Coffee Stop

treeBlacker Hall FarmThe social whirl is fine but it will be good to settle down to work again and have more joined up time for drawing!

Today it was coffee at Blacker Hall Farm Shop, in a lofty beamed barn with a rural view (left) which in fact includes the embankment of the Barnsley to Wakefield Kirkgate railway.

beamThe tree was a quick lunchtime sketch sitting outside at the Cafe Capri, Horbury High Street but that’s just a break before the real business of the day which is to print some of my walks booklets for a stall at this weekend’s Festival in a Day event in Ossett.

Better get printing then . . .

Little Sketches

crematorium It was nice to get together with the family today but that didn’t mean that I had entirely go without sketching. I kept my mini-Moleskine notebook in my shirt pocket and my wallet of chunky crayons in my jeans pocket.

cruetteI try my best not to resort to drawing the cruet as we wait for our meal but I don’t want to intrude on the gathering by drawing family.

I really would like to draw people but I’d much rather do it at some public event or in a public place like a market.


The leaves are falling and I’m looking forward to focussing on natural history again before too long.

Enough of cruets!

The Old Kit Bag

old-kit-bagSergeant Robert Douglas Bell, c. 1939We’re remembering my dad Robert Douglas Bell 1918-1990, who died twenty-four years ago today.

We’re lucky to have a number of group photographs of him in the early days of World War II taken when he was part of a light anti-aircraft unit in a Territorial Army regiment of the Royal Artillery.

I was fascinated to find a photograph of his kit laid out for inspection taken somewhere in England. He’s labeled the items on the surrounding card mount and I’ve superimposed his labels in white on the photograph here.

He never took much interest in drawing so I was surprised by his neat hand-lettering but his pre-war job was as an accountant so that must have demanded meticulous accuracy on ledgers and on balance sheets, which in those days would have been mainly, if not entirely, entered by hand.

Special Investigations

desert, 1941

His regiment were soon sent to North Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope, and in one of the later group photographs, taken near Cairo, you can see the base of a pyramid in the background.

When he talked about extreme heat, he often used the expression ‘stinking hot’. I can imagine that it was stinking hot out there.

There was something of a lull in the desert campaign and my father found himself transferred to the Special Investigations Unit. He didn’t talk much about it but his cases included one in which two servicemen – presumably somewhat inebriated servicemen – challenged each other to a race down from the top of a pyramid, with predictably fatal results.

Perhaps my father’s reports on such incidents are preserved in an archive somewhere, written up in his meticulous hand.

Sophia’s Cranford

Sophia Barnet's school prizecranfordWho was Sophia Barnet?

She’s definitely not the soulful young woman on the card, kept in this old book, which is of a late Millais painting, The Disciple. The model here is thought to be Mary Lloyd, or an imaginary woman inspired by her classical looks.

Mary was born c. 1863, in Shropshire, the daughter of a once wealthy but later bankrupt country squire. Making the move to London, she took up modelling towards the end of an era for the Pre-Raphaelites and classically inspired historical painting.

Whistler and Sickert were already ‘flinging and pot of paint in the public’s face’ and making grunge look good.

Catching up with the seventy-year-old Mary in 1933, the Sunday Express described her as the model ‘who had the face of an angel but outlived her luck’.

School Prize

portrait of a lady

Portrait of a lady that Sophia kept in the book

But coming back to Sophia, my starting point is that she was presented with this copy of Cranford for regular attendance in the Senior Department of Greenside Council School, Pudsey, near Leeds.

fashion 1910I suspect that she might have ended her days somewhere near Wakefield as I came across this book in a secondhand shop in Horbury in the early 1970s.

A search on reveals that in 1904 Sophia would have been then ten years old and that her father was a platelayer on the Great Northern Railway.

Seven years later, in the 1911 census, she’s recorded as working as a worsted mender (worsted is a closely woven woollen cloth with no nap) but to judge by the clippings that she kept in her book, she had aspirations and dreams.

Sutro and Smiler

Edwardian fashion plate

Edwardian fashion plate

The book is a little time capsule as, in addition to the Millais print, Sophia (I assume it was Sophia) has folded a handful of magazine and newspaper cuttings between it’s pages.

Future generations won’t get that if they ever come across a copy digital book treasured by an ancestor!

