"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Few, Rather Reluctant, Sketches

I have to say that I don’t much enjoy “holiday sketching”. I look at other peoples wonderful inspirational sketchbooks of cities, great landmarks, people and sweeping countryside etc etc. But I just don’t get that inspired I would generally rather be doing other things.
But it’s “INKTOBER” when people get busy with ink drawings every day and I wanted to continue doing “something” every day so am joining in. I am also beginning to look at type and letterforms in general because this next term is about combining words and images.

Here are my first weeks sketches.I had two sketchbooks one A6, one A5, a black and brown pen and a couple of grey felt tips.

I started in UK in a London pub.. beer mats are good for sketching type..

We were on our way to Amsterdam. I was doing some initial project research at the fascinating botanical garden De Hortus as well as walking the canals, eating and drinking too well, visiting print shops, thinking and mulling over plots and plans for the coming academic year.. all in fabulous autumn sunshine. Lucky or what!

De Hortus
It is a small garden and very busy and I wasn’t there to draw but to understand more about the history of the Garden. But a couple of things struck me as interesting images. The red framed endangered plants and the weathervane. It has an interesting story and embodies some key things about Amsterdam, water, ships and trade. Trade particularly contributed to the importance of the Hortus from its earliest days. I added the moon and a few flying fish. As I was drawing, a magpie settled on the cross bar at the top and another flew by. A good omen.

A6 pocket sketchbook

There are some red list plants in the Hortus which have a red frame around them. This little captive one is Dracaena draco the Dragon tree. The effect of the framing is interesting.


A6 pocket sketchbook

One small tree, the ancient Wollemi Pine is so rare it has its own cage…to protect it from us.It’s a rather wistful little plant in its cage, with its red frame.. Captive but safe? It’s a dilemma.

Wandering About
If the weather is good Amsterdam is the perfect wandering city,

Brown Biro on A5 sketchbook


Spires.. you often see the same one over and over again from different streets.They would make fine cakes I thought.


A sketch looking across Amstel the river, to Amstel the road. The houseboats are endlessly fascinating.
One of the hazards of sketching outside is the lurching drunk who wants to come and sit beside you and be your friend.  “Why me?” I ask myself, I don’t even look friendly! I might have got a bit more done but moved along.

Unfortunately, because of this break I am missing the first week of a short two week type project ( a 32 page bound book.. eeek.. that will only leave me 5 days from start to finish) so thought I should really draw some type to at least try to get type into my head. It’s not usually there and may need some hammering in.  

A few sketches in the A5 book.


Some numbering (I think neon) on one of the very beautiful buildings in the southern district. (The paper of this book is very thin and the ink from the previous page shows through. I rather liked these shadow images and it has given me a few more ideas.)


There are some rather nice reliefs on the Tropen Museum. It’s a wonderful Anthropological Museum.


Type round a pillar.


Long words…wobbly pen work.


Back to the little sketchbook: Apotheek de Castro… Interesting because it has these old signs.. and a modern one, (see the EK of it below).


…and a boat called Haddock.


The electricity signs on the boxes.. and the type on the bottom of one of the house plaques. There is an unidentifiable animal whose very short front legs are compensated for with wings.
…Dream on Val …

More soon….

Monday, 28 September 2015

September Sketches 4

These are the last of my September 30 minute sketches. Just a short break and then I’ll be back.


Monday: Geese and the Harvest Moon: Last night the huge harvest moon hung in the sky ( I didnt manage to stay up for the blood moon!) and the flocks of geese which visit the reservoir this time of year flew by. Their cries send shivers down my spine. The beating of their wings are like sheets flapping in the wind. They are Autumn to me.


Sunday: Autumn leaf, a breezy day and daddy long legs. I was not sure what to do today but I had a leaf on my desk. It’s windy and bright and yellow outside. By the window are the remains of daddy long legs caught in the huge spiders webs.  My ginny spinner still has a bit of life left!


Saturday: Last Plums I love Victoria plums these are the last ones.


Friday: Plum Alley Muntjac. In the early morning wildlife are scattered along the cycle track and woodland paths. Rabbits, squirrels, many birds and sometimes a weasel or a fox zig zag in front of me. Plum Alley is an old railway track where trees on either side of the track now meet forming a leafy arch. I often see little muntjac deer. They are capable of leaping high across the track. Falling leaves are turning yellow. Sometimes the deer just blend into the background.


