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Wednesday 26 February 2014

Let’s help the BEES…shall we?? It’s so very easy.

First bee sightings
I haven’t really been looking for bees yet but I know from BWARS reports many have been active in the south over this mild winter. On Saturday I saw my first 2014 bumble bees and a honey bee here the garden, along with a big bee mimic hoverfly. The bumbles were the Buff tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestris and the Early Bumble Bee Bombus pratorum.

My bee friendly neighbour has an early clematis and we both have winter  honeysuckles and the wild bird cherry is just coming into bloom The bees were busy around them all.

We were talking today over the fence. “When I saw the bees were back it just made me smile” she said. Me too Carole!


My painting of the big beautiful Bombus terrestris on wonderful bee friendly early Mahonia.

The last bee of 2014 was this Bombus terrestris I photographed on Nov 30th on very late flowering comfrey. The comfrey is such a star.



It was very depressing to hear of the discovery of yet more  new problems for Bumble Bees last week. It has just made me more determined to redouble my efforts this year to help wild bees and promote their conservation.

I am just a small scale gardener and the easiest, most effective and cheapest thing that people like us can do is to plant more bee friendly flowers…and goodness,  that is easy enough.

What I am doing…

I am thinking of how I can get people to join me in planting more BFF’s both here in the village and wherever they live. Maybe I will set up something online … but for now here is what I am doing

1 Bee house clean out, repair, reassemble and restock the solitary bee house with new tubes. Maybe build an extra one…Yes!

2 Order some new bee friendly perennials. Lots of online shops, and garden centres now display the helpful RHS pollinator friendly logo.


There are also specialist suppliers. like Bee Happy Plants who I have bought from in the past.

3 Seed checking I am checking my seeds to see what annuals I might need to sow or restock. I save seeds from poppies, phacelia and  anything else I can think of that might help. It’s a random business but I end up with lots of seeds which I generally scatter on newly dug bits of the front garden. We are slowly getting rid of the grass out there.

4 Looking to see which flowers and trees the bees are visiting
We garden on very VERY heavy clay and the previous owners did not garden but put down grass. We are digging it up… slowly. I am not used to heavy clay and not all of the lovely bee friendly flowers will grow here. It is the beginning of year three for us here and I am beginning to see which plants are happy and which are not. Thistles absolutely love it..sigh…

5 Bee Fostering Collecting boxes for possible Bumble Bee fostering. My bee friendly local pest control guy Mathew brought 4 colonies to me last year. He is very VERY reluctant to move Bumble Bees and tries to persuade people they are benign, but some people just don’t listen. Three made it through to a certain extent. One lucorum, one very successful lapidarius and a huge terrestris colony. It was very rewarding.

Plant Lists

For now if you are dithering about some new plants look for the many online resources and suppliers of Bee Friendly Plants.

The RHS’ two PDFs Perfect for Pollinators: Garden Plants  and  Perfect for Pollinators: Wild Flowers are a good start.

Print them off… give them to your friends… pin them up at school, community centre, leisure centre, gardening club…anywhere….everywhere… 

More bee encouragement to come… Oh and luckily my Tree Following trees, Willows and Horse Chestnuts, are very good for pollinators!!
I also decided my next bee painting will be Bombus Ruderatus the beautiful black version of the Large Garden Bumble Bee which I saw a couple of years ago in Dads garden. I made a sketch at the time but, especially as it is a fairly local species it’s time I made a good study.

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Monday 24 February 2014

A Start with the Village Horse Chestnuts

My first post for Lucy’s Tree Following Project for which I will be looking at the Horse Chestnut Tree: Aesculus hippocastanum

I don’t know much about these lovely trees yet, except that they are a tree of childhood days; of conkers, sticky buds on nature tables, the magnificent “candles” when in full bloom. “Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree” the children’s chanting rhyme with the accompanying actions. Shade from the summers heat and a nesting tree for big birds. Also a favourite subject in the much loved Ladybird “What to look For in….” books with the lovely illustrations by Tunnicliffe and in the Shell Guides with S. R. Badmin’s quintessentially English paintings.  More of these artists in future Chestnut posts.

It’s not a native I know, but a magnificent specimen tree for stately homes, parklands and village greens. Although from an economic point of view they are not a very useful tree, they are none the less very beautiful.. so fall well within the “beautiful or useful” category of William Morris.

I know that, like many other trees, the Horse Chestnuts are having some problems. In this case they falling prey to the unsightly leaf miner and the more serious bleeding canker. I will learn more about all of this as I go. 

Initially I need to understand the basics and so I am starting with its shape. I made some quick sketches on my walk. There are several scattered around the village from young to old which is useful. Trees look very different from different angles and are very complex things to draw, but for me sketching is the very best way to see and understand the basic shape.


