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


I've relocated the blog to https://pencilandleaf.valerielittlewood.uk/
Please come and join my constant struggle with all things creative :)

Monday, 31 December 2012

It’s Forward …if slowly…into 2013

At 11.00 am on 30th of December with the turning of the last page of “Bring up the Bodïes” Thomas Cromwell finally released me. I felt myself fortunate to have got away with all my body parts intact save the aching Foot. Not many who came across him were quite so lucky.
After his darkly compelling world I was glad too that the sun was shining, the birds were singing and that I could see the first striped leaves of a crocus struggling through.  But as I come up for air I also, selfishly, hope that Hilary Mantel is deeply closeted with the Tudors writing his next chapter. It can’t come soon enough.

I have also been released from my crutches. Shuffling replaces tapping. So now my progress, if slow, is at least silent. The Foot is gradually easing back into being a functioning thing. The painful toe stabbing demons are still visiting as the long incision begins to heal and tightened tendons and muscles are stretched. But it IS progress.

Today I made a small drawing, not an interior as a kind reader suggested but three tiny eggs. My Christmas card” last year (see First Snow) showed some snow covered nest boxes. They came with the house and in the spring we cleaned them out and put them up in hope of some takers. Blue tits came and were busy for a while but for one reason or another they left. We have magpies, we have visiting cats, there are cars and circling birds of prey. So many things that could disrupt an early nest.  And then there is just life, death and misfortune.

Earlier in December we took the box down and inside were 3 tiny eggs. It was poignant but, sentimentally, I like to think they found another quieter place and raised another brood.  The nest was a bundle of grass, moss and some vibrant day-glow fibres which makes me think a neighbour has a closet 1970’s dressing habit.
The little eggs have been on the kitchen windowsill nestling beside a head of garlic on a pretty saucer and waiting to be sketched. I wonder at their tiny size.


Three little eggs .. a symbol, if you like, or an encouragement to the coming of new life and a new year. I have always thought that making a drawing of something gives it another “go” at life, another possibility of existing in a different dimension.  We will put the boxes up again and keep our fingers crossed.

And so it’s forward, if slowly, into spring and into summer; to painting, drawing, printing and hopefully, walking.
May your muses be many, attentive and cheerful.
A Very Happy New Year to you all.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Walking Notes reviewed and resumed..

Within the rectangular confines of the Ugly Bungalow I stumble around on my crutches bumping the sides like a bee in a box.  
Through the rectangular bedroom window the days spin by. Sometimes I feel as though I am pinned to the centre of an old fashioned revolving zoetrope or repeat screenings of Koyaanisqatsi, but life in a village is not quite that exciting. 
I mark my days by the coming and going of the light and the dark, by the rain and the sun, by the frequencies of cars and birds. The “outside” comes in occasionally and then leaves.

Yesterday, I looked through my Walking Notes,  started on an auspicious day in the Summer. A preoccupation then was the time of dawn and dusk and the shortening days. On this, another auspicious day, marking the turning year and welcoming the beginning of lengthening days, it seemed the perfect time to resume.

I know I can’t actually walk yet but my busy brain has been out there,  trotting up and down the road, along the shore line and through the wood. Ideas and thoughts are still floating in and out and some could do with being nailed to the page or they will drift away.

Today’s hobble only took me to the kitchen window. I watched the blackbird pecking at the old apple I had thrown out for him.  My note for today:

It’s raining. Reports of flooding in West. In garden every receptacle that can hold water is full, pond overflowing. Cooked last bramley apples from Dads tree. Smell of late summer. Blackbirds love the peelings. From today, days get longer, Sunup 8.04, Sunset 15.54, tomorrow will be just a few seconds longer.. not much.. but it’s a start….

And a sketch..

bbird apple bg

Blackbird and apple in the rain 22nd Dec 2012..  not much but its a start :)

The past walking notes are interesting to look back on. Snippets of life feelings, colours and images. Without the subject actually in front of you, you are left with simplified impressions sifted through memory. Sometimes, from a creative point of view those are easier to deal with than the muddle of reality.

On this dreary wet day I read one sun drenched entry from a September walk. I wrote:
 “Hot evening walk, stubble is crackling behind a huge combine harvester working late. It emerges from clouds of dust. High up in the cab is a young driver, beside him a pretty girl cradling a baby. They are laughing. Everything is deep yellow. How lovely.”

