September Daily Sketchbook

I’m back to the good discipline of keeping a daily note/sketchbook.This time my September plan is to make some sort of A4 sketch/pattern/colour note every day. It has to be in colour and the colour has to fill the page. It has to take no more than about half an hour.
In the last two Easton workshops we had been considering backgrounds …even if you decide not to have one. Sometimes its easier to just paint/draw on the white paper. Printmaking has made me think more about the backgrounds. Even if its just the detail. This month should be interesting.

Outdoor sketching in …yes… sun!!It has seemed rare this summer. The First 7 Sketches


Today: Monday morning early. A little egret flew alongside me as I cycled by the reservoir. I was reminded of Florida.


Garden 2: Weekend Sun


Starlings: They never fail to entertain. They are very spotty at the moment.


Grey Reservoir Day


Straw Bales: Harvest is nearly all in.


Lilac Bergamot: some last blooms outside my workroom window.


Garden 1. The garden is just on the turn from Summer to Autumn. Yellows,deep black greens in the shade, ochre greens of the turning leaves, lilacs and purples of late chives, monarda and little asters.
It seemed a good place to start.

Garden Record Week 1

Week one of my daily sketches. Although they will eventually make a rather haphazard garden record, they are much more to do with the discipline of a bit of daily practice.

Through the Window I am still not very mobile so I am sitting by the window and drawing what I can see. The sketches have to be done early or the day gets away from me and they have to be quick, no more than 30 mins. I am keeping the size (10 x7 inches) constant for this month, then I can bind them into a “January” book.

GD1 bg

1st Jan. The wicker bean support and 3 sparrows, as in my first of Jan post, Recording a Gardening Year.


2nd Jan.

Old blackened sunflower heads that I can see through the window. I hobbled out to look at them and thought that, sometime, I might bring one in and make a study.  They are fascinating things. Their huge hanging heads are heavy-looking and but are as light as a feather. Their forms tell of a weight and substance that was once there but has long gone. They are not what they seem.


3rd Jan.

The fence line at the back of the garden. There are a few small trees, an un-named apple, the tall wild cherry, a crab apple, a russet apple ( it had just one apple this year) a section of laurel hedge and a twisting crab apple tree in the next garden. This is how it looked when we came last year. In the summer it is dense. This was watercolour and brush…no pen on this one.


4th Jan:

The twisting branches of a now dead shrub on the SW border fence We left it because the birds like the tall branches. A few reddish berberis leaves on the right.


5th Jan:

Over by the shed are two old chimney pots. Last year I planted them with geraniums and lobelia. Just the twiggy stems of the lobelia are left. and a couple of old yellowed leaves of a shrub.


6th Jan:

Dusk. Yesterday at 4.20 pm it was dusk, but a luminous dusk. A moment or two when all the colours are deeply saturated before slipping into monochrome greys. Amongst these dark colours, were a few glowing silvery brights, the stachys, the silver buds of the magnolia,shining like tiny fairy lights and some old globe artichoke leaves. I wanted to make a quick record so I pre-washed the page the day before with mid grey to give a base for the sketch.
My cheap scanner is a blunt tool which has the astonishing capacity to reduce a myriad of colours to just 2. It looks very monochrome here but in reality it’s a bit more colourful.


7th Jan:

A last sketch for week 1. Weeds growing outside my window. I changed paper from Not to HP. I like HP for smaller work. It holds a beautiful crisp edge



On Sunday I had a little extra time and made a small study of another weed. One of the many that grow exuberantly between the paving slabs. After a few weeks away from the drawing board I have felt hesitant and rusty. Next week will be better.

Why do a daily drawing? For me, it’s partly to keep me “looking”, partly to to keep my hand/brain coordination working. It’s the “doing” of it that’s important, not the end result.

Whatever your discipline, you need skills. The ideas in your head need a route out. I have more ideas than I could ever realise, but often it’s a lack of skill to make them work that is both the deepest frustration and the greatest barrier to progress.
The only way I can deal with that is to practise, practise, practise; brush work, pen strokes, colour mixing, thinking, reading, looking, looking again, being my own most severe critic, tearing it all up and starting again. If nothing else the sketching is beginning to help me understand what I am trying to do and how perhaps I can achieve it.