This is perhaps the oldest in the village and the one I can see from the front room of the house. The street light gives some idea of its size.


There are two in Church field, in a group of four trees. A glimpse of the reservoir between the trees.


Two young trees down the lane one still with its plant stake.

Sketches in A5 sketchbook

The Horse Chestnut is described as “ a native in the Balkan Peninsula A. hippocastanum grows to 36 metres (118 ft) tall, with a domed crown of stout branches; on old trees the outer branches often pendulous with curled-up tips”

I now see that the very long lower branches in the older trees hang elegantly down and curl up. The sticky buds on the ends of the upturning branches are just about to burst.

Church Field Boundary Trees

The two horse chestnuts in a group of four trees, one on the right of this sketch and one next to it. This view is with my back to the reservoir looking back to the church, which, minus dragon, is in the background.


Village Horse Chestnut

This is a huge tree which overhangs the road. Its lower branches hang down into the garden behind the fence while the roadside branches I think have been cut back. There were wonderful conkers this year.


The same tree as my No 1 sketch, Ugly Bungalow roof in the back ground.:)
A4 sketchbook

Tree of Kiev

Coincidentally The Horse Chestnut is a symbol of Kiev. I can only hope that the beautiful flowers to come in the spring will also bring a time of peace and political freedom to its population. It seems the Chestnuts were planted in some respects to spite the poplar loving Russian Emperor Nicholas I..

“In 1842, botanical likings of Kiev citizens and Russian authorities got drastically  different. By the second half of the 19th century Lombardy poplars with the support of royal power finally became a symbol of tsarism, autocracy and conservative «patriarchal» orthodox Kiev, while chestnut trees meant for Kiev citizens disobedience to the central authorities in St. Petersburg, a new urban development and municipal government. Chestnut tree was associated with constructive opposition to absolutism. Step by step, Kievans began to give advantage to attractive chestnut trees (which were also helpful in summer hit because they were shady) instead of «officiously» decorative poplars that had no practical usage.”

Read more from the Discovery Kiev website here

Trees as subversive and defiant symbols. Wonderful.

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Friday 21 February 2014

Japanese Woodblock, Monoprints and Tree Following

Just quick roundup of stuff, more printmaking and following a Horse Chestnut

Japanese Woodblock Printing

Over at Printdaily yesterday I wrote about my first Japanese Woodcut  made last week at an excellent days workshop with Laura Boswell, learning about cutting and printing the Japanese way. It involved cutting with knives and chisels, inking with watercolour and printing on dampened paper. All completely different from anything I have done before. It has great possibilities and in the right hands is very beautiful. With Laura’s help I made a small print of an adder which will be my next subject for Beautiful Beasts.

I was absolutely delighted with the day and with how much I learned. If anyone is interested in Japanese woodblock printing I can’t recommend her highly enough. (I don’t say this lightly as I honestly see very few tutors who not only understand the mechanics of their craft, but also the “art” that it can produce when used in creative ways.)

My first little adder print, three plates and about 4 colours.  See more steps on the blog post. I shall be working more with these plates next week.


On Beautiful Beasts I have been playing with monoprints, again fairly new to me although I made a few at college years ago on old litho plates, they were less than inspiring but I am loving these small prints using the Silk Road Horse sketch as a starting point. So far I have only used waterbased inks and only black ink.They are made with a mix of trace through and wipe out techniques. There have been many trials and not many successes but they can have a beautiful lithographic feel about them and a surprising sensitivity of line. Hopefully a few more this weekend.

These are my favourites so far.

mono4-bg mono3-bng

Mono prints A4.

Tree Following..! 

My blog friend Lucy over at Loose and Leafy is following a tree this year; seeing how it develops and changes over the year. Lovely idea Lucy. She has invited people to join her and I am definitely in. I am already doing some work on Willows this year and wanted a bit of a contrast so am opting for a Horse Chestnut. It will be a once a month report but a great excuse for some tree sketching and observation. At their best they are magnificent trees in every season.  There are several scattered around the village. One I can see from our front window. It’s where the rooks roost and I am very fond of rooks. It will be fascinating exploring these lovely trees.

I am rather wondering where the time will come from to do this… but’s what I love to do so I am sure I will fit it in!

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Tuesday 18 February 2014

Sketches from the British Museum 2: The African Dance Masks

It was 11.30 am by the time I arrived at the British Museum on Saturday and by then the museum was busy. So instead of wandering about and fighting with the crowds, I went to the Africa Galleries and very luckily found a bench, opposite this magnificent wooden crocodile. It is part of a beautifully lit display of dance masks, some of them sharks, their cast shadows as descriptive as the objects themselves.