Ahh…summer … not long to go now!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Slipping into Sloth and other Worlds.

How easy and how pleasant it has been to slide into doing nothing. Sleep, usually such a stranger to me, moved in and as if to make up for years of being shut out in the cold refused to leave my side. We snuggled up together, our slumbers interrupted only by visits from the toe stabbing demons.

Now I am more awake but the days are slow and remind me of childhood illness when in the recuperation phase, after the hubbub of breakfast and family preparations for work and school, the house returned to a blissful quiet and I was left with my books, my pencils and my toy farm.  Back then my waking hours were lost in the realms of Narnia, hoping for the stories never to end.  Now the need to sleep has gone I am in that ‘other’ world of the 16th century, shadowing Thomas Cromwell as he picks his way through the snakes and vipers of the Tudor Court in “Wolf Hall”. 

Then and now….

TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd) 501px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01
The first edition cover of the magical tales illustrated by one of my all time favourite illustrators Pauline Baynes and the portrait attributed to Holbein (one of 3) of the scheming Thomas Cromwell. Images thanks to Wikipedia

Reading: a guilty pleasure
It’s always been easy for me to take myself to other places, walk in others shoes and see through their eyes. Not in any hocus pocus way you understand but put me in an ancient place and, even on a sunny day with a chattering hoard of visitors I can feel the ghosts in my bones. Put me in a good book and I am transported.

In this busy and disorganised year I had almost forgotten the joy of reading. There have always seemed to be other more important things to do. But how wonderful it is just to let go and give in this guilty pleasure. Give me a vivid description told in beautiful prose, lay out a cast of fully rounded characters, hold out a hand and whisper that magic word ” imagine…..” and I will follow willingly.

When I was young I walked through Kipling’s steaming jungles with Riki Tiki Tavi by my side. Rode like the wind across the savage Mongolian steppes with Barbara Bartos-Höppner,  leapt bulls in Knossos with Mary Renault and outwitted smugglers on the Romney Marsh with Malcolm Seville. I was the Little Match Girl, I climbed the Glass Mountain, I hesitated on the threshold of the Gingerbread House, fought bravely alongside King Arthur and stood on Mount Olympus with the Gods. More recently I have travelled to India, South America and back to Africa through the letters of my grandfather but in this hectic year it all got a little lost.

Flay and Pew

So I am grateful for this short slothful interlude and it wont be too onerous now I have succumbed to the luxury of reading.  There isn’t actually much guilt  because I really can’t do much except hobble slowly around the Ugly Bungalow.  Even here literary figures have crept in and at night, when it’s quiet, there is a sinister feel to the place, as Chris with his cracking arthritic knees clicks from room to room, like Flay in the gloomy corridors of Gormenghast, whose..

“…passage across the room - in fact his passage through life - was accompanied by these cracking sounds, one per step, which might be likened to the breaking of twigs. “ from Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake

Meanwhile I tap my way around with the doom filled menace of Blind Pew seeking to hand on the dreaded Black Spot.
Me thinks it has left my hand, fluttered out of the window and landed in the field just down the road because today I realised I could no longer hear the turkeys. 

Mervyn Peake was of course an outstanding artist and another favourite of mine, whose depictions of his own characters have never been surpassed.. he also, coincidently, illustrated Treasure Island..

Here are his darkly beautiful drawings, firstly of Flay.. striding along with his wrapped knees, 

Image from the British Library

and his heart rendingly sympathetic portrayal of Blind Pew.

 peake pew

Compare with the great N C Wyeths version, much more Hollywood

Thanks again to Wiki

It’s always fascinating to see how different illustrators interpret a character.  I admire them both immensely and they do different things. The Wyeth has fabulous drama, composition and painterly skill but Peake’s ability to engage our sympathy for even the darkest characters in both his writing and his drawing was, I think, quite profound .


And a huge and heartfelt thanks to you all for your many many kind and supportive emails, messages and communications. It is very VERY nice to know you are all there. 

Bear with me….sketches returning soon …unless I do find THE book. Then I might just slip in between its seductive pages and never re emerge. :)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Bones of the Foot..not for the squeamish.

