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

Friday, 29 July 2011

Walk /Sketch:Day Seven. Water Tower and More Bee Sketches

I am doing some more work on my Bombus hypnorum. The pretty Tree Bumblebee who is quite new to the UK. I will paint the one I saw at Easton in May who was busy on the cherry blossom. I looked through my photos again and see I have photographed both male and female over the last few months.  They are very similar but the male has a ginger section on the abdomen and a top knot of ginger hairs. They are really quite delightfully hairy with long silky hair and their wings seem quite long when compared with other bumble bees. They are certainly spreading throughout the country now, its ten years since the first records, and it seems they are a benign invader.

The sketches are useful just to get re-acquainted with the bee.

hypnorum notes bg

I think I have finally decided on the position of the bee on the page and its size. It is vital to get all this sorted out now as changes are not really possible…well, not once you have put the first layer of paint down. I am using my rather blurred photo for the pose inspirations, and I do have a little model which I can use when I paint the final piece. It’s taken me two hours just playing around with various possibilities.

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I think I will be painting this later in August. At Nature in Art I hope to be sketching and making studies from their lovely garden.

Grafham Water Tower

The local Post Office is in the next village and I had a couple of things to post so cycled over there. On the way you pass the water tower which comes as a bit of a surprise as you round a corner. It stands in its own neglected and weedy plot of land and there are dire warnings of DANGER and risk of “Non Ionising Radiation”. I am fascinated by water towers. In Lincs you can orient yourself by their positions on the skyline. They are strange, blank looking edifices. They seem silent and tight lipped as if they hold a private secret. I have to admit I have never seen inside one. 

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I made a little thumbnail sketch then started a larger one. It was cold today and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to stay out for long. I took a snap of the pencil stage. I don’t usually use do pencil prelim when I am out sketching as I feel it makes me too fussy but drawing buildings makes me nervous. I feel I need to work it all out before committing to pen. Silly really! I just need more practice! Maybe the Church tomorrow.. well maybe just a bit of it!

sketching the water tower 

grafham water tower bg

I like the tinted paper because you have a mid tone already there for you! I might add a bit of sky to this …but no more time today.  

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Walk/Sketch:Day Six. Nature not so Idyllic!

I was so encouraged by all your very kind emails and comments re My Day. I particularly liked the ones which felt, like me, that all work and no play makes for a very dull person. So today as it was sunny and beautiful I went out for some time. And of course,  if you don’t go out and look, you don’t see, and then you don’t learn, so I do have the very best excuse to go wandering the local paths.

By 12.00 it was hot, steamy and torpid… no breeze at all and actually quite uncomfortable away from the lake. I cycled and walked for some time before deciding to go back to the dead tree again and the path leading up to it. Today I took pen, brush, white gouache, water soluble pencil and coloured paper. I like the sweep of the hill and the tree.

But after I had done the first sketch I walked up to the hill and saw a dead crow hanging from a stick in the ground. I know this is an old custom to deter birds but thought it was long over. It is completely misguided and unnecessary. I felt sad and the day seemed to become more oppressive. Now I am not so sentimental as to feel that everything in the garden of nature is always lovely. Living here we see our share of animal fatalities.  But I do like crows…I lost my appetite for sketching, just as I had the other day, when sitting by the lake to sketch, my drawing was accompanied by the frantic intermittent buzzing of a fly somewhere which was being wrapped up by a spider.. what to do? Deprive the spider of its food, try to save the fly? I could see it nowhere and that gloomy day just got gloomier.. These small cruelties can sometimes seem unbearable, bad enough when they are animal against animal but somehow the involvement of the human hand is more unacceptable.

But on the other hand today there were so many beautiful butterflies around. I am particularly admiring of the peacocks with their dark underwings which give no clue to their beauty until they spread their wings. There were many, many of them resting on the path.

