Yorkshire Dales

Today I was seized with nostalgia, a longing to walk again in the Yorkshire Dales.

These sketches are from 3 years ago.  This first I think is looking west from the Ribble Way footpath across to Simon Fell.

The majesty of this limestone landscape arises I think from hidden sculpting by subterranean water.

I made these small sketches standing up balancing above a fifty foot drop looking down into a unroofed cavern

and later from the back of the car sheltering from the rain.

Lapwings in flight

Huge formations of birds in flight are clearly fascinating to others.  A comment led me to http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/grackles-revisited/ and a further comment on that site took me to another blog and an image of flocking geese http://theirisandthelily.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/a-field-of-white/.

I regularly watch lapwings in flight.  They suddenly startle and take off in unison.  They wheel and soar on frying-pan wings almost in formation, often in chaos, sometimes forming patterns, often breaking up into ones or twos, until they all sweep in to land noisily in the shallows again.  Capturing this in paint is difficult.  I know the image below is flat and has lost the sense of movement I set out to capture.  Still – this is an online sketchbook not an art gallery!  I will attempt this again.

Its worth mentioning that the grackles photograph mentioned above is a post on the blog http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/.  I spend an enjoyable half hour with my six year old son going through this fabulous site focussing mainly on botanical photography.  Joseph said “wow” at nearly every shot.

While I’m at it, here are a few other field sketches of lapwings in conte crayon or in ink

They cannot conquer for ever

Look! The king has got a crown again!

This was drawn in compressed charcoal on buff paper.  I have returned to a limestone block eroding from an arid karst platform, supporting trailing caper plants in flower.  My attention was drawn to a large hole, somehow reminiscent of an eye socket.  I have drawn this before, like a side view of an ungulate’s skull (https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/limestone-skull/).  This time I saw a more anthropoid facies in the same image.  The overlying white flowers brought back to me a scene from Lord of the Rings describing an unexpected vision of hope for the beleaguered characters.  Unintentionally perhaps, my own image subverts this and is rather bleaker in mood.


I’ve experimented with drawing buzzards, scratching ink into wet paper, blotting and painting back into the scarred surface.

Giant Pterodactyl

This is as much an aide memoire to myself as a post to others.

Recently, I’ve thrown in a couple of cartoons using Giant Pterodactyl as a means to mayhem- initially inspired by the need for a fitting response to Jeremy Clarkson.

I was drawing reconstructions of pterodactyls as a kid and now coming back to observing and painting animals, I had thought to do so again.  So let me pay tribute to some people doing this seriously whom I’ve noticed on the way.

Davide Bonadonna is a professional PaleoArtist.  I love his illustrations of dinosaurs and contemporary wildlife http://davidebonadonna.it/.  I came across him simply by googling images and following his illustrations to their source.  Mark Witton co-wrote a paper on Azhdarchid pterosaur functional anatomy referenced previously and got his painting of marauding giraffe sized monsters into a scientific journal.  He has other great illustrations here http://www.flickr.com/photos/markwitton.  I’ve modified this post to link now to http://www.markwitton.com/.  I’ll be buying his book.

They have both developed the career that I might have fantasied about as a kid, consultant palaeontologist and artist.  I really like their combination of accuracy with artistry.

Jeremy Clarkson swallowed whole by giant pterodactyl

This week, on national TV, influential broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson proposed that striking public sector workers should be “shot in front of their families”.

In the interest of balance,  I propose that Mr Clarkson be eaten by a giant pterodactyl.

I first envisaged a giant eye at the studio window followed by the stabbing tips of an enormous beak.  Then, what turns out to be a giant pterodactyl grabs its prey, throws back its head and drops Clarkson into the maw.

But this cannot be right.  This excellent and accessible paper by Witton and Naish describes the functional anatomy of the Azhdarchids, which were the biggest pterosaurs (http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0002271).   They were constructed like giant pickaxes, their necks rigid and the huge head fixed at a near right angle.

How might a giant pterodactyl get the food from beak tip to the throat.  Herons usually manoeuvre their prey in the beak by short chopping motions, opening the bill to allow the object to fall, but catching it again higher in the beak, closer to the mouth.  They can do this with their beaks pointing down.  Look at this for an example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUpSwjijsj4.  Perhaps this is how the pterodactyl might feed.  What a terrible fate for the great man – the oscillation of hope and mounting despair at each release and catch, being ratcheted towards the gullet.

But depicting Mr Clarkson being eaten by a giant pterodactyl is demonstrably not to be taken seriously.

The phenomenology of instinct

Each unit instinctively follows simple rules of flight path in relation to the neighbouring units, resulting in remarkable and intensely beautiful patterns woven by flocks in the sky.  I have been experimenting in expressing this in a series of paintings.

I wonder what it feels like to be driven by instinct to flock in this way.  Do non-human animals feel emotions?  Do starlings feel something analogous to joy simply for flying in a group, rewarding them for acting according to their innate drives?

How would a sentient and self-aware animal describe such an instinct in itself?

Is this already an area of study, a school of philosophy or psychology?