It’s cold, very cold. Outside, the freezing fog has solidified and draped the trees prettily with hoar frost. The pond is frozen, still and quiet.   
If a thermal camera happened to be passing over the Ugly Bungalow today the operator would see deep cool blues, then a rectangle of warmer turquoise as the camera moves over the building. All as to be expected. But if the operator were paying attention he might suddenly see in the north west corner of the rectangle a glowing spot of brilliant yellow orange. He might even be concerned that a small fire was burning. But there is no fire..it’s just my left foot.

It’s day 3 after surgery. The healing process has begun. Bone knits with bone, tissues seek to reunite and nerve ends reawaken with electric results. There is no need to put the heating on as the foot is keeping the whole room warm.

It’s only a small, common, operation but does involve knives, saws and needles and perhaps if you are particularly sensitive you should not read any further..but it is also fascinating.  
From an art and design point of view anything to do with bones is interesting…structure, function, design, articulation etc. Consider these lovely Leonardo drawings from the Royal Collection.


The wonderful foot. A highly sophisticated structure of 26 small bones, criss crossed with levers and pulleys which have to bear the weight of the body, as well as forces many times that, during movement. 

We don't really think about our beautiful feet while all is going well, do we?  But painful feet are just a misery and over 20 years my “great toe” joints have been grinding to a very painful halt.

Elective surgery..unless you are completely mad.. is not an easy decision but when the pain outweighs the deep primeval fear of saws and local anaesthetics then it’s probably the right choice. I will find out in a few weeks if all is well.

The Operation.. An adventure for the Senses.

So what did they do?
Firstly, the administration of the local, which I think is perhaps like being tasered in the back of the knee. You wait and hope it’s going to work (reassuring noises from nurse).
Then they decompress the joint by taking a piece of bone from the metatarsal, (sawing), they remove the bony collar which had developed (more sawing), and generally clean things up in the joint (some deft knife work) then stitch it all back up (neat sewing).

As I lay on the table I felt only apprehension, and the strange vibrations from the saw reverberating up through my leg bones and deep into my pelvis. 
I heard the surgeons talking, the radio playing The Who and some gorgeous Latin music, some loud clipping as in wire cutters and the whine of the high speed saw.

What did I see? Well, that really depended where I looked. A large green sheet protected the immediate view. But as I lay, looking up at the ceiling, I realised the strip light to my right had a bevelled reflective interior strip which neatly mirrored the gloved hands of the surgeon and my pale foot. I wonder if they know.  And yes, I did watch now and again. :) How could you not.

Now I am under orders to rest, properly, with my feet up, and for quite some weeks.  This is not easy for me at all, especially now the brain has now fully emerged from the comforting opiates. A short spell of very deep and profound pain has given way to annoying visits by vicious demons who stick pins in my foot, tug the stitches and sprinkle itching powder under the bandage. I am clubfooted, surgically booted and very clumsy on the crutches…and I have a root canal next week if I can manage the dentist’s stairs.

But tomorrow I will bring pen and paper out again and sketch out some ideas and notes for next year. It will be exciting, busy and productive.  I spent the last two weeks up a ladder, trying to get a coat of paint on the garage and its new windowed doors which is going to become the home of a small etching press in the New Year…hurrahhhhh

Monday, 26 November 2012

Easton Workshop, Sketches & Flood

Yesterday was my last workshop at Easton for this year, and the Garden’s last opening day for the year. After all the rain the sun came out and it was a glorious day with long shadows and beautiful light and the flooded lower meadow by the bridge was quite something.

As always we are keen to get out and draw but we were also looking at some ideas for developing a sketch into a painting.
Colour, composition, detail, scale and orientation are all things to consider. Also you have to ask yourself if a sketch will actually benefit from working up. Some sketches are beautiful and as finished as you would ever want them to be. But some ask to be developed into a more considered painting.

There a million variations of colour combinations and many different reasons for choosing one composition over another, and then there is the question of size, and all this is dependant on what you are trying to say.  

The Arch

There is a beautiful old  “broken” arch at Easton, a relic of a road that now goes nowhere. It begs to be painted. 

Some initial sketches. It’s a tricky image because of the gap which has nothing in it.


Sorting out the tones……

easton ske 3 bg easton ske 2 bgeaston ske 1bgEaston 4 bg

and a few colour thumbnail experiments using limited palettes.

I have started a painting. It’s on the drawing board  to be hopefully “finished”… (whatever that is?) soon.


