Back to The Spinney

While working on other projects and having a bit of a holiday in Bilbao ( very nice) I continue to cycle up through the fragment of ancient woodland that is Savages Spinney. Heavy leafy branches now arch over the path which is patterned with the slanting rays of sunshine and dappled shadows.

I hope to be working on some bigger prints next week and so yesterday I decided to do some more sketches from my favourite spot for some reference material to work from.


There is a particular tree on the path which often catches the light. This little sketch to record the basic shapes and the lights and darks.

My sketch by a fallen tree in my favourite spot.

Then more, to simplify things and look for shapes and ideas, making a rough record of what I am seeing now, in summer. It is so much busier and complicated,  so different from the stark tree shapes of the winter I had sketched before in November.


This one above just line and a few details then the following sketches with more tone, to record the dappled light, the path, butterflies, branches knitted together with lichen, seed pods, spotted leaves, bees and leaf canopies, puddles and the water of the reservoir etc etc.  I made written notes about sounds and wildlife as well as notes of shapes that I might add.
There is nothing like working on site. You can eliminate so much of the muddle and focus just on what you want.

tree-1     tree2     tree3     tree4     tree5     tree6    tree7     tree8      t10

A4 Sketchbook pages, pen and brush and inks.

The more abstract the sketches become the more possibilities present themselves and the more they represent to me the essence of what I see in the wood. I hope to get some small paintings done later this week to explore some of these in colour.It will be very interesting to see how these carry forward into prints!

Spinney Trees

This lovely May morning I took a small sketchbook and a pen up to the Spinney to make some quick notes about the tree shapes. Most of the trees have their leaves now so I can identify which is which. I am looking for characteristics of each species which I can use for some prints. They are the trees I see, very possibly not typical of the species, but ones I know and can place along the route..a young beech, the tall alders and a cluster of limes etc.

Field maple, Larch way up at the top of the canopy and the Limes with my bike 🙂

The lovely tall Alders down by the bird hide, Wild cherry, Sycamore with its big drooping leaves.

Pollarded willow, Poplars in the wind with floating willow seeds blowing everywhere, Elm with bunches of, now browning, seeds which are scattered everywhere.

A small Beech growing under the Oak canopy, Birch, twisted from the prevailing wind, arching Bramble and a spindly Hawthorn again growing up towards the light under the canopy.

Ash just coming into leaf with its tipped up branch ends, Blackthorn up on the old railway line

A5 sketchbook and pen. It’s all you need.

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 …

Blogbreak, Back to Basics and Dog Days…

My blog break has gone on a little longer than expected. So much to do, so many days spent in the garden, out walking by the water, being both on and off my bike. Being occasionally in, but mostly out of my workroom and away from the computer.

But I can never really switch off that nagging little work horse conscience and I have been going back to some basic colour work in preparation for some winter projects. My desk has looked a bit like this for the last week or two:

desk I

t’s excellent to do some very concentrated colour work, exploring new mixes and trying different papers.

Also up and coming is our group exhibition at Easton Walled Gardens in a couple of weeks time. We are putting together two large collaborative panels of 48 different images which will be fascinating to see when finally put together.
We have been working on themes of Easton, architecture, flowers, trees, fruit veg… etc etc. I made one preliminary sketch of one of the elegant, but to me, rather mysterious, towers in the orchard across the river. This is the Apple Store glimpsed through the Yew walk. I included Spot ( Easton’s resident spaniel) just in the frame at the bottom and three loose apples.


Spot and the Apple Store, ink and wash sketch A4

Easton Dog Days Coincidentally, dogs are not usually allowed at Easton, but in August, Sundays 4-6 pm, well behaved and socialised dogs are welcome for an evening stroll. See WHAT’S ON at Easton Walled Gardens which also includes our exhibition!!

Back to the blog more regularly very soon….when the sloth of sloth has left 🙂


Conker Seedlings

When I joined Lucy’s Tree Following Project in February I rather wished I had known in advance because I would have planted some conkers. In a hopeful moment I went to look under the tree by the roadside and found some unprepossessing blackened conkers in the undergrowth, brought them home and stuck them in a pot. Out came sprouts and now they have grown into good little seedlings.


I though it would be interesting to draw the development so put another one in some vermiculite. That too sprouted, but so quickly that I missed the early stages of growth.


Today, outside in the sun and showers I sketched it. Two small compound leaves rise up from a split in the snaky root which has developed rootlets. Then a shower caught the ink.


Chestnut seedlings sketches and old conkers: A4 pen, ink and rain.

A small  watercolour sketch stayed dry. Shame…a shower might just have improved it.


The optimistic new Horse Chestnut Tree

I am almost packed. We are off to Amsterdam…Hurrah….