Thursday: Come Again Lacewing . Found an old receipt in my jeans pocket, it had been through the wash. The only clue to its identity are the faded letters. “……ME AGAIN” A little lacewing has been flying around recently. I keep seeing it. They are always welcome.


Wednesday: Fence Crows. The twa corbies. They are always there, sitting  on the posts in the sheep field down the lane. Black, black unremittingly black.


Tuesday : Rain rain rain:  Sitting gloomily looking out of the window at the dreary relentless rain……puddles, drips, runs, sheets, stair rods and dreich, dreich drizzle. It rained all day.. even a frog would be miserable.
Back soon…

Monday, 21 September 2015

September Sketches 3

Week three of the 30 min sketches: It’s been really interesting. I find I am freeing up a bit more, getting more interested in ideas that might develop further, less concerned about how they look to anyone else but me. But, after Tuesday, I decided to scan the whole sketchbook page as I don’t want to give the impression that these are finished works.
However sketchy these quick, sometimes scrappy, things are, they are proving to be very useful. More than I would have imagined. More useful to me than a careful study because the time constraint makes you engage some immediate responses and be creative. This can be frustrating because other (better) ideas keep occurring while you are rushing to get them done.

A4 sketchbook
with notes.

I found myself making additional notes and sketches on the page opposite the image. It was not really my intention to do this, those other ideas just have to be set down somewhere.

This week Blackberries have been on my mind quite a bit. I have picked them, eaten them straight, cooked them with windfall apples. My skin has been lightly flayed by them and I was fascinated by a coincidental and wonderful little programme about them on the radio.The legends, superstition and life style of brambles is most interesting.. the dark side most interesting of all… as it always is with me :)

And lovely birds are still a part of every day; reservoir birds, garden birds and  woodland birds. And the glorious colours of autumn just cannot be ignored!


Today, Monday: Early cycle by the reservoir in a misty grey chilly morning. The terns are barely visible. They blend into the haze. Red beaks and legs and their black caps are almost all you can see.


Sunday: Elderberries and Spindle tree: A glorious sunny day so I made two drawings. The red stems of the berries are wonderful. The leaves are turning yellow green.
Then I saw the spindle trees with their flame red autumn foliage, bizarre pink berries and orange yellow seeds

 spindle 1    spindle-2

I first made a wimpy, nothingy sort of sketch, when what I REALLY wanted to record was the colour, those clashing reds, pinks and oranges. No 2 is what it was really about. It’s a good lesson…visualise what really interests you… It would be worth making a good drawing of the pods, seeds and leaves, though. They are very interesting.


Saturday: Dazzle camouflage.  There are quite a few grebe families on the reservoir. The young ones are growing up now but when they are little they are gorgeous, stripy, black and white, perfect camouflage for ripply water. They often hitch a lift on the back of their parents. I had to include a one.


Friday: Grave Plantings: Another dark superstition from the blackberry programme: Apparently they are planted on graves to keep the dead in and the devil out. I thought the worms would find there own way in so added some wrigglers at the bottom. I went along to look at our church graveyard here. Sure enough there are some brambles growing in tangles over a couple of old faceless graves. There were berries. I didn’t try them..


Thursday: Blackberries and bodies. I had heard a programme about brambles and liked the remark that bramble plants are often found in places where people have done very bad things to other people. Either people choose those places to dump bodies or brambles quickly twine and cover the evidence. Brambly undergrowth is not somewhere you really want to investigate if you value your skin. Winter may be revealing though. 


Wednesday Picking blackberries for an apple and bramble pie. It is a process of negotiation with bugs, daddy long legs, lacewings, wasps, tiny green things, white plume moths and ladybirds.. etc etc.


Tuesday 14th: It’s chutney and jam time, I made some plum and apple chutney with chilli. For me it has to be  hot hot HOT…

That’s all for this week.

Monday, 14 September 2015

September Sketches 2

Week 2 of my half hour A4 sketches and they are a mixed bag. At the moment they are very random, sometimes from memory, sometimes from what is in front of me. Great for just getting colours and ideas visualised…however roughly. And it’s an opportunity to play with different techniques and new materials.

