Daily Drawing: Back to Some Observed Drawing

Paul Foxton over at Creative Triggers has an exercise this month, observed drawing from Nature. He calls it “Seeing More Deeply”. How true! I was talking to one of the Gardeners at Easton last week and although he is not an artist, he felt that drawing  plants had made him understand more fully the structures, growing habits and characteristics of each individual.

More understanding equals more appreciation, as well as respect and downright awe, for the intricacies, cunning, inspired design, ingenious function and sheer beauty of natural forms. I have joined in with Paul’s workshops before and now, free from college and commercial work for a while, I thought I would have a month of, almost, daily drawing.

Quite a bit of my time is spent working on ideas for prints which involves simplification and design, so it’s nice just to draw what is in front of you without those extra decisions.

And of course, it is very good practise and feeds into the ever expanding knowledge bank of forms, ideas and skills. So here are the first 5


1st July : Bird cherry, a small group of leaves and an unripe cherry.

2nd July: A little hoverfly, obligingly very still on the tiny olive tree flowers. I think its a “marmalade” hoverfly


3rd July: Borage Flower…. beloved of bees..


5th July: Small field poppy pod with pollen beetle


6th July: The annoying but very dainty weed, cleavers. Galium aparine It has other wonderful names, goosegrass, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy and Velcro weed. There is also a tiny bug on one of the stems.

All are pencil in an 8 x 8inch sketchbook.

Beginning a Puppet.Some Initial Thoughts.

The end of June is the deadline for Clive Hicks Jenkins’ and Peter Slight’s Online Puppet Challenge.
I really wanted to contribute to this so have been mulling it over for a while now. How? Why? What? The theme was “Myths and Legends” and I have chosen the legend of the Henham Dragon ( see my original post here)

I don’t have much time but enough to get some ideas down on paper, even if few of them actually get made and  just researching another art form is a delight. 2D or 3D? Because I am really a 2D artist I am starting with a simple articulated paper puppet.

Clive makes beautiful articulated maquettes which he uses for his own work. These forms can be arranged in different positions and so acquire a curiously appealing life of their own. They are not quite the same as shadow puppets but have the same feel about them.
Shadow puppets from Turkey, India and China are sometimes painted on treated hide which makes the skins transparent, allowing the colours to glow when lit.   See an article on the Karagoz puppet tradition in Turkey here.



Image by Tom Brosnahan who wrote the article. His website “Turkey Travel Planner” is one I will be returning to as we plan to get to Turkey next year.
I am not sure yet what exactly I will do but this is one of the forms I will be exploring.


The whole subject of puppets is fascinating and if I were to consider 3D I could look at the traditional marionette. I have never made one,  but have  using puppets as inspiration in my work a few times. I also made sample drawings for a version of Pinocchio many years ago.


Rough for Geppetto’s  workshop. pencil drawing.


Pinocchio and Jiminy. Watercolour

For my research I had visited The Little Angel Theatre in Islington and taken a few photos. Yesterday on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday I found them again. It was all long before computers and digital photography and most interesting is the photo of the “inspiration” wall, a collection of magazine clippings, cards and real photos.

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Photos from the Little Angel Theatre..more years ago than I care to remember. 

It’s all so inspiring…. I am now wondering about a 3D Dragon.

Sketch Week

A week of sketching and other things ….

1. Here be Dragons… We have a least two in the Village.. probably more but I have yet to meet them.

I sketched these two handsome beasts today, on a bright sunny rain-free morning. I don’t like hanging around outside peoples houses so these were very quick and approximate.
They live on a cottage roof from where, at night, they take wing. Actually I think one of them is a gryphon. They are mostly silhouetted as the path is on the north side of the house.

They have different take-off points The big dragon is poised at the end of stepped tiles and the smaller gryphon crouches at the bottom of a curving slope.


I have admired them since we came here. They sit very well on their cottage.


Pen and Ink Sketches:  A5 sketchbook.

Puppets and Dragons

I am so delighted to be involved in the Puppet Challenge. The theme comes at such a good time for me as I have been researching aspects of folklore for some work for a while now.

And both of my other projects will feed into the puppet project too. I have never made a proper puppet but in my past work I used quite a bit of puppet/toy imagery and as dragons have been on my mind, I decided to base my dragon on the Henham Dragon.  A dragon reputedly seen in the Essex village in 1669.
“Real” documented sightings are always so fascinating and Henham Village website has not only a splendid image of the dragon but also the front of the pamphlet which was published to describe the beast.

