Blackthorn Blossom

Coxley Wood

It’s been a good year for blossom. The splash of blackthorn at the edge of the wood has lasted well and is still looking at its best.

Most daffodils are looking seedy, crocuses have vanished and as I write this I’m looking out over weedy veg beds that are crying out to be planted.

It’s National Gardening Week here and we’ve got a long Easter weekend ahead so I better get started.

Parking Lot Fossils

fossilsI decided to go for pencil and wash for this illustration for a forthcoming Dalesman article. HB pencil seemed more appropriate for grey forms and I thought that pen and ink might flatten the forms.

I picked these up at Nethergill Farm, Langstrathdale, last summer amongst the crushed limestone of the parking area. There are three fragments of sea-lily stem, a darker fragment run through with the fossil coral Lithostrotion and, at the back, a fragment of one of the valves of a fossil brachiopod.

They date from the Lower Carboniferous period, some 350 million years ago when a tropical sea covered the Yorkshire Dales.

Bird Stop

squirrel and chaffinchesSince we came back from our short break in Germany we’ve been catching up with things but I did manage to put pen to paper when we stopped at the Riverside Cafe near Hathersage on our book delivery rounds.

wine table and cushions

We can’t always find a table within a few feet of an array of well-stocked bird feeders but after our tour by rail and ferry I’m back in the habit of drawing whatever comes my way.

Coffee Table

table sketchMy first attempt at making a model after completing the basic tutorial in table

SketchUp from first principles

house tutorial

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could get through all your errands then, when you have a blank day, feel fresh and thoroughly inspired?

It doesn’t work like that for me. There’s plenty that I could do but nothing pressing so to celebrate the launch of a new version of SketchUp, the first in eighteen months, I’m dipping back into the program again. Mine isn’t the latest Pro version but the free version has plenty of possibilities.

Breathing Space

gable end

I could argue that as illustration involves depicting three-dimensional objects in two dimensions it makes sense to explore all the possibilities. Playful experiment can feed into my regular illustrations in surprising ways.

old chairIt’s probably much more to do with my fascination for making models and creating imaginary worlds. I feel that we should all be allowed to do some things just because we enjoy them.

hall tableI’ve been through these tutorials before but it’s several years ago, so it’s been worth going back to first principles.

In the fourth and final part of the SketchUp basics video tutorials in which you get to construct a hall table, you get to grapple with such subtleties as tapering the legs, mirror imaging two of them to create the other pair and, the final touch, getting the drawer handles spot in the middle of the drawer front. There’s a trick to it.

Link; SketchUp

A Series of Unfortunate Events

events iMac We’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks dealing with series of unfortunate events, running around to get repairs to a wall, a ceiling, a 1930s jug handle and the dented rear end of our car.

So it’s wonderful to get back to my desk and – as a complete indulgence – to re-familiarise myself with my computer, I’ve been going through some of the obscurer workings of my web design program, Dreamweaver.

Absolute Positioning

Dreamweaver book For instance what on earth is AP Div? Absolute Positioning, which is what the AP stands for, sounds really useful, but a short tutorial from Teach Yourself Visually Dreamweaver convinces me that it would be best avoided.

I played around with the possibilities by scanning three sketches of objects on my desktop then dropped the scanned images into AP Div boxes in Dreamweaver and moved them about so that they overlapped, then changed the stacking order.

It worked but, looking at the uploaded web page, I soon realised that when I maximised the size of my browser window they got totally out of sync with the rest of the page. AP divs Not recommended!

Link; my experiments with on AP Divs

Spring in my Step

wheel-barrowIn my determination to draw a page a day, which I’ve kept up since before Christmas, I’ve had to resort to working a lot from photographs taken on walks to fill in the gaps for particular days. What a refreshing change to have the time to get into the back garden for an hour or so to draw from life.

I feel as if I’ve got so much more freedom working from the real thing; freedom to be less literal with colour and detail. Because I’ve got a better understanding of what’s in front of my eyes I can be more playful in the way I draw it.

