Hundreds of knopper galls are scattered beneath the oaks in Nostell Park. On some you can see the way that the acorn has been transformed into the home and the food source for the larva of the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalis. The acorns have stalks, botanically penduncles, so these are the acorns of the common or pendunculate oak, Quercus robur.
It’s the asexual generation of this gall wasp that produces the knopper gall; the alternate sexual generation produces tiny galls on the male catkins of the Turkey oak, Quercus cerris. Turkey oak acorns have ‘mossy’ cups, that remind me of the furry Russian hat that Ivan the Terrible might have worn. There are several Turkey oaks at Nostell.
This species of bracket fungus is sprouting on deciduous stumps in the woods around the lakes.
The head gardener is adding wire mesh to the newly restored iron gate to the walled garden.
“Is that to stop the ducks getting in?” (It’s been a good year for the mallards on the nearby lakes).
“I worked on the film of Watership Down, so I’m always rooting for the rabbits.”
This is a first for me: writing and uploading a blog post on my iPad as my studio is out of action for a couple of days and my wall-mounted iMac is taking a well-earned break, lying on the bed in the back bedroom. We hadn’t realised that revamping the kitchen downstairs would involve taking up the floor upstairs in the studio to fit the new LED lights. This gave me the ideal opportunity to get Simon, the joiner fitting our kitchen, to replace the chipboard floor in the studio with tongued and grooved boards. It will all be worth it and the old kitchen is already looking more sparkly.
My scanner is out of action for a few days too so here’s an iPad photograph of the latest spread in my A6 ‘Travel Journal’ sketchbook with sketches from a rainy morning at Nostell, a train journey to Leeds and from the centre of Wakefield.
As a starting point for this hand-drawn font I’ve taken a character from Watership Down: Cowslip, an effete but vaguely sinister rabbit, given to reciting poetry, including ‘Like Trees in November’, which provides the title for the Cowslip’s Warren chapter in the Richard Adams’ book.
I got to know this character when I spent two or three months drawing the backgrounds for the Cowslip’s Warren scene for Martin Rosen’s 1978 movie. I drew in dip pen in Indian ink, which I felt answered the brief of ‘creating the atmosphere of a claustrophobic Victorian vicarage’. Another background artist added the colour.
The garden is at it’s most productive so Barbara is busy in the kitchen, using a couple of pounds of split tomatoes in a Crank’s recipe for chilli bean and vegetable casserole, which also includes courgettes, onions, runner beans and potatoes from our garden.
She added some of today’s raspberries (we picked a bowl and a half of them) to a batch of muffins.
We haven’t been able to keep up with the runner beans. A handful of the slenderest are going into the casserole but I’ve stripped off all the large stringy pods that were beginning to swell to encourage the plants to put their energy into the fresh pods which are still appearing.
As I reached inside the wigwam of beanstalks, I was surrounded by sunlit foliage. With temperatures climbing into the 70s it felt more like high summer than the beginning of autumn.
Spider and Wasp
It’s a time of plenty for the spiders too: a jumping spider patrols the sunny kitchen windowsill and an orb spider with a web on the outside of the lounge window fusses out of its corner to check out a tiny insect which has landed on its web but just misses it as the insect breaks away.
A garden spider at the centre of a 12 inch wide web in front of the ivy at the end of the herb bed has more success. It has swathed a wasp in silk and is slowly consuming it. Unlike the spider in the corner of the window, it doesn’t retreat to a lair: it’s been there right at the centre of its web all afternoon. Two hours later it is still clutching what remains of the unfortunate wasp.
Wasps nested under the tiles of the roof above my studio two years ago and, during the summer months and well into a mild autumn, dozens, if not hundreds, of them somehow blundered their way into the studio and I regularly had to release them by flipping open the Velux window.
A few found their way into our hot water system and for months afterwards the odd fragment of wasp carapace would appear when we ran a bath.
This year wasps have nested under tiles again but near the apex of the main roof so thankfully well away from the hot water tank.
Inspired by Tony Seddon’s book, Draw Your Own Fonts, I’ve just succeeded in drawing, scanning and digitising – using Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and a program called TypeTool – five sample characters which I’ve added to my computer as a TrueType font.
It will be useful to have my own hand-lettered font when I draw a comic strip or a picture map for a walks booklet but I’m going to try something a bit more ambitious too. Seddon encourages you to have fun in the process and to see a font as a series of illustrations with a theme running through them.
The illustrators and designers who provided the fonts for the book took as their starting points subjects like knitting, earthworms, buildings, spaghetti and origami. Their spontaneous approach soon got me thinking up ideas of my own, for instance, the capitals above are based on a character from a story, a disturbed visionary character . . . but – for the character that I have in mind – I need to make the typeface look more willowy and windblown.
Here’s my first effort at a complete hand-drawn font, put together from some hastily drawn letters, but at least creating those 26 capitals and 26 lower case letters has enabled me to get thoroughly familiar with the basic process.
Strangely enough it was the full stop that I had most difficulty digitising!
Lower Lake, Nostell Priory, 11.30 a.m.: We’re convinced that the woodpecker, tapping on the upper surface of a bough is a lesser spotted as it appears to be about the size of a nuthatch but luckily, while it’s fresh in my mind, I sit on a bench and draw a field sketch: when I look it up in the bird book I realise that the red vent proves that it’s actually a normal sized woodpecker – a greater spotted – at the top of a very tall oak!
The lesser spotted has barred black and white plumage on its back.
The angler has just unhooked a small fish and returned it to the canal. I think of perch as being deep and narrow but it takes a while for the adult to develop that impressive hump and belly.
The towpath is regularly mowed so instead of going to seed the plants along the water’s edge are still sprouting fresh flowers: tansy, greater willowherb, leafy hawkweed, red clover, yarrow and autumn dandelion. Elderberries are now ripe and we’re well into the blackberry season.
Half a dozen streaky brown mallards dabble and preen by the old weir on the Calder at Horbury Bridge. Even the normally splendid drakes go into a subdued eclipse plumage at this time of year.
Two moorhens stalk about, swimming briefly from rock to rock. As we pause on the bridge two dragonflies zoom around below us.
When drawing dinosaurs, I get all the reference that I can find together and reconstruct the animal by drawing a rudimentary skeleton and working up a particular pose but wouldn’t it be great if I could set out with my sketchbook and draw the living breathing animal? That would probably be unwise when it comes to the carnosaurs but I had the chance to do the next best thing back in October 1997 when the Carnosaur! exhibition of animatronic dinosaurs was showing at the Yorkshire Museum.
Portobello, ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’, looks rather dour and solid as you drive through on the Musselburgh Road, but walk along the two mile promenade and there are views across the Firth of Forth and along the East Lothian coast. In my watercolour the conical hill just left of centre is North Berwick Law with Traprain Law inland on the far right.
I drew this while waiting for the breakfast special, toasted banana bread with whipped mascarpone and berries, at The Beach House: the perfect place to write our postcards. This postcard, from a watercolour by one of the customers, captures the relaxed atmosphere of the cafe and the light reflected from the sea.
Drawing maps for my booklets makes me want to go out and walk the route again. After nine years it’s time to revise my Walks around Newmillerdam, not just because there will have been a few changes to the footpaths but also because the Friends of Newmillerdam and Wakefield Tree Wardens have been making all kinds of improvements to the country park. Continue reading “One Step at a Time”