following up an rather ambitious plan.

My tutor Professor Brian Robb disuades me from following up an rather ambitious plan.

Links; Lamy pens at Pure Pens who supplied the pen and the Noodler’s ink.

Lamy AL-star pens and propelling pencils

Be kind to your Shredder

Kingcups by the pond.

Kingcups by the pond.

knot of hawthorn twigI’m realising that, tough as it is, I’ve got to start being considerate to my garden shredder. In addition to the usual hedge clippings, I’ve also got grasses, docks and chicory that I’ve cut from my meadow area. I’m tempted to overload it by pushing as much in as I can but this just jams it. The best way, I’ve discovered, is to put the material through loosely in small quantities rather than in compacted wodges. As I don’t now get any jamming, this is actually quicker than cramming it in.

knot of woodThe one thing that will stop it with hedge trimmings is a knot of wood. This fragment of hawthorn twig had probably been bouncing around for a while inside the shredder but after I’d stopped it to empty the trug, it got firmly jammed between the blade and the housing when I turned on the machine on again.

The freshly shredded green hawthorn hedge trimmings make perfect composting material. After a day or two, when I felt just below the surface, the heap was throwing off heat and there were white ashy flakes on the edges of the leaf fragments.