For me, Hokusai’s wise and well know observations ring very true. I have quoted this before on the blog and keep it pinned up next to my drawing board. I am always encouraged that his most significant works were done later in life, from 60 onwards. He began publishing “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji” in his seventies. He was, however, a genius and I am not.. but hope springs eternal. Practise practise practise…

“From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.” Katsushika Hokusai,  from the postscript to “One Hundred views of Mount Fuji”

Week 8 Visual Notes

I missed a couple of days walking this week, due to early starts and full days.  It’s so much darker and colder now. When I started in August, dawn was at 4.50 am, now it is 6.50 am. Walking time is compressed and has to be shared with others. Dog walkers, children running for the school bus, people leaving for work and the odd early cyclist. Sometimes, now, I walk a little later.

MON 8th


The electricity pole on Caravan walk. I was thinking about pattern and thought how its shape was so similar to dead heads of the cow parsley. The rooks love this pole.

TUES 9th,   Barnesdale Sketching

WED 10th


A later evening walk with the sun in the west. The aeration tower on the reservoir is backlit, almost like a lighthouse. A small boat has pulled up beside it.

THURS 11th


A fallen tree by the water. It’s dark here and the bare ground is covered with fallen leaves.

SAT 13th


Up on the top field, high on the plateau above the reservoir, there must be a heavy clay outcrop. Standing water lies in the ruts of the plough.



A brilliantly sunny but cold day. An early walk and the resident small flock of geese were  feeding by the waters edge.


Later having a coffee at the Visitor Centre, a hopeful spaniel watches the plates being emptied at a nearby table.
We did not stay long enough to see if his patience was rewarded. 🙂

Week 5 Visual Notes

Some colour.. well just a bit…I thought I would try to make a quick gouache colour note every day, based on the B/W sketches and my notes. MONDAY: the morning drizzle turned into heavy rain


My early washed out sketch, it says “4 cormorants take off in this grey scene, it’s raining harder. 7.50 am”


Later the gouache sketch from notes.. black ducks and white seagulls, the horizon lost in mist. Looking west.

TUESDAY: A beautiful morning after the heavy rain.


I sketched a big anvil shaped cloud on the horizon over Perry. Two whiter than white swans flew across the lake surface.


The gouache sketch later from my notes. I forgot the swans!

WED: Nice early but the rain started soon after I left the house. No early morning sketch but later it cleared and I walked up past the water tower


Looking east from the road. Some rooks on the stubble.


Colour notes

THURS: Light in the wood



The gouache colour note.

I have been thinking about printing today so the colours are a bit blocky.

FRI: A slightly longer walk.

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Gouache colour note, silvery green grey willows are so beautiful in the wind.

SUND: A cold breezy morning. Our small inland sea has waves today.

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and another small oil sketch based on Friday’s sketch…just to keep practising.

Tomorrow I am hoping to do another Sketchbook in a Day…:)

Week 3 Visual Notes

Almost a week of sketches, every day except Friday when I was away at Easton Walled Gardens for a workshop.

MON 10th Sept: A fabulous windswept day. I walked miles, wrote lots and drew little. But I brought this odd little thing back to draw.

fossil bg

An ancient shelly fossily thing from Devil’s Toenail Cove.

TUES 11th Sept:


The old railway bridge, a sketch out walking and a tonal sketch later.

WED 12th Sept


Very very cold early morning, fingers so cold I could hardly hold the pen. One sweeping dark cloud to the north west.


Back later to sketch “the dark thing” and white foam.

THURS 13th Sept


A stack of big uncompromising straw blocks. I was thinking how different from Monet’s romantic haystacks.


Clouds of rooks on the stubble and the spinney in the background

SAT 15th Sept:
Hot and sunny, a later walk


The half baled field. Lines of sweet smelling straw crackling in the hot sun.


Sometimes things suddenly appear. This big fallen branch is old, but was not there yesterday.

SUN 16th Sept:  early walk, grey and chilly


The wild geese on the field by the road,  just visible above the line of the stubble.


The black rabbit on the track by the water.  This is the second black rabbit I have seen around here, but the other one was on the other side of the water.  I regard it as good luck!