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.

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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.

Sketch Notes from the British Museum 1: Incomplete Animals

In January I resolved to go and sketch somewhere different once a month. I didn’t make it in January, but on Thursday, with Beautiful Beasts and the dragon puppet in mind, I spent a few hours at the British Museum. It is my very favourite place in London and I never leave without finding something new and fabulous. This time the trip was for more for visual research, than sketching for its own sake and I spent a long time just wandering and looking, and then returning to make notes. I made about 20 rough notes of beasts, bits of sculpture, of fabrics and ceramics. I was looking for dragons, found a few, but saw many other bizarre and wonderful creatures too.

marduks-dragon-horse-and-pi bm-1-bg



Dragons, lions, a cat, dogs, horses, a pig, a hen, a fire serpent, a harpy and a frog… from various rooms at the British Museum.  Pen in A5 sketchbook.

Incomplete Animals

Following on from my Incomplete Dodo from the Hunterian Museum, and as you might expect in the British Museum, I found some more delightful  incomplete animals. This is a pegleg Chinese Horse


The Pegleg Horse, the sketch and my sketch kit.

My sketching kit is very simple. One pen, 2 sketchbooks one A5 and one A4 and a water pen which I sometimes use.

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he Peg Leg Chinese Horse, A5 sketchbook

And then I found some wired crouching lion guards from the Nereid Monument in room 17.  One has a disembodied foot, both have missing bottom jaws.. poor things.


A metalwork lion and one of the great crouching Nereid lions


Another view of the crouching jawless lion, some of the beautiful big Chinese ceramic horses and a macabre little figure made of lead and glass with an ivory mask face. It was straight out of a Quay brothers film. But this one from the 7thC AD. Turkey. A4 Sketchbook

But my very favourite thing from this trip was a small stucco fragment of a horse being embraced by two disembodied arms, what a beautiful thing it is.


Fragment of a Horse.
Ming-oi, near Shorchuk, 8th-10th C.  Stucco with traces of paint.

I decided this would be my subject for Beautiful Beasts next week. I returned to the Museum for an hour yesterday and made some more notes which I will post this coming week. I could just take photos but drawing something means you have to spend a long time looking at it.

Sometimes the thing turns out not to be as interesting as you had hoped,  but often it is through the quiet, slow, observation and drawing that you fall in love with it and find some unexpected beauty.

The Simplicity of Line

Over at the artist’s twitter group it’s #linefebruary. So this week I have been doing some line sketching.
Line, to me, means just line, which could be reproduced in only black and white with no halftones. I normally take a wash brush with me to add tonal values but this week for a change I have used just black and white and different combinations of pens, some dip pens, some technical pens


Everywhere are tangles of brambles.

There is a place on the path where heaps of long mown meadow grass have been slowly drying and disintegrating. They provide cover for small animals who have burrowed into the heaps and the wind has formed  them into swirls.

line-bg     grass-heaps-bg


I an rather fascinated by these forms and make this white on black study of one of the heaps.


Windy reservoir …


…and thumbnails of bits and pieces. All approx A4.

I have put this page in upside down, which makes things even more interesting. They are all based on  the reservoir walks so I know exactly what and where they were, although some bear very little resemblance to the place.
Perhaps you could say they just have something of the essence of each place, which is often all that an artist really wants to achieve. I love pure black and white. It provides a different view and proposes many different possibilities. Some of the marks can be wonderful if you can let them happen.

The Thing

Sketch Week: Day 4

I try to walk most days and have only missed two since Christmas. Yesterday it was dull with misty drizzle. The sweet woodsmoke from the houses lay heavy in the lanes. In these dark afternoons the woods smell warm, peaty and mossy. It is somehow comforting.  Colours are subdued and monochrome, so the old white spiral tree protectors shine out.
They are mostly split now as the trees have expanded.  Some blow about in the undergrowth or like this one have been assimilated into the tree structure. In this case two trunks have grown very close together trapping the protector as it split. I have a few pieces of these curled shapes, they are lovely to draw.
A trick of perspective gave this one a wan face, a poor trapped thing, its grasping arms never again to meet, as the tree relentlessly expands.


A5 sketchbook

Pony sketches

Sketch week: Day 3.

A couple of sketches today to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Horse This black and white pony grazes in a field down the lane. It is the same field that had the lost gloves on the posts. There is only one glove now and I think possibly the other one is inside the pony. It would have been tempting to nibble at the waving fingers.


Shetland Pony sketches It is very black and white with a sprinkling of mud too. In the half light of late afternoon it is almost lost in the far hedge.


Pony at Dusk A5 sketchbook  And a pen and ink sketch from the initial drawing


A5 sketchbook

Happy Year of the Horse to you all…