Distant Cormorants

Today I went up to the hide in Savages Spinney. It looks over the inlet where many birds take shelter. Looking south there is a small spit of land which juts out into the water from the western shore, right now it is a more extensive sand bank, revealed by the low level of the reservoir. Here the cormorants gather in considerable numbers. They love being together. It’s too far away for a photo but I could see the birds quite well with some modest field glasses. Enough for some scribbly notes.


I made a slightly bigger sketch at home. I love the way sit with their wings outspread, preening or with heads titled skywards as if expecting
something to happen. A few gulls had joined them.


Distant Cormorants A4 sketchbook

One bird was standing on its own, right at the end, gazing out over the water.




The tiny sketches are not much more than squiggles and dots but you get the idea! I am very fond of cormorants. 🙂

Bird Week

Birds are so much a part of my daily life, both in the garden and on walks or cycle rides and here, in the winter, we are lucky to have some extra bird visitors on the reservoir.
So on Saturday I went to look for the Great Northern Divers who have been around for a few weeks now and ..hurrahhh… I did get to see one and in close up too, thanks to a very kind man who set up a telescope for me. I watched it preen and rise up from the water spreading its wings, dive and reappear. It’s a beautiful thing.

As well as the diver there were tufted ducks, goldeneyes, pretty teal, many, many grebes with apparently the red necked grebe amongst them. Up in the woods I have recently watched the tiny gold crests, the buzzard, the spotty woodpeckers, and  bullfinches, as well as the usual crows, mallards, swans and coot, moorhens, fieldfares etc etc nearer the shoreline.
So this week I decided to make a record of some of them in some sketches, in between struggling with prints and books. They may find their way into prints etc.

Tufted Ducks  Aythya fuligula
First up is the tufted duck which I see every year in the winter.


A small section of the large flotilla of Tufties on the reservoir, their crests being blown backwards into little points turning them into slightly punk-y ducks.They look like little toys, all facing the same way, their heads turned away from the strong head wind, which I was cycling into.

tuffties 22
Pencil sketching to get a sense of the shape

Brush and watercolour only,  for a bit of discipline

They have very bright yellow eyes and a beautifully curved smiling beak.

They are delightfully smart and very graphic. According to the RSPB some are resident but others are winter visitors from Iceland or Northern Europe.
See more on the RSPB site here

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

block        IMG_2326

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

September Sketches 3

Week three of the 30 min sketches: It’s been really interesting. I find I am freeing up a bit more, getting more interested in ideas that might develop further, less concerned about how they look to anyone else but me. But, after Tuesday, I decided to scan the whole sketchbook page as I don’t want to give the impression that these are finished works.
However sketchy these quick, sometimes scrappy, things are, they are proving to be very useful. More than I would have imagined. More useful to me than a careful study because the time constraint makes you engage some immediate responses and be creative. This can be frustrating because other (better) ideas keep occurring while you are rushing to get them done.


A4 sketchbook
with notes.

I found myself making additional notes and sketches on the page opposite the image. It was not really my intention to do this, those other ideas just have to be set down somewhere. This week Blackberries have been on my mind quite a bit. I have picked them, eaten them straight, cooked them with windfall apples. My skin has been lightly flayed by them and I was fascinated by a coincidental and wonderful little programme about them on the radio.The legends, superstition and life style of brambles is most interesting.. the dark side most interesting of all… as it always is with me 🙂 And lovely birds are still a part of every day; reservoir birds, garden birds and  woodland birds. And the glorious colours of autumn just cannot be ignored!


Today, Monday: Early cycle by the reservoir in a misty grey chilly morning. The terns are barely visible. They blend into the haze. Red beaks and legs and their black caps are almost all you can see.


Sunday: Elderberries and Spindle tree: A glorious sunny day so I made two drawings. The red stems of the berries are wonderful. The leaves are turning yellow green.
Then I saw the spindle trees with their flame red autumn foliage, bizarre pink berries and orange yellow seeds

spindle 1    spindle-2

I first made a wimpy, nothingy sort of sketch, when what I REALLY wanted to record was the colour, those clashing reds, pinks and oranges. No 2 is what it was really about. It’s a good lesson…visualise what really interests you… It would be worth making a good drawing of the pods, seeds and leaves, though. They are very interesting.