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So just a couple of sketches. Yes, and a thumbnail of the crow at the bottom of the page.. I drew a similar one for my  Scarecrow Book.

the hill to the dead tree bg

dead tree and crow bg

Later, the day became more settled, clearer and more beautiful.. I went out again and walked by the water, my faith in all things natural restored, for a while!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What Do I Do All Day ?

I sometimes worry that I am not working hard enough or, I should really say, I am not achieving enough. Sometimes the day slips away and I have achieved very little, but I have been very busy. At the moment I seem to spend a large amount of time on the computer, answering emails, fulfilling book and print orders, reading about art/bees/interesting people/looking for opportunities and thinking about commissions and planning new projects. This is all fine but the one thing I should be doing…painting and drawing, seems to be done in the last hour of the day when I am far from my best. So I thought I would record a typical day and see where it all goes wrong!

Yesterday I recorded my day, I knew today would be mostly spent in the car. It turned out to be quite productive, I think because as I had committed to writing it down. It’s quite hard to admit to an hour in the day where you  “did nothing but stare out of the window”.

 My Day

5.30.. UP …I LOVE the early mornings. Cup of tea answer 2 emails. Out for walk at 6, thought about where I might sketch later. Optimistic about my decision to record the day.

Back at 6.45. Tea, read emails and discover 2 fascinating articles**** one about taxidermy and the other about the perils of doing a PHD… (always on my mind). Shared these observations with a couple of friends who might be interested. 

**** terrible danger here of being sidetracked into lots of internet browsing on fascinating subjects,

7.45 Decide to make a list of things to do. The list is long and includes shouting at the Post Office, roughing out 3 more paintings, parceling up 3 books to send out, sorting out paintings and blurb for Nature in Art ,worrying about what to do about Dad, try to make appointments to see doc, lawyer, dentist(hopeless)… go for cycle, do some sketching, remember to feed guinea pig (easy)…do more sketching.

8 to 8 30 Guinea Pig time. He likes cucumber.

8.30 to 9 Email gallery re prints. Put on washing. Take irritating dead light bulbs out of ceiling fitting. Have put this off because involves having to stand on chair. Make another cup of tea.
Reluctantly turned on Tweetdeck.
Wrestle with Tweetdeck

9-9.15  Speak to lawyer re Dad. 9.15 to 9.30 try to process what lawyer had said… Fail and worry.

9.30 –10.30 Read, reply to and initiate emails, some re Nature in Art residency, trying to make the most of being over the other side of the country and meet up with some bee people… logistically tricky.

Put washing out… damn pegs keep breaking … sigh.

10.30 Radio on to calm down as have been up for ages but seem to be doing nothing! Start research and roughs.

11.00 Call from nurse re Dad 20 mins. Now worry about not being up there. Back to roughs but have lost thread.

12.00 Call from Nathan re wine/bee festival. Great, but needs some thought and more emails. Involves measuring things and getting prices.. do I do that now or later?  Hmmm .. no, must do roughs.

12.30 Made soup and more tea, glanced quickly at emails.

1 to 4.15 Work on roughs and ideas. GOOD!

4.15 Tea and looked at emails ( fatal, as I feel I should answer them)

4.45  Prise self away from unanswered emails to go out to walk and sketch.

6.00  Back … cold, grey and spooky out there tonight. Start to write blog post. Try not to look at emails… but do. Answer a couple of really nice ones.

7.15 Almost finished blog post…they take me ages as my typing skills are non existent and scanner is cheap and takes ages.

8.00 Eat. Thank God Chris can cook! Press “go” button on blog and I am finished.

Conclusions .. well I am not sure.. the emails are definitely a problem.  Writing it all down does make you face up to what you do or don’t do all day!  However I think that a couple of hours staring out of the window every day is a very valid creative activity!
My next bit of self examination is into how long I really spend on each commission and how many real billable hours a week I do. Not enough I know.  It’s just one of the many pitfalls of being a freelancer!

Today though I did manage a lovely hour at Easton Walled Gardens. The Gardens are looking beautiful, full of bees. No chance to sketch but a quick gallop round with camera..