I shall miss my trips to wonderful and inspirational Easton and all my excellent workshop artists who have soldiered on through wind, rain and flood and taken themselves and their sketchbook outside to work. 
But we will be meeting up again next year for more workshops and an exhibition of our endeavours in August. Hurrah …watch this space! 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Colour Sketches

Not much on the drawing board this week but lots of plotting and planning, ideas and inspirations for the next couple of months.

I have only managed  three walks and was thinking mostly about the next workshop at Easton which is next Sunday 25th and our last meeting this year.

Three-Colour Landscapes

We will be talking about limited palettes and how to create a simple painting from sketch. So I walked up to the Visitor Centre again and made this quick three colour note of the spinney. 


This sketch is 5 x 8 inches. It’s just 3 primaries winsor blue (green shade), winsor red and winsor yellow. I added some rooks who love to hang around the VC at this time of year, hopeful for scraps.
There is not much green around now so I was careful not to lay the blue over the yellow too much. It was very cold and the paint took a long time to dry which always means I worked over too soon and got duller colours. My numb fingers also dropped the brush onto it …sigh.
I do struggle with watercolour drying times for quick sketching. I should have taken the gouache.

I have made quite a few sketches and notes of this spinney, only because it’s a nice place to sit with a cup of tea. (see previous notes) but it makes a good subject for a simple painting.

1 bg 2 bg  
These are from earlier in the summer when there were more leaves, a picnic and a strong wind.

Vc  bg

This one from a couple of weeks ago.. less leaves.. and fisherman.

Back home I took a slightly bigger sketchbook (10 x 7 inches) and made a small painting.  Again with the same colours but the blue is w. blue (red shade), to get a nicer purple mix.
I did wait for the paint to dry this time.

VC trees stage 1 bg

 Stage 1: first washes.

 VC trees cp bg

Stage 2: adding the darker tones.
I have just realised I forgot the rooks!


Its easy to forget how effective just these three colours can be.


Later in the week, a few more limited palette notes (just 3 colours in each case) from the other few chilly walks this week.

image image


 image  image

Its a great exercise for playing with just a few colours and seeing what happens…. hopefully more next week.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Week 12.. and counting

This weeks sketches were done in a slightly bigger sketchbook, A4.. Wednesday afternoon: Easton, cold wind and sunny spells. By the time I arrived the sun was already quite low, casting long shadows, but it was very cold in the wind.


bridge and yews  bg




Friday: Cold and windy. A local building.



Saturday: blustery and grey


The view over to Ellington


Sam’s Sheds

Sunday: Sunny and cold. In the morning we cycled round the reservoir, and returned caked with mud. I walked out later at dusk. The sunset was beautiful. Far too magnificent for my slender skills.


I walked up to the old railway bridge and looked down at the muddy path, a string of sky-lit puddles and a man with his dog. I only made a few lines and notes while I was there,  then added some more tones and the little sketch to the right at home. I liked the portrait format for this image.

Next week…..colour…..

Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Bee Print and Buzz News

Did you think I had been neglecting my bees? :) ….now would I?
While there has not been much of a buzz on the blog, in the background there is quite a bit going on.

I am planning some more bee paintings for next year and will be doing more workshops, another residency at Nature in Art (whooppee!!!) some more exhibitions and talks etc, including a lovely one day workshop at John Clare’s Cottage on June 15th and the wonderful Festival of Bees in Louth, Thursday, 23 May 2013.

One very interesting weekend, first in the diary, will be with the British Beekeepers Association, the BBKA at their annual meeting. I shall be there with my BUZZ paintings and a couple of short drawing/painting workshops. That will be Sat 13th April. 

I will be posting lots more details on the blog as the events are finalised.

So for the shows and talks I am preparing a few more prints, booklets, cards etc.
Here is a simple two plate lino print which I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks.  I have just printed the first few which I will then develop a little more, with different backgrounds, papers and colours and other additions. The possibilities are really endless.




My lino print of “Waving Bee”,  my logo, printed on a background of a beehive and the word “BEE”.. Grey and Ochre on Blue Grey paper. Image 12 x 9.5 inches
One of some new bee images for next year’s shows.

Bees are few and far between now but my bee house is dry and safe and I am still seeing one or two bumble bees and honey bees. I am hoping for a good, kind, winter for the hibernating bumble bee queens and for the baby woolcarders and masons, who I hope will safely snooze the chilly months away, tucked up in their leafy, woolly nests.  

