Mark making IV

2016-06-05 canal sketches (4)

These drawings are from an evening cycle ride a couple of weeks ago.  I built texture with moving lines before adding colour.

2016-06-05 canal sketches (2)

In each sketch, I roughed in an outline in pencil, drew in pen and added colour with a limited palate of watercolour, sometime with conte crayon.

2016-06-05 canal sketch grey wagtail

I followed the bright blue flash of a kingfisher into the dark under a bridge.  When I focussed on where I thought it had alighted, I found instead a grey wagtail, bobbing and dipping on a branch.

2016-06-05 canal sketches (1)

prepared ground

This is an idea I took from Rosie Scribblah, an artist in South Wales whom I know from her blog and whose work I greatly admire.  A while back she posted many sketches on prepared grounds, made of brown paper fragments pasted into the sketchbook.  I tore up my lunch bag and stuck it onto some pages.  On others I applied acrylic paint.  This was done weeks before my using the pages to draw.  The idea was to fragment and distort my thinking while translating observation into drawing.

2016-04-16 Think Tank (3)

Here are a mixture of drawings.  The prototype Mars exploration suit, giant deer skeleton and trolley bus were done this weekend in the Think Tank, Birmingham on an Urban Sketchers session.  The first was built on an area of yellow paint, heavily textured.  The skeleton was drawn on a page covered with a mix of green and rose paint, greying where they met.  The drawings were done in fountain pen and conte crayon.  Mixed in with these are my first attempts to use prepared grounds, birds drawn from life onto brown paper and paint, one from 2014 and the others from a week or so ago.

2016-04-16 Think Tank (4)

2016-04-16 prepared ground (1)

2016-04-16 prepared ground (2)

2016-04-16 Think Tank (2)

Black heads and catcher

As an aside, I have watched Rosie’s fascinating artistic journey across her recent blog posts as she abstracts from the landscape to produce stunning images of ancestral stone monuments in the South Wales hills.


2015-08-29 16.19.16 4

This is the remaining sketch from our holiday in August.  I took a long walk past the expensive marina, along the coast path and then inland up steep wooded hills.  It was hot.

This sketch began with a layer of conte crayon, then  water colour scattering over the layer of resist.  This is shown below.  It’s photographed under different lighting I notice (intense sunlight), showing more dramatically the blue of sea and sky.

2015-08-26 12.03.29-1

After a couple more layers of crayon and paint, I blocked in deep shadows with the black brush pen.

September has been a thin month for drawing, limited to a charcoal sketch of Jeremy Corbyn when he won the Labour leadership and some desultory drawings of birds in the nature reserve.  I tried to mix conte crayon and watercolour again as well as drawing in ink, but could not find the technique that day.

2015-10-04 22.03.55  2015-10-04 22.04.07-1

2015-10-04 22.02.31-1  2015-10-04 22.02.46

2015-10-04 22.04.21

The less often I draw, the harder it becomes to do it.


Back to drawing birds

The Italian countryside, the heavily wooded hills and marshy lowlands were largely devoid of bird song.  An eerie quiet pervaded the landscape.  In the marshes, the few ducks were well hidden and the open water was mostly populated by herons, egrets and flamingos.  I understand from the media that Italians’ passion for hunting has overwhelmed the ecosystem and left it depleted of its natural bird life.  I did see a family of wild pigs snorting their way through the undergrowth.  Again, I read that wild pigs had been devastated by hunting and the population has been rebuilt using a strain from Hungary which is smaller and which breeds more rapidly.

2015-09-12 12.01.18-1

I shared a bird hide made of dry reeds with a photographer smoking a cigar.  He caught some fabulous shots of circling raptors and a kingfisher which alighted close to us.  I concentrated on the flamingos and egrets.  These were some distance away.  I stated drawing, spotting through the telescope and copying awkwardly onto the pad.  As juvenile flamingos came closer, I worked more loosely using brief glimpses through binoculars and drawing more from memory.  There is a tension between seeking anatomical accuracy for an unfamiliar species versus failing to capture movement through slavish copying.

2015-09-12 12.01.30-1

2015-09-12 12.01.46-1

I found once again that I have no standard technique for drawing in the field. Here, in great frustration, I have switched between drawing in pen, and painting a rapid shape which is then overlaid with conte crayon.

2015-08-29 16.18.07-1

2015-08-29 16.17.48-1

2015-09-12 12.02.23-1

2015-09-12 12.02.01-1

2015-09-12 11.59.31-1

2015-09-12 11.58.13-12015-09-12 12.00.10-1

2015-09-12 11.59.50-1 2015-08-29 16.18.27-3

2015-08-29 16.18.27-22015-09-12 12.01.18-2

2015-09-12 11.57.29-2

2015-08-29 16.18.27-2 2015-08-29 16.18.27-1 2015-08-29 17.20.22-1  2015-09-12 11.57.54-1


My field kit had become slimmed down to fountain pen and water. Over this year, walking through the local fields, and, shown here, on holiday in Italy, I have expanded it once again.

2015-09-12 11.36.26-1

Tuscany: view from the marsh to the hills. Layers of watercolour and conte crayon.

I now use watercolour and conte crayon in varying order, lastly using a black brush pen to accentuate shadows.

2015-09-12 11.25.52

Tuscany: view from the marsh to the hills. Watercolour background over conte crayon resist showing seed heads in foreground, with strong shadows drawn in black brushpen.

One objective is to create contrasts between opaque and transparent layers.  Another is to play with the crayon as a resist – the watercolour falls off it or collects in fractal shapes on its surface making interesting textures.  Conversely, grinding the crayon into wet colour builds deep interesting opaque patterns, sometimes lifting the paper to leave white highlights with adjacent ridges that catch subsequent strokes of deeper pigment.