Nectar Robbing Bee on Honeysuckle

nectar robbing

Megachile on sweet pea.

megachile on sweet pea

Tomorrow, back to the drawing board. :)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bee Thumbnails, almost on the Drawing Board. And Walk/Sketch 6

I am working on some new paintings.. so far I have been researching and sketching. I have said before I don’t consistently use one beautiful and carefully annotated sketchbook, I wish I did, but never have and am too old now to change! So rough ideas are sometimes just scribbled on the back of bits of scrap paper.

I will be working on a Heligan Bee.. the only problem is which one?? I have thought and thought about this. I am undecided between a Bumble bee and foxglove, or the wonderful female Anthidium manicatum on the curious motherwort.

anthid bg anthid bg

foxglovesfoxglove thumbs bg

The Bombus hypnorum, The pretty Tree Bumble Bee will now be a commission. I am delighted to be painting this bee at last. I have added more blossom.

hyp thumb  bg hyp thumb bg 

Another little Osmia rufa Red mason bee with cherry blossom was an alternative commission possibility. I am fond of this one so will probably do it anyway.

osmia rufa bg osmia thumb col bg

Below are a couple of  thumbnail sketches for another painting of the snailshell bee, also a commission, for Peter and Carol who were fascinated by this combination of bee and shell. This will be a bigger painting than usual and with two bees. A massive 14 x 14 inches! Nice. It will be two Osmia bicolors, male and female. This is another bee I haven’t painted yet.  These are just first thoughts about how I might position these two bees.

  osmia thumbosmia fam 1 bg

Honeysuckle and Bombus hortorum. I watched these lovely bees both this year and last year on Dad’s honeysuckle. This one will be another commission I think.

honeysuckle bg 

I think that’s enough for now :)

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Day 6 Walk/Sketch

I didn’t get out till 5.00 today for my walk/sketch. I was out until 6.15. I know this because I have also been writing down where my day goes..I seem to get nothing done some days so decided to keep a record of where exactly the time goes! Its 7.15 now and I should be getting this posted as I still have emails to write/answer…. so just two sketches today, on this cold grey day. Dark skies and wind in the tall crop made for a gloomy and uneasy walk so I didn’t stay out long.

The fishermen were wrapped up.fishermen bg 

and the sky should be much darker!!

lake shore 26th bg 

That’s a UK summer for you :)

Monday, 25 July 2011

Short Walk:Day Five. A Quick Brown Fox and Birds in Trees

Just an hour today to get out for air. I walked up and away from the reservoir, a very short walk to where the old Grafham railway line crosses one of the paths. There are some old dead trees up there and a view back to the farm and the cottages.

I took a different pen today. My Rotring Art Pen which I keep trying to like, but I endlessly lose the cap. Where exactly do Rotring think you will put the cap when you are using it, because it doesn’t sit on the end. It drives me insane. It’s a shame because I do like using it.

I have the fine nib, not the extra fine which would be better for this small sketchbook. It was worth trying it again, but I think it might go back in the box.

The crows and rooks like to sit in the dead trees…

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A curving path runs up the hill towards another old dead tree. I will be doing another sketch of this one. Its trunk incorporates an old gate hinge.. curious…?

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I was drawing the little new trees in their plastic tubes which line one of the fields, when a fox trotted across the path.

fox bg

I have lots to do this week.. but will try to keep up the sketching.
A week today I will at Nature In Art with my bees!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Three “Thank You’s”

I have had three very nice things happen just recently and I just want to say thanks!

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Thank you Bees in Art!

Firstly to Andrew at “Bees in Art” who kindly invited me to join them. My bees now have a page there! I am so very pleased and honoured to be added to such a brilliant group of artists and even on the same line as Arthur Rackham. At the moment only the prints are available there but as I have more time I hope to be able to add some originals… so “Thank you!” Bees in Art.