They are labelled as being “19th Century from the Abua or Ekpehia Igbo people in Nigeria

The masks are huge. I searched for some photographs to understand more about how they were worn and found these wonderful images from the Riverine Igbo region (Ekpafia, Abua, Ekpeya) taken in the 1930’s by Gwilym Iwan Jones a Welsh photographer and anthropologist. You can see more in his archives here

abua2 ekpafia1 ekpafia9

I then swivelled round on my bench to sketch a few more masks from the case behind me.


Everything about these masks interests me, from their construction to their use and symbolism. Some of the materials are beads, some incorporate metals, together with natural fibres, wood and found objects.  There is a delightful short video on the British Museum website of children talking about the masks. see it here.

I also went back to look at the little stucco Silk Road horse; this time I sketched the figure next to him.


And made another quick sketch of the big beautiful glazed ceramic tomb horses with their groom.


A5 sketchbook and pen.

I was interested in how both images are changed by the addition of the figures, even though the figures are not attached. In the second one  the “groom’s” hands look as though they would be holding a rope or reins of some sort but the horses have no halters. There is just an invisible tension between them.
I am working on these images over on Beautiful Beasts this week see "Silk Road Horses from the British Museum".

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Sunday 16 February 2014

Sketch Notes from the British Museum 1: Incomplete Animals

In January I resolved to go and sketch somewhere different once a month. I didn’t make it in January, but on Thursday, with Beautiful Beasts and the dragon puppet in mind, I spent a few hours at the British Museum. It is my very favourite place in London and I never leave without finding something new and fabulous. This time the trip was for more for visual research, than sketching for its own sake and I spent a long time just wandering and looking, and then returning to make notes.

I made about 20 rough notes of beasts, bits of sculpture, of fabrics and ceramics. I was looking for dragons, found a few, but saw many other bizarre and wonderful creatures too.

marduks-dragon-horse-and-pi bm-1-bg  pots-and-fire-serpent-bg_bg-dogs-cat-drag-4  bg-fabulous-horned-beast

Dragons, lions, a cat, dogs, horses, a pig, a hen, a fire serpent, a harpy and a frog… from various rooms at the British Museum.
Pen in A5 sketchbook.

Incomplete Animals

Following on from my Incomplete Dodo from the Hunterian Museum, and as you might expect in the British Museum, I found some more delightful  incomplete animals. This is a pegleg Chinese Horse


The Pegleg Horse, the sketch and my sketch kit.

My sketching kit is very simple. One pen, 2 sketchbooks one A5 and one A4 and a water pen which I sometimes use.


The Peg Leg Chinese Horse, A5 sketchbook

And then I found some wired crouching lion guards from the Nereid Monument in room 17.  One has a disembodied foot, both have missing bottom jaws.. poor things.

A metalwork lion and one of the great crouching Nereid lions


Another view of the crouching jawless lion, some of the beautiful big Chinese ceramic horses and a macabre little figure made of lead and glass with an ivory mask face. It was straight out of a Quay brothers film. But this one from the 7thC AD. Turkey. A4 Sketchbook

But my very favourite thing from this trip was a small stucco fragment of a horse being embraced by two disembodied arms, what a beautiful thing it is.


Fragment of a Horse.
Ming-oi, near Shorchuk, 8th-10th C.  Stucco with traces of paint.

I decided this would be my subject for Beautiful Beasts next week.

I returned to the Museum for an hour yesterday and made some more notes which I will post this coming week.

I could just take photos but drawing something means you have to spend a long time looking at it.
Sometimes the thing turns out not to be as interesting as you had hoped,  but often it is through the quiet, slow, observation and drawing that you fall in love with it and find some unexpected beauty.

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Friday 14 February 2014

The Simplicity of Line

Over at the artist’s twitter group it’s #linefebruary. So this week I have been doing some line sketching. 
Line, to me, means just line, which could be reproduced in only black and white with no halftones. I normally take a wash brush with me to add tonal values but this week for a change I have used just black and white and different combinations of pens, some dip pens, some technical pens


Everywhere are tangles of brambles.

There is a place on the path where heaps of long mown meadow grass have been slowly drying and disintegrating. They provide cover for small animals who have burrowed into the heaps and the wind has formed  them into swirls.

line-bggrass-heaps-bg heap-bg-

I an rather fascinated by these forms and make this white on black study of one of the heaps.


Windy reservoir …


…and thumbnails of bits and pieces. All approx A4.
I have put this page in upside down, which makes things even more interesting.

They are all based on  the reservoir walks so I know exactly what and where they were, although some bear very little resemblance to the place.
Perhaps you could say they just have something of the essence of each place, which is often all that an artist really wants to achieve.

