“An Accurate Judgment and a Tender Touch”

In my effort to try and keep up with the daily drawings (and the positive thinking) I decided to return to John Ruskin’s “The Elements of Drawing“. I am very fond of Ruskin’s beautiful sensitive watercolours and drawings and I thought that possibly by going through the exercises laid out in his book I could learn more about his techniques and sensibilities.

It’s a delightful read and, although I have only arrived at exercise nine,  I am struck by his constant use of the word “tender”. It seems perhaps a curious word to use when talking about drawing, but reading through the texts emphasises his deep affection for the natural world and his concern that you the artist should firstly appreciate that world before you attempt to interpret it.

In the opening lines of the book he says this:

.. sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw.

and later, when talking about shading a square of a window pane in pen and ink:

.. try to gradate a little space of white paper as evenly as the light you see coming through the window pane—as tenderly. If you get impatient with your spots and lines of ink, when you look at the beauty of the sky, the sense you will have gained of that beauty is something to be thankful for.

Lovely advice I think. I do find myself looking skywards for a bit of sanity at the moment.

Doing these simple first exercises with as much care as I can has also reminded me how very difficult “simple” is. But there is a certain satisfaction in doing a simple thing as well as you can. He places great emphasis on initial slow and careful observation which is always worth it.

“Simple” exercises: shading and outline with with pen and ink and pencil and a bit of smooth watercolour tinting.


I know many may find doing things like this (as he acknowledges ) “tiresome”, but it’s a wonderful thing when you arrive at a point where your hand actually obeys your brain’s instruction to make a single beautiful line, a controlled wash or a sweeping loaded brushstroke across a huge canvas It’s just practice and control of your tools, but without it, trying to realise ideas, either abstract or representative can be very frustrating. I am not even half way there.

He acknowledges the value of speed and “dash” for  “results which cannot be had otherwise” but advises using these speedy techniques while still “retaining an accurate judgment and a tender touch”.


Then of course there are a few random Daily Drawings as well, including a wobbly left handed drawing of the little horse thing which I like as much as the more carefully controlled ones, 🙂 some moss, and some fish. I just draw what I find delightful, interesting or make sketches of ideas.


There is also another favourite little model from Japan, the goddess Benzaiten riding her sea dragon. The very sea dragon she tamed and married in order to prevent him eating humans! Go girl. He still looks a bit hungry though.






A New Year

It’s bitterly cold, grey and icy and to be honest I don’t find much to celebrate on this particular New Years Day, but any small achievements have to be acknowledged at the moment I think.
I was determined to make a drawing in the wood today so gingerly cycled along the lethally slippery track to my favourite spot and made this quick sketch. Mossy Hump no 73.

It was quiet, cold, still and lovely. It’s never really about the drawing it’s more about being there. I am very grateful for woods.

My small daily drawing is a rough sketch for a character I am working on and is a nod to a bit of spring cleaning…

….shaking procrastination from the cloth of creativity perhaps? Hmmm …hopefully.

the turn of the year and the great conjunction

Really this is a day to record with a small drawing; not only is it the solstice, my very favourite winter day but also this day sees the wonderfully named Great Conjunction with Saturn and Jupiter

…in 1623, the solar system’s two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, traveled together across the sky. Jupiter caught up to and passed Saturn, in an astronomical event known as a “Great Conjunction.”

What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”

From Nasa’s website: here

I hope we will be able to catch a glimpse.

I do have a particular interest in what goes in on the skies; planets, moons, meteors and stars have all featured in the Dds. It is a source of constant wonder and awe to me. Add this event to the turn of the year and I can almost forget the grim situation here.

Todays little drawing is a nod to the event, to the joyful feeling of the beginning of The Return of the Light and the old Yule festivals. A bagpipe playing creature and some cheering mice, an almost quarter moon and Saturn and Jupiter. I am not entirely sure the mice should be so happy though.

I adapted it to make a quick lino cut this afternoon.

I am going to leave this year on the cheery mice note, looking forward to better things in 2021. 🙂



More Dailies, Toothache and the enduring dilemma of what to draw?

Another batch of the daily drawings.

The most relevant one is this, a bit of a shaky one made on Wednesday to summon up the Demon of the Tooth.

Who obligingly arrived to assist the very kind dentist relieve my skull splitting toothache, by carrying away the tooth. Another one down and not many to go now. Thank god.

Then a huge steam cloud on the horizon one frosty morning from a distant power station and chips from some delicious fish and chips. It was a noteworthy event as they were the first for 8 months. Small treats mean a lot right now.

