"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 :)

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

December Bumble Bees

Today was mild-ish and weakly sunny and the sweet smelling winter honeysuckle by the kitchen window is in bloom. It seems too early… and it seems way too early (or too late) for little worker bumblebees to be collecting pollen. But there they were. But the winter honeysuckle is a real star of a bee plant and if I cut it back it will flower again. The bees are very small so I am not sure if they are terrestris or lucorum workers. Just a hint of yellow after the last black stripe makes me think perhaps terrestris… but so tiny!!


and here they are together…


I hope these little bees are close by and have a well protected nest and that winter is kind to them.

Beekeepers Ancient and Modern

Also, to accompany these, a few sketches of beekeepers, ancient and modern. I am considering adding some figures to my current bee charm project and have been working out what I might include. Some are based on old manuscript drawings and some are modern beekeepers and of course there is a bear, which I changed a bit ..

The figures are all engaged in varying bee keeping activities from evasive action, banging pots to quell a swarm, catching a swarm, general hive work and cutting the comb. The most sinister are Pieter Bruegel’s three faceless hooded figures with their circular wicker face masks ( Pic 4) Wonderful…



Where there is honey, there is bound to be a bear.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Black Rabbit on the Track

On Friday morning I cycled early, up to the disused railtrack. There, very still, in the middle of the track crouched a big black rabbit.  In the quiet still early morning he seemed lost in thought, contemplative even.  It was quite something to see and had a certain mystery about it. I like to think that at some time in the past a tame rabbit has perhaps fled the confines of the cage for the great outdoors. It’s understandable. But when you stick out like a sore thumb perhaps the merry life of freedom will be a short one. There is a profound dilemma in that, isn’t there?

Over the last few years I have mentioned the black rabbits that live wild around the reservoir. I have seen them in 3 different locations. I guess on close inspection they are probably a chocolate brown but they seem very black and always mysterious. Whatever their colour if their aim is to be low key and unobtrusive, like their browny grey friends they are failing badly.

A quick sketch when I got home.

I started thinking about a print, decided I wanted him facing the other and made a first quick woodcut. I have hunkered him down a bit more. On sight of me he had crouched more, ready to spring, before leaping away.

It all needs reworking/rethinking but I like the basic image.
The previous day I had visited Jeremy whose two big domesticated rabbits were grazing on the lawn in the company of a large adjustable spanner. So I have added a spanner which somehow seemed appropriate for a rabbit who lives on a disused railtrack. And of course there is a bike in the background

The A3 block, cut and inked.
A couple of first proofs. More to come after reworking/rethinking and playing around.
It’s a bit of  welcome break from the course work which takes up 99%of my time at the moment. If you are interested in what I am up to, I am keeping a blog of my final year work. HERE

Saturday, 14 November 2015

And a few more letters…

A little bit more freeform now …and thinking more about the text project.



And some hand cut and printed letters..

Thursday, 5 November 2015

An (almost musical) Interlude

I am afraid I can’t yet truthfully say it is musical…but I have to introduce you to my new and, I think, enduring love.

hohner1Nice san serif typeface!

After more years than I can contemplate I felt the need to pick up a musical instrument again. Exactly where this came from I’m not entirely sure. Back in the day I played guitar and sang my pretty young heart out. Then real life cut in and these childish carefree things were left behind.

Somewhere round about May, when life is always so good and everything seems possible I had it in my mind to learn to play something, something portable and almost by accident along came a melodeon.  My good friend Linda  was telling me her brother Jeremy played the melodeon ( ..the what ?) and so through her I came to borrow her brother’s spare pokerwork Hohner.

I can’t say it was love at first sight. We struggled to come to terms with each other. I think in the first month of excruciatingly awful first notes I almost gave up. Chris was banned from the house, I contemplated earplugs and thanked my lucky stars that the Ugly Bungalow is at least detached. But bloody minded, dogged determination and some despairing times later and I have the faint beginnings of some very beautiful music. More lovely than I could have imagined.


If you think the humble melodeon is just a squeaky folky thing that only bangs out folk dance accompaniments you are so very mistaken. It is a sensitive thing capable of the softest  whisper and the richest fullest sound that fills the room and resonates through your bones as you hold it against your body.

It’s because it breathes, and through that  breathing it makes music. When my unaccustomed hands get used to it and I regain my musical ear I think we might make a good team, my melodeon and me.

And yes there will be artwork and soon. 

Huge thanks to all who have helped, encouraged and covered their ears. I now have twin pokerwork melodeons of my own, one in D/G and the other the most velvety, husky G/C. Both beautifully restored by Martyn White both German made, the G/C about my age. They are really known as basic workhorses in the melodeon hierarchy but mine will be treated  like royalty. ..(well if I believed in such a thing they would …:) …).

More melodeon stuff to come ...but, you will be relieved, not of me playing.
No Youtube channel ….yet…

Friday, 30 October 2015

Some More Letters

More daily freehand letter forms for my October pen sketches.
They have been very useful in just understanding how letter forms are created, about the rules and then how rules are broken and bent.
Just as rules should be …


This second set includes some wonderful 60’s 70’s letterforms.The vibrant work, the visual track of my teens and early twenties and formative in my design thinking, really needs those incredible colours..more of that to come.


It was interesting that while working on them I found these exuberant forms were the only ones that just would not be contained within the page. Some may recognise part of the “U&lc” Upper and Lower case mag logo.


Every gorgeous issue of Herb Lublin’s magazine was stuffed with wonderful design. I used to have a few.

And a few larger sketches from a great typographical “life class”..

Next month I am going to hopefully continue this daily exploration of type… but with some colour!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

First Letterforms

Just a few sketches to get started as this next year I shall be considering combining image with type, more than I ever have before. I was never a typographer or been able to write in any sort of elegant calligraphic way. It all seemed too controlled for my nature. Back in the pre computer days it seemed a dreary task to hand render everything, measure everything or use the awful ever cracking Letraset. Running out of “e”s was just a perpetual headache.

But now, ironically, when I could do so much on the computer I am more and more interested in the hand drawn letter forms. I am starting to think about hand cut letters and how I might be able to combine them with images.


A5 sketchbook and pen, very cheap, nice thin paper. I like thin paper.

I had started off last week not really knowing what to do. Freehand drawing of letterforms hand seemed a good idea. Now I find myself looking more carefully. Here are a few from last week. They are a random bunch.

 type8 copy

Lemonade Heart

This week in particular I have focused in on older letter forms which fits in more with this next year. I am about to go to past times .. old texts and herbals.


Nine of the sketchbook type drawings.

They are completely fascinating. As soon as you start drawing them you can see connections and rhythms that are not so obvious from just looking. So many ideas ….

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…