Spotty Dotty and Girlie

As part of our quest to find happy pigs we recently visited Sylvia and John’s  Garden Farm at Old Weston.
Sylvia introduced us to her two sows, Girlie the bright little Berkshire and Dotty the Gloucester Old Spot.They are delightful.

Gloucester Old Spots and Berkshires are Chris’ next pigs for Salute the Pig. It was very very muddy .. as it is everywhere at the moment but pigs are happy in mud:).


Spotty Dotty with her long lop ears which cover her eyes.


Girlie the bright and sparky little Berkshire. A4 sketchbook.~

Sylvia was telling us that she was a handful to move and in one pig book the young Berkshires are described as “naughty”.
Both of the pigs have quite luxurious hair. Perhaps Dotty’s hair was slightly silkier. They feel wonderful.  I also worked some more on the acetate printing plate and made some darker prints, with some interesting results.


Dotty: etching 6 x 4 inches

I am impressed by the sensitivity of the thin plastic. I am sure the number of prints is limited. I am going to show the various stages over at Print Daily. So far the things I love about pigs are their ears, their noses and their bright eyes.  T

he sketches are so useful for understanding how pigs are put together. I did exactly the same when I started drawing bees. These initial studies pay off many fold and they are a pleasure to do.
I am discovering that pigs are all very different. face shapes, ears, coats, body shapes etc. I hope to return to Garden Farm. They have lovely chickens too and in due course there will be piglets!

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.

The Land Magazine: Seeds of Resistance

A few weeks ago I was delighted to be able to supply some illustrations for the excellent The Land Magazine.

“The Land is written by and for people who believe that the roots of justice, freedom, social security and democracy lie not so much in access to money, or to the ballot box, as in access to land and its resources.” Their Aim: “To campaign peacefully for access to land, its resources and the decision-making processes affecting them, for everyone, irrespective of race, creed, age or gender.”

Nothing you can argue with there, is there? Perhaps we sometimes forget that without “land” we have nothing. The article I provided the drawings for is Seeds Of Resistance written by Ed Hamer who is a farmer in Devon. The article is a fascinating read and takes you through early seed saving, the history of hybridisation and the political and economic pressures surrounding seed production and the issue of Seed Saving, as well as an insight into the work of the Heritage Seed Library.

I am, as you know, a dedicated bee conservationist so seeds, flowers and pollination are always on my mind. I save seed when and where I can and after reading this article and also meeting Peter Brinch and hearing his excellent lecture about Open Pollinated Seeds I am thinking much more about the seeds I buy and where I buy them from. The Real Seed Catalogue is a good place to start.

sor 1    sor 2     sor 4

sor5     sor 3
You can read a PDF of the article here or even better subscribe to the magazine! I will return to the general issue of seeds and open pollinated seeds in the summer when I’ll be back to my bees.

Sketch Week: Bouncing Jack Russells

Sketch week: Tuesday’s sketch

There is a lot of dog walking here and in this cold weather dogs need coats. This man and his two little terriers were walking in front of me yesterday. I meet them quite often. I might draw them again and add a bit of colour as they both have red tartan coats.
We had two bright and sparky little Jack Russells in our family, so the way they move is familiar to me, especially that unmistakable terrier bounce. Sometimes they seem to have all four feet off the ground.

Ours used to race about on three legs. There never seemed to be enough time in their busy lives to get that fourth paw on the ground.

Pencil sketch in the A5 sketchbook …


Here they are enlarged a bit…


“A Certain Sleepy Perfection of Contour”

What can this be?.. Why, a pig of course!

“To begin with, pigs are very beautiful animals.  Those who think otherwise are those who do not look at anything with their own eyes, but only through other people’s eyeglasses.  The actual lines of a pig (I mean of a really fat pig) are among the loveliest and most luxuriant in nature; the pig has the same great curves, swift and yet heavy, which we see in the rushing water or in rolling cloud. “ GK Chesterton liked pigs.. this is from “Rhapsody on a Pig” published in the The Illustrated London News, 8 May 1909.