Whenever I go to a movie if there’s a 3D version that’s the performance that I’ll go for and it’s the same with drawing. I can relax and let the drawing flow more freely because in real life – HD, HDR and 3D as it is – I’ve got a better understanding of how things are arranged in space – for instance woodland seen through a hedge. That kind of thing can give you cause to stop and ponder when you’re working from a photograph, which breaks the flow a bit.

I’m convinced that I’ll be getting out more often as we move into spring.

My drawing might not be as resolved as the subject deserves. Perhaps if I’d had two hours I’d have gone for something more ambitious but any drawing is better than none. I look forward to having the time to go over the top with a drawing.

Misleading Cases

red case

‘We don’t need colour!’ says Barbara, as I hurry to complete my thumbnail sketches.

‘We need to remember which is which.’ I suggest but really it’s just the pleasure of slapping on colour that makes me go a little over the top with my scribbled notes.

blue case

We’ve got a trip coming up and we’re determined to travel light but, you know how it is, you get to the store and, out of context, in different surroundings, sizes can look different. On one occasion we spotted a rucksack that looked just the right in-between size we’d always been looking for and came back to discover that it was exactly the same size, in litres capacity, as the one we had at home.

I’ve been drawing exclusively natural history recently and putting a lot of effort into completing a page a day, so these quick sketches are a rare example of offhand note-taking.

Result; we went for two ‘cabin size’ 1.56 kg cases. Should be easier to carry, or pull along behind us (they have wheels) than one large case and they’re designed to suit the hand luggage requirements of all airlines, even the budget ones that we’re most likely to use, although these can change so you’d always have to check before travelling.

When we were travelling to France a couple of years ago, my sister-in-law Michelle inadvertently exceeded the limit when she popped in a blockbuster novel in the front pocket of her bag at the last minute! Luckily Barbara had some spare capacity.

Rhubarb Festival

rhubarb 2014

We’re settling down again after a weekend promoting my walks booklets at Wakefield’s Rhubarb and Food and Drink Festival, although Barbara works in a bookshop so it’s not such a change for her! We were guests of Trinity Walk shopping centre.

As it was a food festival, in addition to selling books we couldn’t resist doing a bit of bartering and we exchanged a copy of Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle for a box of four muffins from the next stall! But we spent most of our profit on takeaway lattes from Cafe Costa to keep us warm as the breeze funnelled around the precinct!

Robin Hood’s Wakefield

Walks in Robin Hood's Wakefield

Saturday proved to be the best day, when Morris Dancers created a suitably festive background. It conjured up an impression of what it must have been like when Trinity Walk was a part of the town known as Goodybower, ‘God’s bower’, where statues of saints from the parish church, now the cathedral, were paraded, displayed and decorated with ribbons and flowers and where some performances of the town’s guilds’ cycle of mystery plays took place.

Mystery plays of course had a religious theme, although the second play in the cycle, Cane and Abel, could claim to be the world’s first murder mystery.

Cursed by God, Cain taunts his fellow men to capture and kill him;

And harshly when I am dead,
Bury me at Goodybower at the quarry head

The quarry was approximately where Trinity Walk had set up the stall for us, later the site for Wakefield’s market.

One of my booklets retraces the steps of a Yorkshire Robin Hood, a Robert Hode who lived in Wakefield but who found himself outlawed after the battle of Boroughbridge. There are several walks exploring the town’s connections with the story, at Sandal Castle and Pinderfields for example, the latter associated since medieval times with Robin’s great rival and supposedly cousin, George-a-Green, the Jolly Pindar of Wakefield. Then there’s a walk around the battlefield site itself at Boroughbridge and a tour of Brockadale, including the look-out post at Sayles, mentioned in the earliest Robin Hood’s ballads and still overlooking both the ancient Great North Road and its modern dual-carriageway equivalent.

The book ends up at Kirklees Priory, long associated with the death of Robin and supposedly the site of his grave.