Saturday: Dazzle camouflage.  There are quite a few grebe families on the reservoir. The young ones are growing up now but when they are little they are gorgeous, stripy, black and white, perfect camouflage for ripply water. They often hitch a lift on the back of their parents. I had to include a one.


Friday: Grave Plantings: Another dark superstition from the blackberry programme: Apparently they are planted on graves to keep the dead in and the devil out. I thought the worms would find there own way in so added some wrigglers at the bottom. I went along to look at our church graveyard here. Sure enough there are some brambles growing in tangles over a couple of old faceless graves. There were berries. I didn’t try them..


Thursday: Blackberries and bodies. I had heard a programme about brambles and liked the remark that bramble plants are often found in places where people have done very bad things to other people. Either people choose those places to dump bodies or brambles quickly twine and cover the evidence. Brambly undergrowth is not somewhere you really want to investigate if you value your skin. Winter may be revealing though.


Wednesday Picking blackberries for an apple and bramble pie. It is a process of negotiation with bugs, daddy long legs, lacewings, wasps, tiny green things, white plume moths and ladybirds.. etc etc.


Tuesday 14th: It’s chutney and jam time, I made some plum and apple chutney with chilli. For me it has to be  hot hot HOT… That’s all for this week.

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.

Almost Back to the Blog…

After a fascinating Spring Term of exploring and developing
more and more ideas for the MA Course, I have a break for the Summer.

The most interesting aspect of the course so far has been
the good shaking-up my creative brain has had. Many many experiments are
beginning to open up possible new directions. More of all that soon.

But I am definitely back to walking and cycling and down by
the reservoir the young corn is growing fast. So are the swans who seem to
spend most of their time in the field, I am presuming they are snacking on the
new shoots.

Sometimes you can only see their heads. I made a few
sketchbook notes to get going again…
A tiny colour study..maybe something will come out of it..

First chilly outdoor sketches of 2015.

Log Piles: Ordered disorder In the pale almost warm winter sun I went for a morning cycle/walk. It’s quite a while since I have been so far; up through the wood and along to the spinney where in the summer the dainty little Dexter cattle graze.

Someone has been clearing and chopping and small piles of logs are scattered around. There is something very pleasing about a pile of logs. They are imperfectly neat. An attempt by man to make some sort of order out of twisty natural forms. I stopped to make some very speedy ink sketches.

logs-2     logs3


Ink sketches in A5 Sketchbook. My fingers got cold very quickly.

The sketches are .. well, sketchy… but it was just good to be outside, looking at things properly, making a start, seeing wrens, robins, a million blackbirds , pheasants, partridge and many tiny birds dancing about in the brambles, and they are my first outdoor sketches for this year.. a bit of a late start but a start.
The weather forecast for the next few days is awful so it may be a while before I do any more. I am a bit of a fair weather pleinair sketcher:) I was struck by how the woods were full of greens, from the brilliant acid green of moss and lichen to the blue greens of old leaves and the oak tree bark, to the soft olive greens and brown greens of general undergrowth. I’m going to investigate these some more tomorrow …

Cormorant Sketches

There are quite a few cormorants on the reservoir here. Sometimes I see them skimming the surface of the water, soaring up high into the air, sitting on the outlet towers or, at Perry, perched on the breakwater by the boats. This is where I found them this week.

I am hoping to make a drawing/print/painting of a cormorant or two for Beautiful Beasts and wanted to get to know the shapes a bit better. There were about 6, two young ones and two wing drying adults and a couple swimming around.
You can’t get very close to them, they are very shy, so it’s really a case of watching and making rough sketches.
They do, however, stay quite still on the breakwater drying their wings or snoozing.


A4 Sketchbook: First sketches of cormorants on the breakwater (with a couple of bouncing jackdaws at the bottom of the page).


A4 Sketchbook: More very quick sketches of the wing drying while they were still on the breakwater.

