The Dove Grey Sketchbook

A walk around Newmillerdam Country Park Lake, Christmas Eve, 2015

A walk around Newmillerdam Country Park Lake, Christmas Eve, 2015

tree in watercolour washTwo years ago, as the  run up to Christmas started, I decided that, however busy I was, I should be capable of doing a drawing from nature everyday. Arming myself with a new Holly Green sketchbook, on some days I might give myself thirty minutes in the garden to draw, at other times I’d resort to drawing from a photograph I’d taken on my travels. This minor challenge generated plenty of material for me when it came to writing and illustrating my Dalesman nature diary.

A year later, at the beginning of December 2015, I’d just got to the end of a sketchbook, so I decided to try the same thing again and I started a new A5 landscape format Pink Pig spiral bound sketchbook with a grey cover. This time it hasn’t been so much of a success.

Magpie lookout post.We’ve been out walking a lot but drawing from photographs taken on our travels can be a slow process, so I soon ended up with gaps that I intended to fill in later. There’s no way that I can now go back and fill in all the blank pages that I left in so I’ve loaded the bits and pieces of drawings and notes that I did manage to do in a couple of galleries for December and for January (see links below).squirrel

Texel Ewe

texel ewe‘I do not seem to be able to go into the country for a long enough time to do a sufficient amount of sketching . . . ‘

texel headThat might sound like me moaning but it was Beatrix Potter writing to her friend Mrs Carr on New Year’s Day 1911. I thought of Beatrix Potter when I was drawing the Texel sheep at Cannon Hall Farm Park on 21 January. The ewes had been gathered together in a shelter prior to lambing which was due to start two or three weeks later.

Beatrix used the royalties from the sales of her children’s books to buy Hill Top Farm at High Sawrey in the Lake District. texel faceShe became something of an expert in keeping Herdwick sheep and impressed the local shepherds with her drawings of them.

Sun Spurge

sun spurgeI’m reading Linda Lear’s Beatrix Potter, A Life in Nature, which I came to because I’ve been reading a lot about botany, botanical illustration and, in particular, the history of Kew Gardens. As in previous years, I’m hoping to be up to speed on botany when spring arrives. During this mild winter that hasn’t presented much of a problem. I found two species of spurge growing as weeds in the greenhouse. Common ragwort has stayed in flower throughout the winter.

I wouldn’t abandon my tried and tested brown ink plus watercolour which I started using on a field trip in my student days, which I think was partly due to seeing an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Sepia is dark enough to give definition without being as stark as a punchy black.

tree, CluntergateBut I’m aware that I ought to keep varying my approach which is why there are pencil and watercolour drawings and areas like the sheep’s fleece worked up in watercolour only.


oliveI went for my Lamy Safari with the broad nib for these oak leaves and, although I originally intended to add colour to the olive branch, just for a change.


The Dove Grey sketchbook December

The Dove Grey sketchbook February

Little Black Journal

black journalI’ve tried all three of my Lamy Safari pens – fine, extra fine and broad – on the 200 gsm acid free paper of my new sketchbook, a pocket-sized Derwent Black Journal, and the one that works best is the Lamy AL-star with the fine journal


chairWith a Bijou box of Winsor & Newton professional watercolours and a Kuretake water-brush, that’s all I need for my everyday drawing.

This is the sketchbook that I’ll use when I have the odd few minutes, such as before the Nat’s meeting starts or as we’re waiting for the train to set off.

Leeds station 13116I started off feeling that I should be bold in my sketches but the broad nibbed pen seems out of scale for the size of the page and the absorbent texture of the paper.

I can struggle even when I’m drawing the simplest chair. I started on a small scale as I drew the back of the chair then when I got down to the detail of the legs I found that I couldn’t fit them in. With a finer pen and could have incorporated the detail into the space available.

After the Flood

From the train near York

In mid-January we spent a day in York, which was still in the early stages of recovering from the Boxing Day floods. Crossing the flood plain between Church Fenton and York was like sailing across a lake. Mute swans and ducks had gathered on the downstream bay of the temporary lagoon to the south of the railway.

We walked half the circuit of the medieval walls but decided to leave the full tour until the weather and the paving stones dry up a bit.

gulls over the floodputtoIt’s the first time that we’ve had lunch at the Georgian Assembly Rooms, now an Ask Italian, where I briefly sketched the plaster bas relief of a harp-playing putto riding on a lion. It’s worth coming back in the evening to see the place candlelit, the waitress told us.

