The Bone Drawings: Beautiful Labyrinth, Something of the Rabbit, Lucy’s Skull and a Tiny Corset.

I have spent a very happy week drawing bones for Beautiful Beasts. After sketching and printmaking it’s great to sit down for some concentrated observation. I started off with sketches and then looked for some particular aspect of the bone that appealed to me. Here are the drawings. For more explanations and photos etc click on the titles to go to the Beautiful Beasts blog posts.

Under the Skin 2: The Beautiful Labyrinth….

A long bone I found near the reservoir. At one end there is glimpse of the interior structure. That’s what I liked


A4 Sketchbook: pencil.


The whole bone: pencil


Detail of above… the part I liked


Pencil study of the beautiful labyrinthine structure. I could have gone on for days …

Under the Skin 3 : Something of the Rabbit about it

A curious thing, I now know to be a rabbit’s jawbone.


Pencil with a stray piece of dry grass.


Watercolour study


Drybrush  watercolour study


Under the Skin 4 : Lucy’s Skull and the Tiny Corset

The lovely muntjac skull that my friend Lucy gave me.


A4 Sketchbook


Watercolour Study


Gouache study

The Tiny Corset

The last bone. It’s a small upturned skull which was casting a long eloquent shadow, or it’s a tiny corset for a fairy, whichever you prefer.


Pencil:  4 x 2 inches.

Footbone note : The reproduction of pencil work has always been problematic. It still is. Scanning tends to reflect the shiny dark pencil and lightens the image. It  becomes a poor thing in relation to its original, with many mid and light tones missing. It’s fine as a record but when I see fine pencil work on the internet I can appreciate just how good the original must be.

“you could draw us – the small dragon – on your church spire …”

Yes I could…with pleasure. This comment was left on my blog after my last post: Puppets and Dragons. I wrote:

“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.”

Diana commented:

“you could draw us – the small dragon – on your church spire….”

I am not one to shrink from a challenge. This is for you Diana, my faithful blog reader!

Initial thumbnails….


The pencil sketch


The ink sketch.


Ahh black and white heaven. There is nothing this girl likes better than getting out the black ink and the old dip pen Dragon on the Spire of All Saints Grafham …. almost done…


I was just going to post this when I realised the small dragon seemed to be looking for something. But there is nothing there. To land on an unknown church spire on a dark winter night seemed a lonely prospect, so I added a welcoming figure.


That’s better.

A Small Dragon seen on the the spire of All Saints Grafham Cambs.
Recorded faithfully by Val Littlewood on the 15th Dec 2013


Happy Solstice to you all….

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…. ?

It’s Forward …if slowly…into 2013

At 11.00 am on 30th of December with the turning of the last page of “Bring up the Bodïes” Thomas Cromwell finally released me.

I felt myself fortunate to have got away with all my body parts intact save the aching Foot. Not many who came across him were quite so lucky.
After his darkly compelling world I was glad too that the sun was shining, the birds were singing and that I could see the first striped leaves of a crocus struggling through.  But as I come up for air I also, selfishly, hope that Hilary Mantel is deeply closeted with the Tudors writing his next chapter. It can’t come soon enough. I have also been released from my crutches.

Shuffling replaces tapping. So now my progress, if slow, is at least silent. The Foot is gradually easing back into being a functioning thing. The painful toe stabbing demons are still visiting as the long incision begins to heal and tightened tendons and muscles are stretched. But it IS progress.

Today I made a small drawing, not an interior as a kind reader suggested but three tiny eggs.
My Christmas card” last year (see First Snow) showed some snow covered nest boxes. They came with the house and in the spring we cleaned them out and put them up in hope of some takers. Blue tits came and were busy for a while but for one reason or another they left.
We have magpies, we have visiting cats, there are cars and circling birds of prey. So many things that could disrupt an early nest.  And then there is just life, death and misfortune. Earlier in December we took the box down and inside were 3 tiny eggs. It was poignant.

I like to think they found another quieter place and raised another brood.  The nest was a bundle of grass, moss and some vibrant day-glow fibres which makes me think a neighbour has a closet 1970’s dressing habit.
The little eggs have been on the kitchen windowsill nestling beside a head of garlic on a pretty saucer and waiting to be sketched. I wonder at their tiny size.


Three little eggs .. a symbol, if you like, or an encouragement to the coming of new life and a new year.

I have always thought that making a drawing of something gives it another “go” at life, another possibility of existing in a different dimension.  We will put the boxes up again and keep our fingers crossed. And so it’s forward, if slowly, into spring and into summer; to painting, drawing, printing and hopefully, walking.