Sunflower and Moon Bees…Trials and Errors.

Having done one bee I decided to try some backgrounds to accompany it. I have always liked combining images and mixing things up so it’s a mix and match bee set. This etching is all a bit hit and miss, every print is a complete surprise… i.e. I have no control! It’s very easy to over or under-ink the plate and every print is different.

I know the master etchers try to achieve a series of prints which are as identical as they possibly can be, but at the moment part of the fun is not knowing exactly what will be revealed.
I first did a quick vine (with, of course, a few pods…) to see how the technique of overprinting, correctly called double intaglio I think, would work..
Basically you have two plates and one piece of paper, and print the paper twice. Just getting the registration right is tricky, but the tutor has a very neat registration system cut out of an old “For Sale” sign. I will try to get some photos tonight. so.. “Bumblebee and Vines”..3 different papers.

bees and vine

Then, I had read how much bumble bees like sunflowers, so, “Bumblebee with Sunflower” printed on different papers with slightly different coloured inks.. and different levels of success!


And, of course, I had then to have a moonflower bee as a companion… “ Bumblebee and Moonflowers ” again different papers, different inking and different results.

moon bees

My aim this week is to try to get a few really nicely printed which will be for sale in my new Etsy shop.. “Waving Bee Press” coming very soon, plus a blog too..
Why Waving Bee Press? .. well a longish story but part of a project I have been developing for a few weeks now, which looks like growing into an exhibition, prints cards and some handmade’s so exciting!! The sort of project I love, lots of research, lots of ideas and an end product. More of this later..

As part of the work I have had to learn Adobe Illustrator from scratch.. phew… vectors…The problem is that switching now between Photoshop and Illustrator has me even more confused.
It’s all to do with digital letterpress, which is whole new box of soldiers to play with.!… Heaven !

Leaf of the Day: 80% Crown Flower and the Optimistic Gap

I am almost finished but have also run out of time. Tomorrow I leave to go home to the UK for almost a month, to do some very tedious things including renewing visa and passport all of which require a mountain of absolutely 100% correct paperwork, undamaged fingertips (it’s a good job I am not gardening at the moment) and enormous patience.

The crown flower has been very slow, particularly this time because it had to be correctly detailed for identification purposes rather than artistic ones, so everything I did had to be measured and very careful. I don’t really enjoy the measuring but can see its importance, and at times like this, a microscope would have come in handy.
I have also had some more ant problems, not of course from “Ant” who remains my faithful companion, but from an army of tiny ants who career about the drawing and smudge themselves into the surface of the paper. They appear from nowhere, love the milkweeds and lodge in every nook and cranny of my desk. At the slightest movement they employ scatter tactics and fan out across everything. Fatalities have occurred, mainly it seems on pristine parts of my white paper. My greatest aim, so far on the course, is to finish a submission with unmarked paper… some hope…

Super photo of the pod ( do I really need my own real, live one??) by Ram Thakur from Trek Nature here

The pods are typical of the other milkweeds and, to me, are one of the more interesting parts of this curious plant.

I am beginning to understand a little more about the paint handling for this very exacting style of work and am very keen to get onto some subjects of my own choosing and design. I hope to get to Kew while I am in the UK as there is an exhibition of botanical work referencing plants that have an economic value.. that’s my kind of plant! Beautiful and useful.
I have had to leave this unfinished as, despite having returned to the plant 5 times over two weeks there are still no seed pods.. and so there remains an “optimistic gap” for the pod.

“Optimistic gaps” are very useful things generally in life and some of my very favourite things. They hold the promise of perfection and are generally much better left as gaps than filled.
The next 3 weeks are definitely an Optimistic Gap, as I am still not quite sure what I will be doing or exactly where. After working so hard this year for the exhibition, freelance work and assignments I do feel in need of some input time. Time to just look at the world that exists beyond the 4 corners of my drawing board to which I feel I have been somewhat unwillingly chained recently.

I am optimistically taking my sketch book which I hope won’t remain an empty gap.


Crown Flower 80%

Leaf of the Day: Crown Flower, stages one and two

I decided not to post each step-by-excruciatingly-slow-step of this assignment but today have put a couple of stages together. I only have 2 more days to get this done so, if it all goes wrong I just won’t have to worry too much.