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Sighting were many and various but from what I have read, it seems the dragon was never killed, which also appeals to me.

This may be because it could have been a hoax. Reading more on the website I see that recent evidence from Alison Barnes suggests it might have been a hoax dragon made by a William Winstanley who,

created a hollow nine-foot wood and canvas dragon or “flying serpent” activated by a man which made fleeting appearances in and around Birch Wood, Henham throughout that summer and caused great excitement and mystification in the neighbourhood.”

So in effect this dragon was a large puppet. A perfect starting point for me. More of this wonderful Henham Dragon as I go along. Henham is also close enough for me to visit. The 17th C seems to have been a good time for dragons in the UK because another was recorded in Sussex in 1614,  the St Leonard’s Dragon. The accompanying pamphlet from the Harleian Miscellany is  titled:

“Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614”.

There will be more fascinating research to do. I see that Dr Andrew Hadfield has written a paper on the Sussex Dragon which I hope to read, and more. Exactly what sort of puppet it will be I am not sure yet but I will be starting off with some drawings.
I don’t think I am quite up to the full size Henham Dragon. But the description is reminding me of the wonderful Chinese New Year Dragons from the parades. I illustrated them years ago..so they too will be in my mind and, as a new printmaker, pamphlets appeal greatly to me.


A Pencil Margin Book Illustration


Half a full page spread, with the Dragon Head

Mine definitely won’t be on this scale. It makes you wonder about the “real sightings” of dragons.

On this black windy night we have just been for a walk. Fast dark clouds race across the face of the moon, twisted branches of bare trees flicker in the intermittent light. It’s easy to stumble, to lose your way, to misinterpret the wind shearing through the branches for something else.
In a flash of moonlight did I see a small dragon twisting itself around the spire of our village church?…Who knows.

Portrait November

The artists group on Twitter are running with the theme #portraitnovember this month. Although portraits are not really my passion and it is a long time since I drew any people, I feel that drawing anything is good practice.

So I am going to try to some “portrait” sketching each day. It might well come in handy for some prints and who knows where it might go. I have also asked my Easton painters if they would like to join me, I hope they will!
So to start with, a page of little thumbnail sketches. They are just constructions of basic head shapes for a bit of practice.
Oh… I am rusty.












Then a few pen and ink sketches again from constructed head shapes.

First faces : pen and ink and pencil. A4 sketchbook

After so long away from drawing faces I am just glad they look human.

But something odd happens when you create a face. Suddenly a new character has arrived in your life ..from where? Memories, imagination, wishful thinking? I am not sure.

Then having magicked them up, there is an odd sense of responsibility to, and for, them and a wish to know their story.










Who are you? Where are you from? Where to…. ?

The Endless Quest for the Perfect Paper

“What and which” must be the most asked questions of any creative teacher or practitioner? What paper do you use, which pencils do you use, which paints, which brushes..? etc. I am just the same and I have been working as a professional artist for over 40 years. I love to know what other people use and I am still sure there is a magic combination out there that I have yet to find, one which will make my work so much better.

Some papers and boards I used years ago have gone, some reappear in an “improved” form which is very seldom improved. My greatest bugbear is the sad loss of the beautiful professional thick white Essdee scraperboard.

If anyone has any languishing and unwanted do let me know. Gearing up for the residency I have spent some time paper testing, to find an all round sketching paper which has a good wet tolerance a nice drawing surface and takes pen and ink. Here are my tests of 15 different papers with approx the same paint, ink, pencil, pen etc.

and more general notes and trials..


My results are not conclusive except to say that all papers are good for something and it’s definitely not the most expensive that will be the best. I like a hard sized surface for drawing but I don’t like the slippery over-smooth surface of Bristol board.

I do like a slightly textured surface which has enough body to take  a wash. Some papers buckle and return to flat, some papers just buckle. The combinations seem endless.
Good for me will be Fabriano Accademia, and Daler Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge, but each still have their limitations.

It’s a constant preoccupation and of course delightful procrastination. One of those “before I get down to real work” activities that can sometimes occupy the whole day The perfect paper is there somewhere, I am sure.  I just wish it would hurry up and make itself known. (I am also sure the magic glasses are out there too!)

A Week of Walks: Day Two, Rain and Drawing.

