Holiday sketches: two kinds of egrets

Snowy white herons called egrets are a little exotic in Britain but are common in Mallorca.  I cycled past fields in which cattle egrets co-existed with sheep and past a stone cistern hosting lines of egrets round the rim.  These sketches were done of birds roosting and hunting in the waters of the nature reserve, spotted by telescope. The larger birds with yellow feet are little egrets, the smaller ones with yellow crests and bills are cattle egrets. 

2014-08-26 12.12.30 By the time I got round to drawing these birds, I felt I had loosened up a bit.  I scribbled only a few lines on the paper, just enough to hold the image so I could go back and throw on a minimum of watercolour washes a few minutes later. The pen and washes work well on the fairly smooth Stillman and Birns watercolour paper.  My aim was to work quickly without overworking the picture.

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I also spotted a line of about 25 elegant waders, black-winged stilts with long red legs and delicate probing bills.

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In loading these drawings, I came across pictures of cattle egrets accompanying horses against a background of tall reeds, drawn while on another cycle ride in Mallorca two years ago with quite different technique.



holiday snaps: cold beer

I had hired a bike and cycled at least a few kilometres every day, usually in the heat of the afternoon when the children had taken refuge in the pool.  I wandered the coastal road and lanes around the Albufereta nature reserve, trying to find a way near to the remaining wetland.  In these meanderings, I found a small kite and paddle surf shop staffed by enthusiasts, with a fridge stocked with bottles of Galician lager. 

On one day, I found a path that wound through dried up ponds to a raised observation point and on another, a track past a farm brought me closer to the remaining marsh from a different direction.  The three sketches were each done in an attempt to capture the sparkle of the distant water on a hot day, set against the dry vegetation and distant mountains. 

These are all on cold pressed heavy paper: the top two on the Arches carnet de voyage and the lowest one on the smoother Stillman and Birns beta pad.   For the first, I drew directly in watercolour whereas in the second I constructed the main shapes first in a waterproof fine marker.  Oddly, this allowed me more freedom to use white paper in the composition.  In the last drawing, on a different day, I used the fountain pen and then added a minimum of colour with conte crayon and chalk pastel, mobilising the pigment with clean water.

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Holiday sketches II – hidden

I took the sign-posted path into the Albufereta nature reserve. This led to three bird hides, overlooking dried up ponds, beds baked hard by the sun, strewn with rocks, barren.
But there were movements among the rocks, shapes only clear when viewed by telescope.
These are stone curlews, insect eaters that hide, camouflaged against bare ground, hunkering down on plantigrade feet to merge with the rocks.







These drawings were done with ink and water, then conte crayon and chalk pastel for the few colours, in the Stillman and Birns beta sketch pad.


Holiday sketches – albufereta

Albufereta is a small wetland nature reserve surrounded by farmland at the north western corner of Mallorca. In the baking heat, the challenge has been to get close enough to any remaining water to see birds. To make these sketches, I am standing with my back to the coastal road and I think that marsh itself is somewhere concealed between me and the mountains.

I had started a new sketchbook containing cold press, heavy paper made by Stillman and Birn. It takes some getting used to. The grain is fine so the pen scoots over the surface easily. However, I tend to rely on the paper’s bite to control the rate at which watercolour unloads from the brush.

The paint dries quickly in this heat, creating hard edges before I have even thought about softening them with water or lifting colour by blotting. I will have to paint in a more planned way, placing layer on layer.


Here, one evening, I looked down from the high bluff made of volcanic rocks that had been forced through the more ancient softer petrified sediments.  I had previously drawn these contorted rocks in watercolour and sketched the shapes made by the two rock types in ink and wash.

I approached this using a board covered first in thick, unfixed charcoal, drawing in shapes with fingers and an eraser, reserving the brightness of the light reflecting from the sea. I then worked into this with very wet white acrylic, suspending the charcoal dust and building the contrasting tones.    Finally I worked into the wet layers with coloured acrylics, a couple of sticks of chalk pastel and a sharp knife hacking my way back to the paper beneath.  I photographed the piece on site.


I set off with the piece on a board in the back of the car.  After a while I pulled into a lay-by and looked at it again.  In the deepening gloom, I ground more charcoal into the surface and slopped on more white paint, lifting the charcoal but obscuring the colour.  I tipped my remaining sepia ink in a streak along the line of the rocks.

I imposed rotational acceleration on wet, slowly drying paint as I drove round twisting lanes up and down hills, catching in the headlights owls, startled into flight by my progress.

I photographed it late that evening, still drying, paint still moving slowly to invade the bastions of ink.

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This is the dried form, as it now is, waiting further action.

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Challenging conditions

Early Saturday morning, mid July, I called in at Blacktoft Sands nature reserve. Drizzle alternated with showers. The waters displayed only a scattering of nondescript ducks, and it was mostly pigeons that flew across the reeds or clattered on the roof of the hide.

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On the branches of distant shrubs hunched marsh harriers, veiled or revealed by the drifting mists. These, I think, were fledged chicks, joined occasionally by parents. I only saw the adults fly or hunt.

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The views were too poor for detailed drawings, and I found it a struggle to capture any sense of these birds on paper that day.

Seals on Holy Island

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Holy Island is a low rocky outcrop in the coastal mudflats connected twice daily by a causeway revealed by the tides.  Arriving, straight away I could hear a low drone.  I could not tell whether this was natural or the sound of many motors.

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Initially I walked slowly along a long path until I crossed dunes to reach the sea.  Then I hurried back and returned with my most powerful telescope.  The constant gronking noise came from common seals resting on rocks just out to sea.

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At first I was too distant to make out much more than their shapes.

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Edging closer by rounding the shoreline, I began to make out the features on their flippers and faces.

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I think these were mainly females with their pups.  The moved contently, turning and twisting in the sun and slipping in and out of the sea.

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Seen out to sea, drawn in the rain.


These feeding gannets were viewed  out to sea and drawn with me standing, steadying the telescope against  the wind.

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Just out to sea – many gannets suddenly congregate.  They turn, wings outstretched then slip into a dive, wings held behind tail, neck outstretched. They can be seen as a trace of bubbles below water before they surface.  Wings beating they stretch up their body and necks to swallow.  Then  they take off into the wind to repeat this or fly off, sated.

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