piece of sky

Here are two ten minute sketches.  The first was made from a road by a marshy area as darkness fell, with varied marks resulting from each implement in turn running out of ink as I drew.  I coloured it later with light conte crayon marks, rubbed in and lifted.  The second was done waiting for a train,  with a couple of strokes of colour overdrawn with soft graphite.

I discovered an extensive cemetery near the station.  It holds a large arena type area with what I guess must be mausoleums built into its walls – that is for a drawing another time.  Here is a simple pencil sketch with pen picking out some details.

Why had people bothered to build a bridge when there were boats and flyers to ride?

The quote is from Ursula K Le Guin, ” A Man of the People”, the third of four novellas that comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness.

Having sketched this quickly, I now see her iconic bridge is different in scale, described as enormous, reaching far above a landscape of tidal pools inhabited by myriad wading birds, descended originally from those brought from Earth.

It is old, maybe a million years.   So, I guess, it was built across a long-changed landscape, and likely by machines and labour controlled by strident imperialists, alien to the contemporary pueblo-dwellers with production divided by gender, lineage and tradition.

tinted paper II

I continued my attempt to use tinted paper to provide mid tones, using just one other hue, plus white and black, to build an image.  In order to work outdoors, I bought a smaller Strathmore Toned Tan pad which would fit in my cycle bag.  The paper is less robust and textured than the Daler Rowney Ingres pastel paper I used previously.


I had cycled to what passes for a nature reserve, rough land and flooded gravel pits trapped between a business park and motorway.  Traffic was thundering behind me, but I looked across a pool, rushes and a line of trees to a darkening rain filled sky.  The idea was to use a grey to build the cloud and reflections in the water, leaving negative shapes of the trees.  I would then draw darker brown into the trunks and branches, so they are outlined by the light tone of the paper.  As it turned out, I did not have the dexterity to do as I planned.  Then it started to rain, quickly dampening the paper and solidifying the crayon strokes.  As the paper became really wet, colour sluiced off the sticks as an opaque wash but the earlier strokes drawn dry acted as a resist, keeping their integrity.  Though unintended, I am pleased with the effects: the virgin paper in the midground represents a line of rushes glowing in the evening light.


When I started the second sketch I was both wet and covered with mud all down my right side, having slid down a steep bank I was trying to climb.  This image illustrates that if I want to draw in three tones, I must leave my colours at home.  The paper’s tint was supposed to represent the foreground, but I had to keep adding to it, until no paper was left.

This post was written to the haunting, beautiful Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, a musical discovery thanks to Spotify’s weekly selection for me.


drawn fast in cluttered room, standing

The Legacy of Rubens exhibition contains many drawings using simple white, red and black chalks on toned paper, by the old master himself and his contemporaries and successors, such as Watteau. The simplicity of this technique is deceptive, requiring clarity of vision, prioritising tones over colours.

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The field sketch, above, was done through the window of the bird hide. I aimed to use just black, white, sepia and sanguine conte crayons on warm toned paper, but quickly lost sight of what I was trying to do and gave up.

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After returning home, I wondered whether I should have used cool toned paper to provide a contrast with the sanguine chalk.  I started playing with this idea and quickly redid the sketch from memory.  I still am not using the tone of the paper, and found myself using colours in addition to the intended limited tonal range.

Visiting the Rubens exhibition for the second time, I had intended to draw the pieces in the last room.  However, I was hijacked by my eldest son turning up and shooting through the show’s highlights at speed and dragging me out again to eat at a Lebanese restaurant.

The following then is a written reflection. The last room in the Royal Academy exhibition responds to Rubens’ rolling depictions of human flesh and form, drawing not upon his contemporaries, pupils and imitators but on the responses by current and twentieth century artists.

Walking in, I was captivated by the asymmetrical jaw line, by the teeth bared by the rhomboid retracted upper lip and by the clouded divergent eyes in John Currin’s painting The Clairvoyant.

Three sculptures of “woman” corner the central space.  First, a pole-like single-breasted painted totem, wrought from clay, by Rebecca Warren. Facing this to the left is Sarah Lucas’ installation “two fried eggs and a kebab” (1992) in which these items are seemingly just plonked upon a table in a viciously comic pornographic caricature.  To the right is the same artist’s ‘Suffolk Bunny‘ (1997-2004) in which tan tights are stuffed to ape the female form, clad in blue stockings and clamped to a chair. Facing the hypotenuse of this space is Jenny Saville’s The Voice of the Shuttle, a large composition of carnage and disembodied heads in charcoal and paint: re-weaving a classical myth of rape and revenge, also depicted by Rubens.

I was captivated by the adjacent piece (Picasso: The Dream and Lie of Franco): two printed sheets, each divided into nine panels, satirising the dictator’s claim to represent the best of Spanish culture.

Bar code

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This week I learned that discount retailers have made bar codes three times larger and present on three sides of a product.  This allows faster scanning, contributing to a 40% increase in productivity (i.e. checkout throughput).  The snipe’s bar coded plumage extend the length of its back and head, mimicking the dark and light of the reeds within which it hides.  These birds were hidden in plain view 20 feet from me.  I guessed they might be there but found them only with binoculars.

I am looking forward to evenings with longer light and the chance to draw duels and courtship in the nature reserve once again.

20150125 Snipe (2)


Today I bought three books more than I intended because the assistant became excited and animated about teen fiction, fantasy and the dearth of positive female leads in books for 7 year olds.  My sister rang and I explained why I had yet to leave the shop.  “Ask her if she’s called Charley” she said.  I did, and she was.  My sister immediately recognised her because of she displays so much enthusiasm promoting books to my nephew.  Waterstones – pay that woman more!

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Quick sketch as the sun set behind clouds behind me, watercolour washes added later from memory

The bloke in the music shop who restrung my ukulele also showed me how to oil a trumpet.  A good day for meeting people who know their stuff and are enthusiastic.



The icy water surface of the flooded gravel pit is full of piping teal and wigeon, mallards, barnacle and pink footed geese, ascending lapwings and clouds of circling black headed gulls.  Silent and hidden among broken reeds and rushes, the snipe are hunkering down.  The stripes down their backs almost completely mimic their surroundings. A shrill cry above from a possible predator catapults birds into the air, but snipe stay still.


Snipe in the rushes: pen and watercolour

The soft winter evening light glows off their plumage and the myriad stripes of surrounding vegetation.

2015-01-02 snipe

2015-01-02 snipe

Snipe 2: fountain pen, conte crayon and photoshop glow filter

Snipe: fountain pen, conte crayon - original sketchbook

Snipe: fountain pen, conte crayon – original sketchbook

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 – 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.