Some of them were still there when I left.  Others took to the water before flying off. They make quite a bit of noise when they take off and I love the big flapping wings and the big trailing feet


The quickest and probably the best sketch A5 sketchbook


A5 sketchbook colour note.

The breakwater is orangy red. which makes an interesting contrast.

More cormorants to come.

Charcoal Kilns from Grafham and Holme Fen.

Charcoal, made at Grafham Water, from the reservoir willows

This rather special charcoal was made for me by Grafham Wildlife Trust wardens Aidan and Greg and their charcoal burning gang and it is, of course, made from the local willows.

charcoal_thumb[1]      ch-2_thumb[1]

It’s the first time they have tried making charcoal for drawing. Normally it’s chunkier pieces for BBQ charcoal as you can see by the bag. The secret is to have a very slow burn, steady heat and flat straight twigs.The twigs are normally laid in sand in tins.

This looked good. Aidan told me the biscuit tin they used was destroyed but this is definitely usable charcoal. To work with it is unpredictable. Some parts are too hard and then you will find a very soft section which gives a sudden rich dark line. It was, without doubt, very pleasing to draw the Grafham Water willows with willow charcoal made up in Grafham Water woods. The charcoal kilns are in Littless Wood.  I made some sketches a couple of years go. Their simple solid geometric shapes are very pleasing, against the more organic lines of trees and foliage. There are two kilns there… or certainly were last year, I have not been back yet this year, but I must get back, now the track is drying up.


The kilns are not so large.. the tall trees give some idea of them in the landscape.

charcoal-burning-3-bg2     cb1-bg

cb-bg2     wheelbarrow-and-sand-and-lo

A wheel barrow with sacks and some logs ready to burn.

You can join a charcoal burning party along Aidan and Greg with the Wildlife Trust.
The next course is on the 11th May. I would love to go but we will be away…in Amsterdam…so can’t really complain.

Holme Fen Charcoal Kiln: a remnant from the Second World War.

But I did go back to Holme Fen with Sue on Friday, for a couple of hours sketching and to find the charcoal kiln that I had read about in the guide.
A small sunken kiln base, without its conical top, is all that remains of the extensive tree felling and charcoal burning operation which took place during the Second World War to provide charcoal, possibly for wood gas to power vehicles or for gunpowder. The ring of iron is sinking into the peat. It is being overtaken by rhododendron seedlings and brambles. In the still chilly morning with very little but birdsong to keep us company it was a beautiful place to sketch.

holme-chc1     Holme-chc2

Two line sketches done on site. I often add tone but we only had half an hour so no time for much more than notes. I did not have a camera with me, or rather I did not have the SD card, but I jotted down enough info to make a slightly more atmospheric drawing when I came home. It’s a simple enough shape and the foliage was mainly ferns, rhododendrons and brambles. I had made a note of the sun direction and cast shadows and a small detail of the rim.


Holme Fen Charcoal Kiln. pen and ink. A4

I had also taken my chunky Grafham charcoal with me and made a couple of sketches of the beautiful silver birches.



For me, used to dark woods of oak and ash, these tall pale ghostly trees with the light shimmering from their silvery trunks make for a strange treescape. Lovely, ethereal and slightly unsettling.

I am looking forward to returning soon.

Drawing Willows with Willow Charcoal.

2013 Willows: Last year I made some drawings of the Willows at Perry. It was April.

pollarded 1bg    pollarded 2 bg

willow branches bg     willows1bg 


2014 Willows

Today I went back to the same spot. There are new pollards and the pollarded trees from last year have sent out huge strong shoots.

perry-willows      3-willows

Three sketches of the same log. The one top right was from last year. Now like some magic hedgehog it has sprung long spines. I made some pen and ink sketches. The shapes of the new stumpy pollarded trees are strange. They give the landscape a desolate look, ruins of old tree.




Pen and Ink sketches A4 And the 3 in charcoal.


Exuberant growth from last years pollard.


The twisty truncated branches on their short bases remind me of some trimmed internal organ.


Charcoal Sketches 12 x16 inches  Perry Thursday 13th March.

It is rather special charcoal ..more of that in my next post…..