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Thank you SAA Bursary Award!

On Saturday I spent the day in London and attended the SAA, the Society for All Artists exhibition “It’s All About Art” which was full of aspiring artists watching and participating in demos from some very accomplished artists. I particularly like the SAA because of their all inclusive and non precious attitude to art. They exist to “inform, encourage and inspire” artists of all ages and all abilities. It was great to see so many people trying different styles media and approaches. I was there to receive a small but very welcome bursary to go towards art materials for my fledgling “Bee Inspired” art/ nature workshops… which I will be offering soon, more of that to come. Thank you all at SAA for your support for the project.

Book's cover

Thank you “Pitahayas in Art”

And finally an unexpected and non bee thank you to Adolfo RodrĂ­guez Canto
from the Universidad Autonoma Chapingo in Mexico. Adolfo is putting together a very specialist book on the strange and beautiful Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya, or more accurately the Pitahaya in Art! “Las Pitahayas en Las Artes Plasticas”. He had asked to include my dragon fruit sketches, from those wonderful early days of my Pencil and Leaf Blog when I was discovering so much of the world of tropical and subtropical flora in Orlando. I couldn’t be more delighted. They will be amongst ceramics and paintings drawing and sculptures all celebrating this “maravillosa planta mesoamericana!”

Otra vez Adolfo, Me siento honrado de tener las pinturas incluido en su libro! Mil gracias!’ Y otra vez las pitahayas…

Half a pitahaya…

and this glorious, magenta and green fruit in a colour sketch..

See the Dragon Fruit Posts here http://pencilandleaf.blogspot.com/search/label/dragonfruit from back in 2008, where I explored my newly rediscovered fruit…something I first ate in a hostel in Nicaragua, not then knowing what on earth it was! Frida Kahlo’s painting is beautiful.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Walks: Day Four. Water Horizon.. and a Guinea Pig

I couldn’t do any sketching yesterday so today I went straight to the shore line in the morning not knowing what I should do. I stopped to look at the teasel patch to see what the bees were up to and sat on the rocks looking out over the water. It was cold but if I hunkered down a bit I was out of the wind. I wasn’t planning to stay there but looking to my left I could see something interesting…a 3 part landscape of water, rocks and grassy bank, 3 different sorts of texture. And once you are sitting down, you see more and more.

 shore grafham bg

shore 1bg

3 different textures and marks… nice.

I then looked across the water and started to draw the line of the horizon and the landscape above that line. I was thinking about lines and what goes on above and below. Most of this is above, save the odd boat or duck. It took 3 lines to get the complete horizon in.

G water Grafham w2

grafham panorama 1bg Grafham panorama 2 bg

Small insects and spiders came and went on the paper. Some I drew. Big bumble bees hovered by me checking me out and the terns performed their stunning aerobatics off shore. I will have to put them all together in a long strip someday.

The Guinea Pig

As from today I am looking after a neighbours guinea pig for a week. It’s such a responsibility!! It may only involve food and drink but I do feel the need to go and spend some time with him. He doesn’t seem very impressed. I think timid is the word. I know nothing about guinea pigs but do want him to be happy. Hay and cabbage leaves seem to do the trick.

He is rather old and doesn’t do much which at least gave me chance to sketch.

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guinea pig2 bg 

guinea pig col bg

I think this is the very first time I have sketched a Guinea pig. I am wondering if he will whistle for me? :)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Walks:Day Three. Charcoal in Littless Wood

You can smell the acrid smell of wood smoke from two fields away. I had almost hoped they were burning today. I remember cycling round the lake one day and glancing up to see a plume of smoke on the horizon rising from the woods across the reservoir. On that dry May day it could have been a catastrophic fire but up in ancient Littless Wood they were burning charcoal.

Today, a grey and chilly morning, I took a cycle rather than a walk up to Littless Wood to the charcoal burning camp. They must have been there quite recently. The smell of burning was so strong.