May your muses be many, attentive and cheerful.
A Very Happy New Year to you all.

Tiny Mouse Sketches

Every morning Chris throws out a handful of bird food onto the concrete slabs by the kitchen door. It’s usually the robin, the blackbird and the “Gang of Three” starlings who are first there. Now we have a tiny mouse who creeps out from behind a planter.. rushes over to snatch a seed or a piece of cheese and rushes back. It is so charming. We only see it when it’s just getting light. It’s hard to see, but the scampering movements and those huge, shining, night vision eyes give it away. I am sure it is a common long tailed field mouse. Apodemus sylvaticus. All ears, eyes and whiskers, dark grey brown on top with a paler fur underneath. A few sketches to try to get my right arm and hand back into action. It’s reluctant and tells me it would rather be gardening, and I am very rusty.. in all senses. But work is piling up and its actually lovely to be able to sit down with the radio and my pencils again!

fieldmouse bg

Getting to Know the Garden: No 1, The spiny “Purging Buckthorn”.

It’s one of the first things to do with a new garden. Go out and see what you already have. I am starting, sensibly with things that still have leaves.

To the left of the shed there is a tall scrubby, straggly, suckering, thorny thing which apart from the depressing leylandii on the eastern boundary is the biggest thing in the garden.

I am pretty sure it is a buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica I think.
It has sent up long side shoots forming itself into a little spinney which is slowly surrounding and imprisoning the small tool shed.. (Yes I am a two shed girl! lucky me..) You would not have noticed the little shed before some of the leaves fell from the buckthorn.  It was quite a surprise to find it.

However I am not a big fan of this shrub..each branch is armed with vicious spines and it is no beauty.. but it is a native tree and is the food source for both Brimstone butterfly and equally spiny Tiger Moth caterpillars. Hopefully in the spring I will see some of these pretty brimstone butterflies feeding on the flowers.

220px-Gonepteryx_rhamni_mounted      187px-Gonepteryx_rhamni_-_caterpillar_01_(HS)

Brimstone Butterfly and its caterpillar feeding on buckthorn. Images by Sarefo and  Harald Süpfle from Wikipedia.

Why Purging Buckthorn? Because its bitter black berries are an alarmingly good purgative…one I have not yet tried, I hasten to add…
Then, just after I had my flesh ripped to the bone by one of its thorns and was wondering if it should all be dug up, and burnt,  I read  this:

Sap Green, Or Verde Vessie, is a vegetal pigment prepared from the juice of the berries of the buckthorn…. It is usually preserved in bladders, and is thence sometimes called Bladder Green; when good it is of a dark colour and glossy fracture, extremely transparent, and of a fine natural green colour. Though much employed as a water-colour without gum, which it contains naturally, it is a very imperfect pigment, disposed to attract the moisture of the atmosphere, and to mildew; and, having little durability in water-colour painting, and less in oil, it is not eligible in the one, and is totally useless in the other.

from Chromatography or, A treatise on colours and pigments, and of their powers … By George Field, 1835 read more from Google books here.

Well how fascinating! And there are many other references to sap and bladder green and to the dyes which could be obtained from this unfriendly plant.
Other accounts are not quite so damning. OK, so a reprieve for this now-more-interesting shrub, for a while, at least. My friend John over on his blog Nuncketest who is busy making his own paints might just note this down for a bit of an experiment :).
I know buckthorn has gone “invasive” in the USA…maybe just another European who saw those high, wide and fabulously open spaces and understandably went wild. Who can blame it.
This particular European is feeling a little hemmed in, having been put firmly back in her small UK box, for now.

Purging Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica

Only a quick pencil sketch and notes for now. I have spent all day trying to get the heating sorted out and weather proofing the sad neglected fence.  Tomorrow, hopefully a “sap green” sketch..

purging buckthorn bg

“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 🙂 ….

black thing plus fly bg

Dried Knotted Wrack.. plus immortalised fly..

Grey Skies and Ginkgo Sketches

It has now rained almost constantly for two days now,  not much in the way of beautiful clouds or apocalyptic storms but just gloomy grey skies.
Have they been sent as a reminder of what the UK has in store for us?

It’s time to seriously sort out, throw out, sell up and pack. I am now being ruthless.  It’s less than 3 weeks to go to our moving day.

However to lift my spirits a bit I have started thinking about my next commission which involves, to my delight, the wonderful gingko tree. I went to Leu Gardens a few days ago to collect a sprig of leaves.
They have quite a few ginkgo trees which I wrote about long ago,  back in September 2008. when I drew three little leaves for  “Leaf of the Day”  see Ginkgo Leaves.