Day two of my sketching walks and it was raining off and on. I didn’t walk very far but went down to the shore of the reservoir and looked across the water.

It was tranquil initially, with just the purring of grasshoppers and whirring of dragonflies, but after about 20 minutes a sudden storm blew up with thunder and rain and a swirling wind.. so the first sketch was spattered with raindrops.

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I retreated under the trees and looked across to the opposite shore where a large thunder cloud hung over the landscape. It caught up with me later.

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Closer in, by the shore a little fir cone nestled in between the rocks.

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There were some very raucous terns nearby who spent some time sitting on the rocks.
One had a paler head, which I assume was a juvenile. Their aerial acrobatics are spectacular. I am not sure which terns they are, but they have very noticeably red legs.

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The rain returned so I came home bringing these little snail shells to draw. I think they are the common brown banded snails. There are so many of them all along the sides of the path. What happened to their owners I wonder.

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The Joy of Drawing Outside

Drawing like this, with no particular aim in mind is wonderful. There are lots of different kinds of drawing but I really consider this type of sketching as visual note taking. It doesn’t really matter if it’s correct or if no one else understands it.

It’s for you and for your memory and for your visual ideas bank. It’s all about looking and seeing, about the marks, the subconscious choice, the automatic simplification and the random accidents, those are the things that matter.

You discover what attracts you and you automatically distill those important things from the whole mass of info that confronts you in an outdoor scene. That’s why it’s so much better than copying a photo. I think authors may do something similar, jotting down unconnected words or phrases or observations to be used later, or not… I also realised today how much I love doing it.
I sometimes find it hard to get out there, but simplifying the kit to just a pen, a pencil, a brush and a small sketch book helps!

Then, of course, when I am out there, in amongst it all, I don’t want it ever to stop.

Coincidently Robert Genn’s excellent twice weekly artists newsletter fell into my inbox this morning  and it was about drawing.
It’s an interesting read.. see here,”Learning to Draw”,  at the end he says this:

“I’ve encouraged both myself and others to experience the joy of drawing. It may be separate from painting, but it is certainly key to much that is great in painting. To find a line, to make it work, to really see it and know it holds life and energy or is pregnant with feeling, is to experience a kind of excitement that even sensitive observers cannot truly know. If only for the forward march of our own character, we need to fill our sketchbooks.

Ah yes Robert! How true… I am back to it tomorrow, promise!

“Black Things from the Beach”, No 1… and a white butterfly

This is not my territory. A beach of unforgiving shingle where each step forward is sucked back half a pace by sliding pebbles.

But I am loving seeing the sea again and the weather has been glorious over the last two days. So on Tuesday I trudged along the shingle’s edge accompanied by a little white butterfly who danced so effortlessly next to me through the fading summer flowers.
I somehow don’t expect butterflies so very close to the sea. You would think your average plant would take one look at shingle and decide to go elsewhere but there is a surprising variety of plants here.

Red and white valerian, ragwort, mallow, brambles, yarrow, old mans beard and more and growing nearest to the sea, hardy clumps of grey green Sea Kale Crambe maritima whose long tap roots will twist 2 meters deep into the earth in search of fresh water.Even a bee, a pretty little Bombus pascuorum was busy in a patch of vipers bugloss.

On the tideline is the usual flotsam and jetsam, bits and pieces thrown up from the Channel plus a variety of “black” things.
I like them.
Here is one of them, a crispy bit of one of the “bladder” wracks left high and dry, contorted even more by the warmth of this sunny late summer day.

I think this is Ascophylum nodosum or the Knotted Wrack judging by its linear form and single bladders. The Bladderwracks, as I know them, are wonderful plants. I remember as a child squidging bare footed over seaweedy rocks in Wales, popping the slimy airfilled bladders.

Fucus vesiculosus, the real bladderwrack was the original source of iodine and they all seem to be edible and have medicinal benefits of one kind or another. I put it on a windowsill and drew it.

Not really much more than a silhouette but with a curling cast shadow which I liked as much as the thing itself. On the dusty windowsill was a small dead fly who I thought should be in on the act too.

It is a neglected house with many dead flies and, not to push the Dickensian analogy too far, there is more than a touch of Miss Haversham about it. A large grandfather clock has just been removed displacing longlegged spiders and revealing a wall festooned with dust laced cobwebs. More fascinating black things soon 🙂 ….

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Dried Knotted Wrack.. plus immortalised fly..