I have long been keen to draw or paint something on the theme of charcoal burning. Many years ago I made a small sketch after watching the capping of a kiln, brilliant red flames flaring up around the black rim of the conical lid.

But today just some sketches of the deserted and eerily quiet camp.  The kilns are curious things, uncompromisingly black and simple geometric shapes in stark contrast to the leafy tangle of the wood. A high wind rustled the tree tops but at ground level things were very still. A fox barked somewhere in the wood. It’s a distinctive and shivering sound.

 charcoal burner 1bg 

charcoal burning 2 bg

The blackest thing in the scene was a pile of charcoal, deepest black black. It gleams like coal.

charcoal burning 3 bg

A nearby wheelbarrow with two sacks of sand and a pile of logs.

wheelbarrow and sand and logs bg

I get a bit frustrated with the rigidity and slowness of this pen sometimes. Next time I will take some ink to use with the brush or a dip pen.  I didn’t have a decent dark colour with me today so mixed up a darkish grey from 3 colours.. but it doesn’t have the power of ink. Maybe tomorrow..

charcoal burning 4 bg 

Meanwhile I spent quite a bit of today with two rescued bumble bees. One found perilously immobile on the main road outside when I came back this morning.  He only needed a rest and a warm up. The other I think may not make it, which is sad but there are many tatty and forlorn aging bees around at the moment. Their natural life span can be as short as two weeks. However, I feel that giving a little bee a sip of sugar water and a safe haven  for an hour or two is worth it… isn’t it?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A Week of Walks: Day Two, Rain and Drawing.

Day two of my sketching walks and it was raining off and on. I didn’t walk very far but went down to the shore of the reservoir and looked across the water. It was tranquil initially, with just the purring of grasshoppers and whirring of dragonflies, but after about 20 minutes a sudden storm blew up with thunder and rain and a swirling wind.. so the first sketch was spattered with raindrops. 

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I retreated under the trees and looked across to the opposite shore where a large thunder cloud hung over the landscape. It caught up with me later.

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Closer in, by the shore a little fir cone nestled in between the rocks.

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There were some very raucous terns nearby who spent some time sitting on the rocks. One had a paler head, which I assume was a juvenile. Their aerial acrobatics are spectacular. I am not sure which terns they are, but they have very noticeably red legs.

terns bg

The rain returned so I came home bringing these little snail shells to draw. I think they are the common brown banded snails. There are so many of them all along the sides of the path. What happened to their owners I wonder.

3 snailsbg   

The Joy of Drawing Outside

Drawing like this, with no particular aim in mind is wonderful. There are lots of different kinds of drawing but I really consider this type of sketching as visual note taking. It doesn’t really matter if it’s correct or if no one else understands it. It’s for you and for your memory and for your visual ideas bank. It’s all about looking and seeing, about the marks, the subconscious choice, the automatic simplification and the random accidents, those are the things that matter.

You discover what attracts you and you automatically distill those important things from the whole mass of info that confronts you in an outdoor scene. That’s why it’s so much better than copying a photo. I think authors may do something similar, jotting down unconnected words or phrases or observations to be used later, or not…

I also realised today how much I love doing it. I sometimes find it hard to get out there, but simplifying the kit to just a pen, a pencil, a brush and a small sketch book helps! Then, of course, when I am out there, in amongst it all, I don’t want it ever to stop.

Coincidently Robert Genn’s excellent twice weekly artists newsletter fell into my inbox this morning  and it was about drawing. It’s an interesting read.. see here,”Learning to Draw”,  at the end he says this:

“I've encouraged both myself and others to experience the joy of drawing. It may be separate from painting, but it is certainly key to much that is great in painting. To find a line, to make it work, to really see it and know it holds life and energy or is pregnant with feeling, is to experience a kind of excitement that even sensitive observers cannot truly know. If only for the forward march of our own character, we need to fill our sketchbooks.

Ah yes Robert! How true… I am back to it tomorrow, promise!