I think it would be fair to say that G K Chesterton himself had some of those very same luxuriant contours.
And he is so right about the pigs. Those gorgeous soft curves and that wonderful spread of weight as they lie down….

Sleeping pigs…well, most of them.




Pencil on A4 sketchbook It’s pig week for me over at Beautiful Beasts.

Small Beginnings: Devil’s Toenails

“Beginnings” are always exciting and surely nothing can be more exciting than the earliest forms of life. Fossils, I thought might be the perfect place to start my year of exploring the world of Beasts. This first week then will explore my local fossils. I live by Grafham Reservoir whose shoreline is littered with shelly fossils. They are mostly Gryphaea remains, otherwise known, delightfully, as “devils toenails”.

Gryphaea, a fossil bivalve

This beautiful image is from the Natural History Museum’s page on the Gryphaea of Lyme Regis.
The ones we see here are much more weathered and misshapen but there is still the magic feeling  of handling something so very ancient. They are from the early Jurassic period approx 199-189 million years ago. There must be millions of them here. Most of the ones from the shore here look like this:


Devils Toenails from Grafham Reservoir shore Jan 2014


A typical piece of the “shingle”in today’s sun. It’s mostly made up of bits of graphaea from a bay on the reservoir that I, really creatively, call Devil’s Toe Nail Cove.


Devils Toenails 2012 Sketches from earlier P&L post, inspired by their odd shapes. In life the Gryphaea were bivalves and relatives of our oysters. From Bristol University’s site  Fossil Types

 GRYPHAEA (or Devil’s Toenail): An extinct genus of bivalve. It is believed to have been an unattached recumbent recliner on the sea floor, with its very own self-righting mechanism if a strong current knocked it out of the sediment.

From the Natural History Museum’s Gryphaea page

“As a bivalve it possesses two valves. The valves are markedly unequal in size and shape, the left valve is strongly incurved, the right valve is small and flat. The left shell is thick and its surface is marked with numerous ridges. They lived on the sea floor with the flat right valve facing up, it probably acted like a lid, when open allowing water carrying oxygen and nutrients to flow in and be filtered out of the water.”

Having read this, it now makes more sense of the shape.

Devil’s Toenails: Graphaea Fossils from Grafham Water


Pencil on cartridge 8 x10”

I did find one today with a fraction of the “lid” intact. See the drawing top left. It explains some other odd shaped things I have found.

Devils Toenail?
The name does seem rather obvious when you see the gnarled and twisted shapes. Some may have thought they were the actual  toenails of demons. In that case there were legions of demons around Grafham, which could account for quite a bit. More about these strange creatures, other local fossils and their inhabitants tomorrow.

The Fascination of Sloe Globes

I am fascinated by the sloes. Every time I go for a walk I pick a few more.
The colour version I painted last week (Shine and Bloom) just made me want to draw more.
Last year I wrote in my Walking Diary:

In every sloe there is a small world. Tiny continents nudge up against each other, swirling grey cloudscapes wrap themselves around others, some shine like black buttons, nearby branches leave scratches and striations. Your fingerprints are left on the ones you pick…imagine obliterating those small lands so casually.”

Imagine indeed. This year the tiny dusty worlds are back in all their infinite variety.


On Sunday I sketched them, before making the last reduction cut for the Berry Print, you can see the progress over at Printdaily.

The last cut was a rough (very rough) approximation of a world map. We love to find imagined landscapes in things, don’t we.
They are the possibility of escape,  the potential for a different life. Mountains of another place appear in cloud banks on horizons.
Miniature deep canyons are cut by rivulets of water in the sand,  muddy flood pools clear to reveal tiny wet underwater lands with waving grass, and shimmering contorted other worlds stare back at us from reflections.


Sloe World 1 : Pencil, Image 8 x 6 inches

I am going to make a series of drawings of these little worlds. Some have split, some have split more, their contents spilling out. Some have more sea than land and some more land than sea. One day I may jump ship and set off to seek my fortune in one of them, so it’s good to know the terrain in advance. I still walk with my small notebook. Not everyday, but when I do it is illuminating. My notes are full of creative ideas. Many will never be pursued but some, like the sloe globes, will.