Rough Patch

Rough Patch

We were pleased that we sold as many Robin and Liquorice walks books as we did the Rhubarb, which was good considering theme of the festival. It’s so encouraging for me when people have done all the walks in two of the books then they come back for the third in the series. I feel that I  must be doing something right.

Because of the local food connection we were also selling my sketchbook from the wilder side of the garden, Rough Patch.

It was good to meet up with several of our friends, including people we haven’t bumped into for several years, who had spotted that we would be there and come along to see us. I saw my junior school teacher from 1960 and an illustration student of mine from my days at Leeds college of art, then part of the polytechnic, from 1983.

Shopping malls aren’t my natural habitat but, as there’s a ‘Walk’ in the name of this particular shopping centre, perhaps I’ll get a chance to link up with them again.

After three four hour stints at our cart I have enormous respect for retailers and all the hard but unseen work that they put into to making shopping a seamless experience. They make it look so easy!

Don’t mention the rain

As the dark clouds whipped themselves up on the Friday morning, the street cleaner who regularly patrolled the precinct kept our spirits up;

‘Don’t talk about the rain and it won’t come!’ she advised us.

She was wrong, the shower came through just the same, but at least she made us smile!

Link; Trinity Walk

Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates

backdrop sketch

Wouldn’t it be great if I always had a team of young helpers ready to fill in the blanks when I had a big illustration to do? While the crew set up the eight flats that we use as the backdrop for our Pageant Player pantomimes I set about sketching out some ideas.

Robinson Crusoe & the Pirates starts in a village in some unspecified country in South America. We’ve never featured South America in one of our productions before and as I’ve never visited the continent I’ve got the nearest thing that I know in mind; Pollenca, Majorca. I add Rio’s Sugar Loaf mountain in the background, although Pollenca has some pretty impressive limestone crags of its own.

sketch to scaleWhen they get the flats in place,  I realise that I need to go for more of a letterbox, wide-screen format, cutting out the ground altogether.

Robinson Crusoe backdrop designI usually concoct this year’s scene from the basis of last year’s but this time I decide we ought to make a fresh start.

While my team of young helpers put a coat of white emulsion over last year’s Snow Queen village, I make a more accurate drawing to grid up onto the 11×4 ft flats, which have three cross-members – easily visible beneath the canvas – which I adopt as as my grid.

The swatches are a reference for Ken for mixing the emulsion paint.

My proportion goes awry as I get to the right hand side mapping things out and the village church ends up looking more like Barnsley town hall. No bad thing.

Back to the Sketchbook

Cushions drawn this morning on a visit to Barbara's brother and his wife in my Moleskine travel notebook.

Cushions drawn this morning on a visit to Barbara’s brother and his wife in my Moleskine travel notebook.

It’s soon got around to Burns Night – one month since Christmas day already – and this is only my second post of the new year but I have been busy; for the last month I’ve managed a page a day in my holly green sketchbook. For that I’ve been trying something new by scanning the whole page each day.

I’ve also enjoyed sticking to just one theme, natural history, as it’s got me noticing things that I would have missed if I hadn’t set myself the task of finding something fresh, however trivial, to draw and write about each day.

New Theme

In contrast to the simplicity of that page a day approach I decided to go for a different look for this Wild Yorkshire blog, making it less of a drawing journal and more of a newsletter for my other projects, such as the somewhat neglected nature diary website and my even more neglected, which includes my walks booklets, guide books and published sketchbooks.

WordPress 2014 theme.

WordPress 2014 theme.

I’ve decided to go for a new theme for the new year, one which makes navigation a bit more obvious, rather than relegating it to the bottom of a long page. The latest WordPress standard theme, called 2014, seemed a good one to go for.


The same page using the Aldus theme designed by Fränk Klein.

The same page using the Aldus theme designed by Fränk Klein.


25 February; As the 2014 looked a bit black and formal, I’m now trying an airier theme called Mon Cahier, which still includes a column for navigation, hopefully combining what I like about Aldus with the functionality of WordPress 2014.