Monday, 5 November 2012

Week 11 Notes.

Just a few sketches this week..

Tuesday 30th November 
Up to the Visitor Centre again, sunny but cold, so not many visitors today. I drew the clump of trees again and clutched my tea to keep my hands warm.


Drawing and tea …


I wanted to record the figures for a sense of scale. As I drew them I was thinking about how a sketch like this compresses time. There are three figures in the sketch, but they were never all there at the same time. 
I thought about the wonderful narrative paintings from Jodhpur which I had seen a few years ago at the British Museum.


A little dog bounded by, very dapper in a smart red harness. It was a very happy, busy little dog, stopping to check things out, before rushing off to find its owner. It had a wonderful fluffy and constantly wagging tail which it carried high. I had a pang of dog longing!

Wednesday 31st November
It seemed to be a day of wandering and lost things. I saw a wandering labrador who just smiled and wriggled when I asked where it lived, a beautiful black chicken was sauntering down the lane, a lost child’s shoe was hanging on a branch and  and a solitary insole lay, just like its flat fish  namesake by the shoreline.
Here is a colony of tiny red fungi, a small fairy village scattered in the crook of a dead branch by the stream. 


Friday 2nd November
A good long walk on a cold blustery day.


One solitary windsurfer flying across the water, his one white wing echoing the wings of the gulls.

Small black clouds swept low across Top Field where once a bomb exploded during the war. ( I am learning more and more about the village history every week)

Sat 3rd November
We walked to Brampton Wood and back,  setting out in sun and returning in rain. The wood was quiet and still. At the end of one of the rides, encircling clumps of pine trees, are some magnificent rings of fungi. The circles must be at least 10 ft in diameter.


I had to check them out when I came back and I think they are Rhodocollybia maculata or Spotted Toughshank.. sadly non edible.

The writing-and-drawing walks have been a fabulously rich source of images and inspiration. My note book is almost finished and my head is full of ideas.
Five weeks left…

Monday, 29 October 2012

Week 10 notes. Grey days and a Colour filled Easton Workshop

Last week was full with 3 days away, another great workshop with my group at Easton Walled Gardens and not very much drawing board time.

The miserable weather and dark mornings made walks a bit more sporadic but I still managed a few, with related sketches. For the first few days of the week everything was grey and misty; land, water and sky merging into one. Trees, people and birds reduced to featureless darker shapes. Its quite beautiful really. 

Monday: I walked up to the Visitor Centre to draw these trees. I will be teaching a “How to develop a sketch” workshop soon and this is a scene I have drawn and painted before.  It also means I can have a cup of tea while sketching!



I wanted to look at outlines as well as tone.  The trees are losing their leaves fast now. A double spread with a thick pen.

 Tuesday:  cold fishermen on a cold grey day


Wednesday: I had to go St Neots way and have always liked the power Little Barford  power station towers. A quick sketch on another grey day with low clouds


Thursday: A very hardy early fisherman on a very still grey misty morning. Even the ducks were motionless and looked glued to the water.


Later …..Joe’s pumpkins


Friday: Easton Workshop Day

We had another great workshop all about recording material from the garden and colour. In preparation I had played around with some gelatine printing with leaves from the garden here. Many, many possibilities are revealed through playing and experimenting and allowing accidents to happen.

Thanks to all for another inspirational day.


Sunday: Little Paxton walk.

A chilly walk mid morning and a sketch of part of the nicely woven fence..with a living willow post. It reminded me of my time in Costa Rica where branches of the accommodating gumbo limbo tree can just be stuck in the ground to form wonderful living fences. 

There was a gumbo limbo tree at Leu. See my post Gumbo Limbo and Peeling Tourists.


My drawing of the gumbo limbo twiglet with leaves.

Earlier this year I used a weigela pruning as a pea stick. It grew happily.. rather better than the peas in fact..


The living willow post Paxton Pits.

All sketches pen and ink in an A5 cartridge sketchbook. ( I have run out of spiral bound ones so used a gummed block. The pages are already falling out…v annoying!)


If you are wondering why I am numbering the weeks it’s because I am on  countdown to a small operation which will have me on crutches for quite a while. I am dreading the confinement but will hopefully be skipping, rather than hobbling, round the countryside again. Week 16 will be my last walking week.
Meanwhile I am out as much as possible!