2015-08-29 11.42.16-1

Water, reeds, hill terraces and distant wooded uplands composed in layers and drawn in layers of conte crayon and watercolour.

Sometimes this works, often not.

2015-09-12 11.59.15-1

View through the telescope: egret and distant flamingos with water, sand, woods and hills in horizontal stripes.

In doing this, I have noticed that my compositions are often built of flat layers; rectangles of fore, mid and background like a sponge sandwich cake seen from the side.



Bowling up hill

2015-06-14 (3)

The drizzle rapidly speckled the paper as I drew.  I was watching over the children in the playpark, and saw these guys playing cricket up hill.  If the fence behind was the wicket, the batsman was out more than once but never yielded the bat.  When he hit the ball bowled up to him, it was inevitably a six, as he had the advantage of the elevated ground.

2015-06-14 (1)    2015-06-14 (2)

This was while waiting for new tyres to be fitted.  She is standing at a high counter drinking hot chocolate.

2015-06-14 (2)   2015-06-14 (5)

These pen sketches of lapwings and a black headed gull were done at the same time as the drawings of the chicks posted previously.

2015-06-14 (6)

I am always enthralled by the urgent piping of oystercatchers.  A group of five formed up on the mud and paraded in ranks, hunched, bills open, calling in chorus.

2015-06-14 (1)

These sketches were done in a café while out yesterday, playing with dominant and non-dominant hand drawing.

2015-06-21 07.35.01-1    2015-06-21 07.35.12-1

Field sketches

2015-06-07 (1)

I started working from left to right, swinging the telescope across the stony islands in the pools, drawing what I saw, switching between charcoal and pen.  For some sketches in pen, I played a game, aiming to do six drawings in six minutes using six lines each.  I managed four drawings, but could not find the discipline to limit myself to six lines.  The lapwing drawing was the closest to what I intended.

2015-06-07 (5) 2015-06-07 (6) 2015-06-07 (10) 2015-06-07 (12) 2015-06-07 (11) 2015-06-07 (14) 2015-06-07 (13) 2015-06-07 (8)

The roosting black headed gulls were scattered into the air.  Another birder said, obscurely, “did he drop it or swallow it?”.

2015-06-07 (2)

A lesser back backed gull had settled back on an island further away.  It had caught a chick apparently.  I spent the rest of the time watching the predator.  It spent a long time assiduously preening yet I think, always with an eye on the black headed gulls and their chicks.  It was mobbed on land by a diving black headed gull and later on water by a lapwing.

2015-06-07 (3)  2015-06-07 (4)

It was joined by a second – its mate? – and they flew off north.  I think the same bird swept round and came in low over the trees to attack the colony from the south.  I don’t think it caught a chick and it was seen off with a pair of the smaller black headed gulls flanking it left and right.

2015-06-07 (15) 2015-06-07 (17)

Tomorrow, I will watch again, this time aiming to capture the gulls in flight, the mobbing and the raids.  However, time passes.  Even within a week, the chicks may be too large and no longer a target.

2015-06-07 (16) 2015-06-07 (18)

To see inspirational field sketches which combine simplicity of line and shade with capture of character, movement and shape, its worth googling images using the term “John Busby birds”.  A search on Amazon brings up two pages of his books.  I met him two years running through the Scottish Seabird Drawing course which he founded and led.  As for many others, he had been an influence on me through his books  for many years before that.  I was sad to hear that he died and his funeral was yesterday.

Walking back

In contemplative mood, walking from one place to another on busy paved roads surrounded by buildings, I found a short cut through woods within which I was disturbed only once by a passing cyclist.  I stood and drew this in black ink and water.  I walked on holding it while it dried, plucking leaves and picking fallen bark which I rubbed in to stain the paper.

2015-05-27 Walking back to the station

This next was done while cycling along a canal.  I keep meaning to work back into it to clarify the shapes and tones but now I am thousands of miles from my tools so post it as it is.

2015-05-22 dredger

These other little drawings include one of a moorhen chick, one of many I saw foraging in and out of reeds a couple of weeks ago, and ink sketches done in pubs and restaurants.

IMG_1896 2015-05-23 family meal

IMG_1897 2015-05-16 moorhen chick



Schroedinger’s election

It’s six in the morning and I write this after taking down the election poster, but not yet knowing the outcomes.  Reflecting my mood, I am listening to Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat.

The last polls suggested the leading parties were neck and neck, leadership of the next government balanced on a knife edge.  For as long as I don’t look, this is still true: we have at one and the same time both Labour and Conservative-led coalitions.  In a few minutes, I will collapse the probabilities by looking.  And I fear that what I will find is a Conservative near majority.  Their interests converge with those of the Scots Nationalists in breaking up the country so a narrow cadre of financial interests can rule without check the broken remnants.

2015-05-08 06.35.37-1

Election day was also my son’s tenth birthday.  The day turned out themed around sloths, his totemic animal.  Here he is last weekend, sitting on the train reading Philip Pullman on his way to watch his mother run her first 10K race: 58 minutes by the way.

2015-05-07 19.23.39-1

Here are my remaining sketches from the last week, an attempt to visualise the bird beneath the feathers.

2015-05-07 19.21.47-1 2015-05-07 19.21.47-3 2015-05-07 19.22.50-1

2015-05-07 19.24.47-1  2015-05-07 19.24.09-1  2015-05-07 19.23.21-1 2015-05-04 18.28.35

2015-05-07 19.21.32-1