Willows: A Start. The whys and wherefores of a drawing

Starting with Willow I decided quite early on that I would make a start on the Residency with some work about the Willow Tree. Looking over my sketches from the summer the willows are so often there. It is an iconic tree of this currently sodden, watery area and they line the Reservoir.
There are local names for some varieties, the Bedford Willow, the Huntingdon Willow. They are everywhere and there are many different kinds. One book  notes 18 UK varieties.
I like to start things with drawing and research. The purpose of both are to get to know my subject. I can read and learn but I don’t think I really “see” unless I draw.

What is the purpose of drawing.. for me

Drawing, for me, is all about learning. Initially it’s about trying to record what I can see.  Accuracy at this stage is important to me because the more accurate I try to be, the more I must study the subject.
Through drawing I will learn about structure, line, colour and form, but most importantly I begin to discover what it is I like about something. And that is really important. My first exploratory drawings of the willows are just a few leaves.

I am still not out and about much but I brought some tatty old leaves back from my shoreline walk about a month ago. Once inside they dry out,  twist and form wonderfully curled shapes.


My drawing and models

My way of arranging them for drawing is to throw them onto white paper and see what happens. This works much better for me than carefully and deliberately arranging things. It is also the way my Filipino gardener friend Pedro, back in Leu Gardens,  plants seeds and bulbs. His handling of plants was one of great empathy, respect and understanding. He was well rewarded.


“ Three Willow Leaves”  pencil on hp paper, 10 x14 inches

So here is a drawing of the leaves. I loved the curling shape and the way the cast shadows tell of a shape you cannot see. The desiccated surface of the leaf makes the central vein more prominent and I could see the layers of the surface, some were peeling away.  Tiny bits broke off. These things are very brittle and fragile.

The hours it takes are all a part of the slow absorption of the information. It’s a very peaceful process and totally absorbing. It reminds me of my old “leaf of the day” drawings.  I will be doing quite a few more study drawings and some sketches and colour notes. There may be a lot about willows this coming year!

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

Hips…make some wartime syrup!..

A quick sketch of some rose hips. It’s “research” for a nice little job to draw 9 medicinal plants for the labels of a lovely range of herbal products.
The first one is the rose… whose “hips” have been used for many and varied medicinal remedies over the years and are edible too. It seems that Rosa rugosa hips are the preferred ones for eating.
Rose hips are packed with vitamin C and allegedly can help lots of things.. from coughs and colds to rheumatics and digestive problems. So in these frugal times hedgerows can help keep us healthy and the wild rose bushes here are laden with these pretty fruit.

Here is some wartime advice:

ROSEHIP SYRUP The recipe distributed by The British Ministry of Food 1943: ‘The Hedgerow Harvest’

2 pounds (900gm) of hips: Boil 3 pints of boiling water. Mince hips in a course mincer and put immediately into the boiling water. Bring to boil and then place aside for 15 minutes.
Pour into a flannel or linen jelly bag and allow to drip until the bulk of the liquid has come through. Return the residue to the saucepan add 1½ pints of boiling water stir and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Pour back into the jelly bag and allow to drip. To make sure all the sharp hairs are removed put back the first half cupful of liquid and allow to drip through again.
Put the mixed juice into a clean saucepan and boil down until the juice measures about 1½ pints (852ml) then add 1¼ (560gm) of sugar and boil for a further 5 minutes. Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once

Source: The Hedgerow Harvest, MoF, 1943 via Woman’s Hour.. where else ! 🙂  Another nice old quote, whose provenance I cannot find, says this:

‘Children with great delight eat the berries thereof when they are ripe and make chains and other pretty geegaws of the fruit; cookes and gentlewomen make tarts and suchlike dishes for pleasure.’

This not-so-gentle woman is still contemplating her haul of damsons and windfall apples but thinks this year she really should give rose hips a go! Mother would be proud!

rose hips bg

Rose hips from Grafham

I only had to walk a few yards to find bushes laden with hips.
The bushes have a graceful arching habit and ferocious thorns.
Our kitchen window was reflected in the glossy surface ..will report back on syrup progress!