So it’s been a bit of a miserable week with agonising toothache, slippery icy roads and seemingly inccesant freezing rain which stopped the cycling. Not much progress on any front.
Then first day back to sketch in the woods on Thursday it rained, big heavy drops…… well it’s interesting?











But I am keeping up with the daily drawings and starting to think about making a couple of the books.

What to draw?
The issue of “what to draw ” keeps coming up. It’s not that I don’t have ideas or subjects it’s more the question of what do I really want to draw.

Unfortunately when I was very young, to draw true-to-life was praised and so I tried hard to do that. I practised and practised until I was quite good. Then I went to college at a time when realistic work was very much in vogue and those skills enabled me to make a living as a commercial artist which I cannot complain about. But I’ve always had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t the work I should be doing. Not so much the style as the content. Printmaking has loosened me up somewhat but I’m still not quite where I want to be.

So I’m hoping that, given the opportunity to experiment a bit more with the daily drawing routine, a more personal body of work will begin to develop. Fewer leaves…but more what?
Doing a bit of displacement tidying-up the other day caused me to look back over some old notebooks. They are stuffed full of thumbnails and notes, glimpses of other ideas which never managed to fight their way to the front. Hopefully now they will be given a chance!

A few of the untidy full note/sketchbooks .. I am sorry not to be able to present ranks of matching moleskines but that’s just not the way I work. Anything to hand is just fine.

Who knows what will emerge. 🙂



More daily drawings

Some more of the recent daily drawings, again a mix of various things.

They include a sketch of a small Japanese tiger which I brought back from Japan.

And today on on cold grey morning I reached mossy twiggy sketch no 60. I think I will have to go for 100 now.Things are changing fast in the wood. The nettles and undergrowth are dying back revealing more of the woodland floor.

So only another 40 days to go. 🙂

A Few Updates

Daily Drawings

My drawing-a-day project is going OK. It’s a bit slow, mainly because I have been dithering about the paper, how to bind them and how to make the covers, ends and text pages which need to be part of the 24 books.

But the wonderful thing about this project is that I can experiment to my hearts content, both with the drawings and the bindings. I am just constrained by the size…160mm square. But that one constraint keeps a consistency to the project and yet allows other things to vary.
In some ways they are just scrapbooks in which I can keep ideas, notes, thumbnails and sketches which otherwise are often lost in sketchbooks or on the back of envelopes. I do hope I can keep going!

Luckily my friend Gay is also doing a daily work task so we can encourage each other. Hers is more complex, a whole lot more!  A ceramic vase a day. Respect Gay!

The images are a real mish mash of all sorts of things that I find interesting that day. There will be some relevant texts too.

Some are just things I have seen on my daily bike ride.
A last blackberry …

…and the strange and wonderful candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) which, right now, is growing exuberantly from old bits of rotten wood amongst the leaf litter.
I drew this curious thing a few years ago.  I’m very fond of it and keep promising myself to make a really good drawing one day. Sketches will have to do for now. The powdery grey white structres are surprisingly stiff and robust.

2017 sketch in grubby sketchbook :).



Spinney Sketches
And while mentioning my almost daily cycle, I am almost up to 50 very quick sketches of bits of mossy bits and pieces.

I am generally out for an hour. The cycling part takes 40 minutes which leaves 10 to 15 minutes for actual drawing. I have made it easy by only taking a sketchbook and one pen.
I hesitate to show them here as they are not examples of good drawing but just the result of staring at bits of woodland floor. I generally go early to sort of jump-start my day and have a few minutes “forest bathing”. Very good for the soul.

I intend to make a slender book to record them all. I think it might be the perfect gift for an insomniac.

Ginkgos and A Bright Spark

Here are a couple of the daily small drawings which I am just about keeping up with. They will, as I know from previous daily routines, get easier as I do more and they become so much a part of my day that I will feel an uneasy vacuum if I neglect to make one. I am really sure this will happen.. really sure.

One of the drawings had to be a ginko leaf. I bought a small tree when we first came here which is still small but keeping going.

Everything about ginkgos is fascinating and I first became interested in them when I was drawing at Leu Gardens back in 2008.

I have written about them and drawn them here, here and here ….oh, and here too! 🙂 I really like ginkgos.

They are strange things, leathery and ribbed and very beautiful. I brought some back from Tokyo which are very large. Mine are small but of course beautifully formed. This one has lost most of those bright yellows which illuminate our autumn garden, retaining just a hint around the base by the stem.

In the book I will include the etching of the ginkgo and the bee which I made back in the USA as a memory of a lovely time.