SutroThere are Edwardian fashions, an elegant interior and an illustration from a children’s book, subjects that you might expect a young woman to take a passing interest in, but then there are the odd items, like this portrait of mayor of Chicago Adolph Sutro, famed for his tunnel building scheme.

How did he get in there?

smiler 1917


This portrait of Sutro reminds me of Paget’s illustrations of the clients who called on Sherlock Holmes at 221b!

And I wonder what especially tickled her about this single panel from an early comic strip which features a character called Smiler, who looks as if he’s stepped out of a music hall act or an early silent film.

kangarooThe kangaroo has hopped into Sophia’s selection by accident; he’s on the reverse side of the Rackamesque illustration (below) of the children coming across the fairies. 

Hoppy Chivers and the ‘Peace Crank’

We’re three years into the horrors of World War I and on the reverse of the Smiler cartoon is something altogether more disconcerting; the last few paragraphs of a ‘Hoppy Chivers yarn’, in which Hoppy and his chum chase a ‘peace crank’ who falls head-first into a lake, swallowing ‘two gallons of water and twenty-nine tiddlers’.

 ‘. . . we’ve got the Huns whacked!’ says Hoppy’s pal Archie. ‘It’s only really ignorant clods, like this chap we’ve come after, who don’t know the truth. They haven’t got the pluck of worms. Anyway, we’ll soon finish off this idiot.’

There’s a happy ending of sorts; the ‘peace crank’ runs to the nearest recruiting office and signs up immediately.

aviatorsShe also clipped this item from the newspaper. The German aviator looks very much like the portrait of Sutro.

Sophia would then have been 21 years old. In the days before boys bands with their extravagant hair styles, perhaps she thought those goatee beards looked pretty cool! The leather jacket gives him a certain rock and roll credibility too.

In Search of Fairies

fairiesChildren coming across fairies in the wood might seem a bit far-fetched to appeal to a young woman in the middle of the a world war but 1917 is when Elsie Wright, 16, and her cousin Frances Griffiths, 9, first photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden at Cottingley, just eight miles from Sophia’s home in Fartown, Pudsey.

The photographs were made public in 1919 and in an article in the Strand magazine for Christmas 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle declared them genuine. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the cousins admitted that they were faked.

A Dream of Lamb’s

Lamb's ClubOne final clipping, the elegant interior, which might illustrate an article about Lamb’s Club, New York, as a photograph of its facade appears on the reverse.

It would be a perfect setting for Margaret Dumont’s character in the Marx Brother’s films, the society lady who was the butt of so many of Groucho’s put-downs;

‘I could dance with you till the cows come home!
Better still, I’ll dance with cows and you come home.’

But in Sophia’s day, this interior wouldn’t be seen as so stuffy and elitist, not compared with the heavy Victorian styles that preceded it. It was the latest word in fashion and I’m not surprised, as she worked in a mill in Pudsey mending worsted cloth, that she seized upon these photographs in some American magazine she’d come across as a window on another, more elegant, world.

The Pheasants are Revolting

A couple of years ago, I drew a rough of this for one of the exercises in Drawing Words and Writing Pictures and, as I’m using it in an article, I’ve enjoyed working on a final version.

pheasant comic strip

 I traced my rough (below) in pencil onto layout paper, then scanned and added the colour in Photoshop.

I’m reading Teamwork Means that You Can’t Pick the Side That’s Right, one of Scott Adams’ Dilbert books and decided that I’d try graded backgrounds like he does, fading gradually from dark  to light.

Hope that I’ll get the chance to try some more comic strips but I’ve got a lot lined up for the autumn.
pheasant cartoonThe squirrel went from being demented in the rough to looking evil in the final version, which is a shame because that might suggest that he deliberately dropped the coconut shell. I was aiming at making him manically determined rather than evil.

Link; ‘The Pheasants are Revolting’ rough version, October 2012.

Goldfish Tank


There seems to be an extra burst of activity amongst the goldfish this afternoon, centred on the face of the octagonal pillar of a tank nearest the centre of the room. The tail end of a feeding frenzy perhaps after their daily dose of fish food.
goldfishYou’d think that they’d recognise me by now; this is the third temporary filling that I’ve had in the space of a week!