As we walked out of the double glass doors of the Fenwick’s department store, opposite the Merchant Venturer’s Hall, at the Coppergate Centre, we were able to help a woman shopper who was trying to persuade a dunnock to leave.
dunnockWhichever of the doors she held open, it flew to the closed one and fluttered against the glass, so with Barbara on one door and the woman on the other, I acted as beater and stalked around the stairs to guide it out onto York’s Piccadilly.


poinsettiapepperpotI drew the banana and poinsettia on a visit to Barbara’s brother’s. I decided that on this paper the brown Noodler’s ink didn’t seem crisp enough, probably because the paper is that bit more absorbent than the cartridge that I’m used to in my regular Pink Pig sketchbooks.



canvas bagSo I’ve come around to using the medium nib with black Noodler’s ink. Whenever I have time, I like to add some suggestion of colour. I did have doubts that I’d be able to mix the fawn of Barbara’s bag but, when I got the sketch back into a good light, I found that I wasn’t so far out with my colour matching.

charity box


bent-wood chairiPadOn a walk through powdery snow at Langsett last week I didn’t bother taking my watercolours but, just in case, I put in a credit card-sized wallet of children’s crayons in my pocket.

crayonsNot the ideal range of colours but better than nothing for giving a suggestion when I drew a bent-wood chair at the Bank View Cafe.


Derwent pencils and sketchbooks

Lamy pens

Ask Italian, York


pheasantsrobin3.45 p.m.: Three female pheasants walk up the wood-chip path to peck at spilt sunflower hearts beneath the bird feeders.

blackbird bathingA robin’s bathing routine is interrupted by a blackbird, a more enthusiastic bather.

Two male and one female blackbird patrol the lawn. The female comes lower in the pecking order and is seen off by one of the males when she darts forward to pick up a morsel.

female blackbird female blackbird

Snowdrops by the Pond

pond sketch view from pop-up tent10.30 a.m.: Snowdrops are at their freshest around the pond so I set up my pop-up tent and start a sketch in the gusting wind and passing showers.

Before the afternoon rain sweeps in I roll up the tent into its dustbin lid-sized bag. I can never quite work out how such as large tent fits into such a small bag but it does, in what seems to me like the most tent folderillogical and inelegant fashion. I resort to grabbing the writhing figure-of-eight coils and pushing them to the middle. I’ll try and practice with it on a regular basis until it becomes second nature.

January Sketchbook

A second gallery of pages which didn’t make it into my daily posts, taken from my Dove Grey A5 landscape Pink Pig sketchbook.

  • New year's day: a morning walk at Nostel Priory.

The Curtains were Drawn

curtainsFor today’s scene for Horbury Pageant Players’ production Sleeping Beauty we’re painting twin curtains to frame a star-cloth background. It reminds me of Spike Milligan’s sketch that begins: ‘The curtains were drawn, but the rest of the room was real . . .’

I grumble to Ken, a member of the cast who is a retired painter and decorator, that after 49 years painting scenery for the society, I still can’t paint a straight line. It always looks ragged when I paint it.

I make a mistake when I’m painting the pillar and end up with the line leaning slightly outwards at the top. I blot out my beige line with the background magnolia and the two colours blend into each other. I decide to use the technique to my advantage by blending the lines into shadows as I’m painting the pillar and the panelling. That way the raggedness of my line helps with shading.

Sleeping Beauty Castle

chateau backdropI’ve visited Château d’Ussé in the Loire, the château that inspired Perrault to write The Sleeping Beauty, but for our pantomime version Wendy the producer wants something nearer to the Disney Castle. We haven’t got the headroom for anything so lofty so for my backdrop I’ve gone for an impressive entrance with a suggestion of a hexagonal shaped castle going back into the perspective.

We’ve got a great team with the girls from the chorus singing one of the numbers from the show as they rollered over last year’s village scene with magnolia emulsion. Once that had dried, I scaled up my rough onto the eight canvas-covered flats, using the cross pieces of the framework, just visible under the canvas, as my grid.

My team followed my outlines, paint by numbers fashion, and by the time I’d finished drawing out at the right hand side, I was able to go back to the now dried out tree silhouettes on the left to add a bit of comic strip style definition by painting black outlines and a few suggestions of foliage.

First Snow

snow sketchSnow settled yesterday evening, the first covering that we’ve had during a mild, wet winter. It brought more than the usual one or two siskins to the feeder this morning: six or more.

Snow is a strange thing to draw. In fact you hardly draw it at all, it’s mainly the white spaces that are left when you’ve drawn everything around it.

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.