A Gap in the Clouds.
I had started this little sketch a few days ago. We have had some strange skies over the water recently with streaks of bright sky inbetween dark clouds.  However more important than some strange clouds is the hopeful, very good news from the USA. A bright spark in the darkness. This drawing will serve as a tribute to that news. Hurahhh


November Drawings.. a hopeful plan

In order to keep the gloom and despair of another lockdown at bay and to actually make something lasting, I’m embarking on some daily quick drawings. The intention is not to just leave them in sketchbooks or on scraps of paper, but to bind them into a series of books.

I’m hoping they will also serve as a record of time passing because I, like many others, am finding it difficult to remember what has happened week on week. When all the days seem to be the same, without the markers of days away, meeting with friends, meals out and inspiring visits to galleries and museums, the weeks have just collpased into grey nothingness.
But even if nothing much is happening, there will surely be something small, each day, that I see, read or learn which I can make a note of. Anything but Covid.

I am going to try to complete them in less than half an hour so they don’t take over my life. It will give me an opportunity to try some different papers and techniques. improve my bookbinding etc etc and be a springboard for other projects and ideas. To make things easy I have limited my book size to 150mm (approx 6 inches) square so the sketches are small.

I am sure not all of them will make it into the books, but these are a better-than-nothing start. 🙂 Starting is the hardest part!

These little drawings include the last beans from our newish allotment.
It’s one thing that has kept us vaguely sane this year so needed to be remembered 🙂



A Summery Wine Label

Back in January I worked on a lovely new wine label commission for Jeff Nelson at Liquid Farm Winery in the USA.

I had worked on their main logo about 10 years ago when I was still in the USA, but this time the theme was the cheerful dandelion. Happy, bright, colourful and abundant in the vinyards …oh and with the addition of a bee. 🙂
How nice is that!
Seeing it again now, as winter is approaching, is making me feel just a little bit more optimistic about things. That is much needed.

It’s a pencil drawing with additional watercolour.

Pencil and watercolour artwork. 

This is from The Liquid Farm website:

2018 Dandi Sauvignon Blanc

“The finished wine is more reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, with notes of Meyer lemon, honeycrisp apple, and wet river rocks. The use of oak contributes to the weight and roundness of the wine. Pair this with salmon, sole piccata, or tagine chicken.”

Hmmm sounds delicious .. can’t wait to try it!   …. just saying Jeff… just saying…:)

Despite the lull in posting I have been really busy with my normal round of experiments and trials and the start of a rather complex book/box/print project.
Posts to come soon.


A Belated Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Bottom’s Song”

Earlier this year I decided to try a different binding structure. It’s a stub binding and another one which allows for full spreads to be bound. It was supposed to be a “quick” book but took quite a bit longer than anticipated. Then I had to put it away for a while… to try and forget the mistakes. I took it out this week and quite like it now. Ahh… the kindness of passing time and failing memory.


As it was almost midsummer when I started, I turned to a snippet of a favourite Shakespeare play, Bottom’s Song, which mentions 7 birds, most of which have been in and out of our garden this year making lockdown just about bearable.


Blocks and bird proofs


Cover proofs and first dummy book


More tests and text trials

For some reason .. .(I blame Covid), there were quite a few problems, ink not drying, woodcuts  unsatisfactory and re cut, wrong initial papers, hurried printing and some general dithering. But I have a determination to have some projects completed this year so I did persevere. I’m glad because it was quite a good lesson in this type of binding.

There are many types of stub binding, This is my first go and is made of two concertinas which form the spine and the “stubs” onto which the text and image pages are sewn. It’s not complicated, just a bit fiddly and has to be done in a particular order. The inner stub is dark paper and the outer stubs are red which give a red spine and flashes of red in the folds


I had made a couple of dummy books and found that a nice thing about this binding is that it tends to fall open in between the main stubs meaning that the birds themselves appeared to be “hidden” in between the sections which rather suits the atmosphere of the play.


The sections and the bird inside.

The embossed endpapers, printed sections and covers before assembling the book.

The 7 sections are made of hand printed papers and include some text about each bird, their old names and a superstition or two. The woodcuts of the bird are then enclosed inside each section.
The endpapers are embossed with the section design. It being night, the paper and prints are quite dark.

I cut a small feather woodblock for the prelims and ends. printed in gray.

Lovely Bottom is on the cover. His affectionate song to cheer himself up and show his friends he is not afraid to be left in the dark at the mercy of scheming fairy folk, mentions our familiar birds. It ends with the dubious “cuckolding” cuckoo.






Apart from actually completing this little booklet, my great achievement was keeping the backs of  ALL the prints and text pages clean! It’s essential with book work as all the backs can be seen. I think I had to print one extra section and only two extra birds!  Phew.