The leaves have been in the fridge and although not quite as bouncy as when I first brought them back, they are fine for sketching.

I hung the sprigs from my lamp to draw them.

ginkgo branch sm

The curious leathery leaves with their deeply ridged surface grow in groups from little nodules along the branch. Their flat fan-like shape and very long petioles allow them catch the slightest puff of wind and flutter so beautifully in the breeze. (I am reminded so much of the Cottonwood trees we saw up in New Mexico.)
The raised vein structure in the leaves themselves is rather odd,  branching from just two parallel veins they repeatedly divide into two and do not join.

ginkgo sm      ginkgo 2 sm

Sketchbook drawings,  pencil 12’’ x9”

The Ancient Survivor When I first wrote about them I was fascinated to learn more of their ancient and wonderful history and I quote again this passage from the really excellent site The Ginkgo Pages, which really sums up the appeal of this tree.

“As the paleobotanist, Sir Albert Seward (1938) remarks: “It appeals to the historic soul: we see it as an emblem of changelessness, a heritage from worlds too remote for our human intelligence to grasp, a tree which has in its keeping the secrets of the immeasureable past.”

Dating back a staggering 270 million years, it rubbed shoulders with dinosaurs, in fact it predates them. It is unique, in an order entirely on its own, the Ginkgoales.

Once widespread over America Europe and Asia, it was thought to be extinct but the wonderful explorer, physician and naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer found it while visiting Buddhist monks in Nagasaki 1691.

He brought seeds back, planted them in the Botanic Garden at Utrecht where I think the ancient tree still survives and, talking about survival,  it is one of the few trees that survived Hiroshima. I am struck that  it seems glib to summarise the story of Darwin’s  “Living Fossil” in such a few words.

So stop for a moment and ponder on those bald statements, the links to a time we can barely comprehend, the extraordinary journeys of the early explorers, the survival of some things which defy the most awful destruction dreamed up by man. It makes our little individual lives, our petty concerns and preoccupations seem so trivial.

Consider the gingko and be humbled! And do go and read Cor Kwant’s Ginkgo Pages!!  More ginkgo tomorrow.

Conversations with Paper Wasps

It was warmer yesterday, just a bit.
Over the cold spell I have become more and more fascinated with the little paper wasps. I go and check regularly on their progress and, hoping that the same works for wasps as for bees, I tell them what’s going on and ask how they are.

I have to tell you that they are not easy to see because their nest is tucked right underneath the handrail of the concrete balcony, you have to bend double and look up, then you are more or less face to mandible.
Yesterday I spent some time with them. The conversation went something like this:

“Hi. How are you doing today? It was very cold last night wasn’t it?’’

“Yes it was .. we were outside and you were inside…maybe you hadn’t noticed, we are, fine thanks for asking”.

“I see you are still huddled up together on the top of the nest”

“Yes that’s because it’s cold, stupid”

“It’s going to be warmer today”

“Really. Well, that’s good news because maybe you will stop blowing on us to see if we are alive… really, we are fine”

“Well I am glad to see your are doing OK .. I’m just going to take a couple of photos.”

“ Ok we are not going anywhere much just yet, and it amuses us to see you struggling with those enlarging rings. Have your knees given way yet?

“I am just trying to get one good photo to put on my blog”

“Your what???”

“It’s something I do online. People all over the world will be able to see you. If I make you look attractive it will do wonders for your image.”

“We could certainly use some help there”

“Ok, hold it now.. bear with me. If you could just take your head out of that cell it would help. ..niiiiice ..”

……some time passes during which I look at my pathetic blurry pictures, and then try again.

“Hi, me again, I see you haven’t moved very much in the last hour” 

“Well there is not a lot of incentive for travelling when it’s cold enough to freeze the wings right off your body and we only have a small nest here to walk around.. So what exactly do you want now. We have been very patient with you. We CAN sting you know.”

“Yes I know, but I have read that you are quite laid back, as paper wasps go.”

“We are, that’s true but every wasp has its limits.. when I shake my wings take it as a sign to go …look I am lifting them now, so hurry up and get that camera out of my face..  and give us another laugh will you?  Have another go at pronouncing our name..”

Mischocyttarus mexicanus cubicola…..”

Wasp rolls around laughing….


wasps 2

There were maybe 3 reasonable photos and those, along with some bad ones gave me enough to identify these strange creatures and make some sketches. Hopefully more tomorrow.

wasp sk 1

wasp sk 2 jpg