I have spent quite some time looking at the flower with a magnifying glass and dissecting bits here and there. I have had two trips to the gardens this week for more specimens and today I watched the insects which delight in hanging out on this curious flower, but could not see any exciting pollen transference going on. These lovely red milkweed bugs are always around and are important pollinators.

and I was rewarded with a nice stripy monarch caterpillar too.

I would really like to add these two insects to the drawing as they are all inter dependent; the monarch butterfly only feeds on milkweeds and the red bugs are expert examples of “co- evolution”
The relationship of milkweed to all the milkweed insects – a relatively small guild of orange and black insects that advertise the fact by their coloration that they feed on a noxious plant that makes them unpalatable – is known as co-evolution.
Through the pressure of herbivory, plants are selected to become more toxic, by so doing they leave behind some of the herbivores (in evolutionary time) but not others. Those herbivores not left behind are those that are capable of overcoming the plant defenses and in some cases, such as the milkweed feeders, are able to incorporate the plant defenses as part of their own defense against predators.”

There were ladybirds as well…I am not quite sure how they fit into milkweed world.

And I did some painting too, Stage one and Stage two. It’s all very slow! Magnifying glass in one hand, paintbrush in the other… Hmmm not really me.
It’s quite a big painting, 16 x 11 inches.

Crown Flower: Stages One and Two

Leaf of the day: More Crown Flower Sketches and Study

Today more sketches of the Crown Flower, trying to concentrate while I listen with growing dismay to the swine flu reports. I am trying to be optimistic as in a week’s time I am due to fly home to the UK for a long visit…most of May. I am so looking forward to it, so I am just thinking positive.

I was looking in more detail at the flower head and the leaves. The structure of the flower is so odd. There are 5 sepals only seen from the underneath of the flower, then 5 petals which do at least look like petals. Then the central “crown” part which consists of 5 stamens, the buttress like structures, which are joined with the filaments to form a structure called a “gynostegium”, a fusion of the male and female parts of the flower.
This superb photo of a White Crown Flower by G D Carr from the Hawaii Education dept here shows the top of the crown, where you can see 5 little black points.

These I think are called the glands and if you can get a scalpel in at this point you might be able to extract the “pollinia”. These are the structures which hold the pollen, not loose pollen as we usually imagine, but flat waxy pollen drops, in pairs, attached to the gland.

Here is the scan I took yesterday after I had found the pollinia. It is tiny, just 2mm long, but scanning it at high res did give me a reasonable result.

Crown Flower Pollinia

Somehow… and I am still not entirely clear how this works with this particular flower, an insect has to attach one of these to its leg and transport it to another flower.

If you are interested in milkweeds, there is a stunning web page by Brian Johnston with wonderful macro/micro photos and a clear explanation of the intricate process of the pollination of the Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca here. The milkweed structures are all basically similar but I think I might email him to ask if he can explain exactly how it works with this particular flower… How does the insect (probably one of the red milkweed bugs) get these particular pollen sacks on its leg???. I had to work quite hard to get the thing out, but then, as we say in Lincolnshire, I probably wasn’t holding my mouth right.. 🙂

More Crown Flower Sketches

Leaf of the Day: Crown Flower, First Sketches

There is no getting away from the fact that I am late with this next submission, but yesterday I did get 25 illustrations sent off to the book designer. But now I have to get down to it and with no procrastination time left I decided to make a study of the Crown Flower, Calotropis gigantea, or Giant Milkweed. It’s a strange season here, I remember well from last year how things are between flowering and seeding and, while I didn’t want to repeat myself, this curious plant has enough of a challenge to keep me interested. I drew its intriguing flower here last year. It is an odd one and so rigid in its structure as to be quite unflower like.

Because this assignment has to include some dissection I have spent most of the day cutting up a couple of flowers and trying to see the complicated pollination structures. Surprisingly I did find the TINY pollinarium, just 2 mm long, and put it on the scanner to enlarge it. The whole pollination process is very complicated .. more tomorrow.
Today just sketchbook work, thoughts about layout and some colour notes.

Giant Milkweed Sketches