I love pure black and white. It provides a different view and proposes many different possibilities. Some of the marks can be wonderful if you can let them happen.

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Tuesday 11 February 2014

Spotty Dotty and Girlie

As part of our quest to find happy pigs we recently visited Sylvia and John’s  Garden Farm at Old Weston. Sylvia introduced us to her two sows, Girlie the bright little Berkshire and Dotty the Gloucester Old Spot.They are delightful.
Gloucester Old Spots and Berkshires are Chris’ next pigs for Salute the Pig.

It was very very muddy .. as it is everywhere at the moment but pigs are happy in mud:).

Spotty Dotty with her long lop ears which cover her eyes.


Girlie the bright and sparky little Berkshire. A4 sketchbook.~

Sylvia was telling us that she was a handful to move and in one pig book the young Berkshires are described as “naughty”.
Both of the pigs have quite luxurious hair. Perhaps Dotty’s hair was slightly silkier. They feel wonderful. 

I also worked some more on the acetate printing plate and made some darker prints, with some interesting results.


Dotty: etching 6 x 4 inches

I am impressed by the sensitivity of the thin plastic. I am sure the number of prints is limited. I am going to show the various stages over at Print Daily.

So far the things I love about pigs are their ears, their noses and their bright eyes.  The sketches are so useful for understanding how pigs are put together. I did exactly the same when I started drawing bees. These initial studies pay off many fold and they are a pleasure to do. I am discovering that pigs are all very different. face shapes, ears, coats, body shapes etc.

I hope to return to Garden Farm. They have lovely chickens too and in due course there will be piglets!

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Sunday 9 February 2014

The Bone Drawings: Beautiful Labyrinth, Something of the Rabbit, Lucy’s Skull and a Tiny Corset.

I have spent a very happy week drawing bones for Beautiful Beasts. After sketching and printmaking it’s great to sit down for some concentrated observation. I started off with sketches and then looked for some particular aspect of the bone that appealed to me.

Here are the drawings. For more explanations and photos etc click on the titles to go to the Beautiful Beasts blog posts.  

Under the Skin 2: The Beautiful Labyrinth….

A long bone I found near the reservoir. At one end there is glimpse of the interior structure. That’s what I liked


A4 Sketchbook: pencil.


The whole bone: pencil


Detail of above… the part I liked


Pencil study of the beautiful labyrinthine structure. I could have gone on for days …


Under the Skin 3 : Something of the Rabbit about it

A curious thing, I now know to be a rabbit’s jawbone.


Pencil with a stray piece of dry grass.


Watercolour study


Drybrush  watercolour study



Under the Skin 4 : Lucy’s Skull and the Tiny Corset

The lovely muntjac skull that my friend Lucy gave me.


A4 Sketchbook


Watercolour Study


Gouache study

The Tiny Corset

The last bone. It’s a small upturned skull which was casting a long eloquent shadow, or it’s a tiny corset for a fairy, whichever you prefer.


Pencil:  4 x 2 inches.


Footbone note : The reproduction of pencil work has always been problematic. It still is. Scanning tends to reflect the shiny dark pencil and lightens the image. It  becomes a poor thing in relation to its original, with many mid and light tones missing. It’s fine as a record but when I see fine pencil work on the internet I can appreciate just how good the original must be.

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Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Land Magazine: Seeds of Resistance

A few weeks ago I was delighted to be able to supply some illustrations for the excellent The Land Magazine.

“The Land is written by and for people who believe that the roots of justice, freedom, social security and democracy lie not so much in access to money, or to the ballot box, as in access to land and its resources.”

Their Aim:

“To campaign peacefully for access to land, its resources and the decision-making processes affecting them, for everyone, irrespective of race, creed, age or gender.”

Nothing you can argue with there, is there? Perhaps we sometimes forget that without “land” we have nothing. The article I provided the drawings for is Seeds Of Resistance written by Ed Hamer who is a farmer in Devon. The article is a fascinating read and takes you through early seed saving, the history of hybridisation and the political and economic pressures surrounding seed production and the issue of Seed Saving, as well as an insight into the work of the Heritage Seed Library.

I am, as you know, a dedicated bee conservationist so seeds, flowers and pollination are always on my mind. I save seed when and where I can and after reading this article and also meeting Peter Brinch and hearing his excellent lecture about Open Pollinated Seeds I am thinking much more about the seeds I buy and where I buy them from. The Real Seed Catalogue is a good place to start.

sor 1 sor 2 sor 4  sor5

sor 3 

You can read a PDF of the article here or even better subscribe to the magazine!

I will return to the general issue of seeds and open pollinated seeds in the summer when I’ll be back to my bees.

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