Pen and Crayon

goldfishfish headIt’s a shame that I broke a tooth but at least it gives me chance to take a close look at the goldfish in the tank in the dentist’s waiting room. I notice that each goldfish has a small, stiffish looking flap in front of each of its eyes, perhaps adding some protection or alternatively helping to stabilise the head as it moves through the water.

gablescupvinegarSince I discovered a pen that doesn’t bleed straight through the paper in my urban sketchbook I’ve been more tempted to draw in the odd vacant moment.

An ArtPen tin filled with a dozen Derwent Watercolour crayons replaces the watercolour box that I’d prefer to use, if the paper was up to it.

handThe colours were those included in a plastic pod (which didn’t stand up to being squeezed into my bag) so they’re not exactly the ones that I would have selected for the kind of subjects that I draw – there’s no grey for instance – but I feel that any attempt to indicate colour, however wide of the mark, records information that I couldn’t otherwise include and adds a bit of warmth to the starkness of pen and ink. 


Claxton review copySome nature writing, Mark Cocker warns us, ‘like medicine, needs to be consumed in small doses’ but his Field Notes from a Small Planet slip down so easily that you’ll be tempted to OD.

His portrait of the wilder side of Claxton, a Norfolk village, like his favourite jazz improvisations, builds ‘steadily, patiently, minutely in rhythmic layers’, in encounters ‘where anything can happen and seldom does’.

He inevitably includes some of the rarities and the wildlife spectaculars that Norfolk is famous for but the appeal of this country diary is in meeting, as he reflects on a winter’s day,  ‘so many of our living neighbours – the leafless trees, the dank grasses and flowerless plants, the expiring fungi and voiceless birds – [which] hardly ever acquire the foreground of our minds. Yet every single one of them is integral to that magical uplift in spirits, which is the great gift of a walk in wild space.’

Every parish should have a chronicler like Cocker and, if your parish hasn’t acquired one yet, this illuminating book might encourage you to set out on your own home patch, armed with notebook and pencil.

Claxton, Field Notes from a Small Planet by Mark Cocker, illustrated with woodcuts by Jonathan Gibbs, will be published in hardback later this year by Jonathan Cape.

Links; Mark Cocker, Jonathan GibbsVintage Books, the trade department of Jonathan Cape

A Stoat amongst the Fleabane

fleabaneFleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, grows in the meadow areas by the ponds at Old Moor.

Its ragged-edged flowers are giving way to furry clocks of achenes.

An achene is a dry fruit. They might appear to be seeds but, like any fruit, they have a covering, it’s just that in this case the covering is dry, not fleshy, and it encloses the single seed so closely that it appears to be just a extra coating for the seed.

11.16 a.m.; a movement just beyond the fleabane. Quite a substantial animal – a rat?

stoatBeady Eye

No, its a darker, glossier mahogany brown. The stoat is so close that I can see the glint in its eye as it pauses and stares at me for a few seconds then turns back on its run through the grasses.

It’s a cliche but it has beady eyes. Deep brown with a sharp highlight. It was taking me in then coming to a decision.

It reminds me of a passage from Orwell’s Coming up for Air; ‘I was looking at the field, and the field was looking at me.’

And I’ve just come across this advice to photographers;

‘Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.’
Minor White

I’m still not quite sure who saw who first.

Time for my morning coffee break which happens to be just as the fruit scones come out of the oven. However they should come with a health warning; I break a filling as I’m eating it and have to head back home to arrange to see my dentist!

What bad luck. It reminds me that there’s an old country superstition that a stoat crossing your path will bring you bad luck but my mum told us there was a remedy for this.

At the place where you saw the stoat, leave a coin at the side of the path and whoever picks up the coin inherits the dose of bad luck. However I really wouldn’t want anyone else to break a filling today, I couldn’t be so cruel!

A Cure for Warts

breccia pebbleShe had a similar remedy for warts; pick up as many pebbles as you have warts and put those in a paper bag.

Leave the bag lying around where it might be see by a unsuspecting passer-by. Your warts will disappear when someone opens the bag. Unfortunately they will get your warts.

Not a nice thing to do. I must ask her who taught her these folk remedies. My guess would be her granny, Sarah Ann, born 1850. Sounds just like one of her tales.