It’s quite a challenge to keep to half an hour and I am having to simplify things and work quickly with bigger brushes.. There is no time to faff. ( that’s good for me). It’s a bit like the Sketchbook in a Day project ..That’s something else I am going to do again soon.
Watercolours are annoyingly slow to dry so am using more gouache.


Today Monday. just a page of shapes looking out of the window at the garden.

It was a great little exercise in just looking at shapes and greens.I am thinking much more about prints these days and the simplification is really useful.


Sunday Rabbits 13th: In the quiet early morning rabbits leap across the cycle path. There was a small black rabbit. too. I have seen a few round the reservoir over the past year or two. I guess domesticate ones make the occasional bid for freedom. I can understand that.


Sat 12th Spider: It’s a spider time of year. This sketch is a rough for a “September” print for the “Bird Cherry” book. These big stripy spiders are everywhere at the moment. Also the monster spider that lives behind the fire in the front room is back.. oh dear. I am still struggling with the stupid fear of large spiders.


Jenny and 5000 miles ..


Friday 11th: Tattoo. A man on the bus yesterday had a simple old fashioned swallow tattoo, with a girls name in the banner. A sailor having done his 5000 miles would have a swallow tattoo..so would an an ex prisoner…..


Thursday 10th Yale : An afternoon in Cambridge. A sketch of one of the “Yales” over the entrance to Christchurch College. Yales are gloriously odd spotty mythological creatures.


Wed 9th: Bird Cherry leaves and seeds. I have to think about my bird cherry tree for Tree Following this week.


Tuesday 8th Sept:  The straw bales have been moved. The excess straw piled up and burnt off. Harvesting this summer has continued late into the night. They used to burn the stubble fields. Spectacular snaking stripes of brilliant fire in the twilight following the lines of the harvest. This was just a patch of bright flames against the dark woodland. I have used pastels for this one. I am not very keen on pastels but sometimes I feel guilty when I buy materials and don’t use them (often)

The MA course starts again soon… a slight feeling of panic is setting in .. must do more work ..:)

Monday, 7 September 2015

September Daily Sketchbook

I’m back to the good discipline of keeping a daily note/sketchbook.This time my September plan is to make some sort of A4 sketch/pattern/colour note every day. It has to be in colour and the colour has to fill the page. It has to take no more than about half an hour.
In the last two Easton workshops we had been considering backgrounds …even if you decide not to have one. Sometimes its easier to just paint/draw on the white paper. Printmaking has made me think more about the backgrounds. Even if its just the detail. This month should be interesting. 

Outdoor sketching in …yes… sun!!It has seemed rare this summer.

The First 7 Sketches


Today: Monday morning early. A little egret flew alongside me as I cycled by the reservoir. I was reminded of Florida.


Garden 2: Weekend Sun


Starlings: They never fail to entertain. They are very spotty at the moment.


Grey Reservoir Day


Straw Bales: Harvest is nearly all in.


Lilac Bergamot: some last blooms outside my workroom window.


Garden 1.

The garden is just on the turn from Summer to Autumn. Yellows,deep black greens in the shade, ochre greens of the turning leaves, lilacs and purples of late chives, monarda and little asters.
It seemed a good place to start.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Last Daily Sketches

The last few daily sketches for this month:


Monday 27th July: One of the stones from the reservoir edge again. This is my favourite.


Tuesday 28th July: A single flower from the very beautiful wild flower, Meadow Clary which I grow in the garden. The colour is stunning.


The flower positions the pollen bearing stamens in the top part of the flower which rub against the insects who push into the flower looking for nectar. The anther is like a little serpents tongue.. nice!
It is classified by Plant life as near “Near Threatened” due to loss of habitat. But you can buy it! Please do.. it’s gorgeous, mine came from Bee Happy Plants:  https://beehappyplants.co.uk/bee-plants/salvia-pratensis/. It has begun to seed itself around too.



Wednesday 29th July : A couple of seed heads from another ace bee plant, Birds foot trefoil. The individual pods dry and twist to scatter tiny, tiny, seeds.


Thursday 30th July: A Selection of Bird Cherries from the tree outside. Not many are still green. They are just about edible ..the birds have already started..


Friday 31st July I am about to shift my focus and it’s back to the lovely bees for a while. Some sketches and simplified designs from a deceased little Bombus pascuorum the Common Carder bee.
I am hoping for a small booklet in about 3 weeks time if I ever get to grips with InDesign.