Distant Figures and Tin Men at Temple Bruer

Scarecrows are really best seen from afar. Get too close and the magic will vanish. Like the down-at-heel circus act, whose tawdry costumes need the kindness of distance and theatrical lights, the good scarecrow needs to stay at imagination’s length.

It has just a few moments to persuade you it is real, and not just a bundle of sticks and rags and bits of plastic.Some do better than others. The very first scarecrow I photographed I encountered on a remote farm track.

I remember the occasion well, an unsettled dawn with a storm brewing. It’s an odd creature, but with an endearing human aspect. She is walking, head down, silhouetted up on the ridge of the field and just for a fraction of a second you would catch your breath.

But then you realise that the plodding step does not progress and it is only the wind that is shaking the fluttering strips of plastic, and the head, oh dear, the head is too big and too yellow.

Back then, I called this one “Alien.”

Another skyline figure, prominent in a Lincolnshire landscape of slight hills, just a snag on the horizon. Headless, in a field of fading oilseed rape, just past its chrome yellow splendour.


Another distant figure in a cold misty dawn. This one I named “The Milkman”. The low sun had illuminated two old plastic containers.


Tin men of Temple Bruer

I had a very nice email re scarecrows from Brian in Kansas, home of the very famous scarecrow and of course the tin man. I found 2 tin men scarecrows about 10 miles from my home near the tiny hamlet of Temple Bruer.
This is an odd little place with only a church and a couple of farms. It’s bleak and strange as is most of the heath to the south of Lincoln.

But it was so apt to find tin men walking these particular fields because here, isolated, almost forgotten and unnoticed, lie the remains of one of the Knights Templars’ settlements.
All that remains today of this extraordinary and rare site is the southern tower of the church, which dates back to 1160. Nearby, there are some green lanes, where riders and dog walkers cross paths and another pretty and isolated little church.So here are my knights of the field.. corrugated tin and painted metal sheeting striding across the kale, quite a fitting tribute to their ancestors.

tin man 1

When researching the book I also came across an anecdote concerning an old suit of armour which had been set up in a field to scare the birds. It would have been a wonderful sight… and sound.
I immortalized some of these oddities in the book as pen and ink chapter headings and ends.

tin men pen and ink


“Fat Brown” Scarecrow and Beastly Birds

Lincolnshire is a county of infinite beauty and endless diversity. From coastline to fenland, to rolling hills and ancient settlements. I have lived in the north in the Wolds, in the middle at the foot of the great Cathedral of Lincoln and in the south on the border of the fens.

I have lived in the city and in the villages and I have appreciated them all.
The south was where I started photographing scarecrows and where the ideas for a book began to take shape.

Here is Fat Brown one of the earliest scarecrows I photographed. A typical chilly January morning, a low sun and a white rime of frost on the kale and the overalls of this expansive scarecrow,who seems to be tripping lightly across the field. I had seen this one from quite a distance, my attention caught by the sun shining on the old fertilizer bag.

What, you might ask, do these optimistic, brave and lonely figures hope to achieve? Their presumed target, crows, don’t actually disturb the crops too much.
While pigeons do love cabbage, and rooks will pull up young corn, crows prefer a solitary meal of grubs.
Rooks though are really delightful birds. I have always been very fond of them ..not to eat you understand, although rook pie was a good Lincolnshire country food. They are funny and sinister and glossy and noisy.
They flap and wheel around the house, nest in the big trees and strut around the garden in that self important way they have. I have drawn them many times.

The scarecrow here was inspired by probably the most sinister one I photographed.. Down on the fen in a field I found this terrible creature, a true thing of nightmares, definitely not to be encountered at dusk. Due to the handless, legless state he was in, he became known as Amputee .. the goggles just make for an extra frisson of the macabre

When the scarecrow is unsuccessful, a hapless rook is sometimes shot and hung from a stick in the field, a grim but ineffectual warning to others, but generally the farmers leave them alone and they can be seen mooching about in little groups in the fields, bickering and digging in the soil and generally being very entertaining.


All illustrations from ” Scarecrow” copyright Val Littlewood

Thing of the Day: A Mystery Posting and a Scarecrow.

I am almost back to posting, and had my elbow jogged by Feedburner sending out a old post about the Mickey Mouse plant yesterday, completely unbidden! …so apologies to email subscribers. One reason for the long gap has also been the problems with the email feeds from Blogger which, if the recipient was using Outlook, were causing computers to hang.
Thankfully this seems to have been resolved but for some time I just gave up trying to read my email subscriptions.
Now, since Google has taken over Feedburner I am not quite sure who, if anyone, will get Pencil and Leaf emails.
My Feedburner account seems inaccessible and it’s all very frustrating very boring and horribly time consuming.

A quick update: just to let you know I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs or lying by the pool :)…

1. New apartment found, packing boxes waiting to be filled, much stuff thrown out, we move next weekend.
2. Exhibiton at Leu comes down Tuesday (bad timing).
3. Short printmaking course started for fun.
4. Much wrestling with Photoshop, tiffs and bitmaps to convert some B/W artwork for letterpress plates. Exciting small book project underway.

But.. meanwhile a scarecrow as promised in my last distant post…. This is a scraperboard drawing of a scarecrow I called Duffle Coat. Duffle Coat is one of many scarecrows I photographed about 20 years ago while researching for a small children’s book. An exciting discovery in the attic on my last UK visit was an old folder containing envelopes of these photographs.
I have long been fascinated by scarecrows, but not the awful, cutesy contrived scarecrows of the, now numerous, scarecrow festivals or the garden centre or the craft store.

Mine were real scarecrows, working scarecrows, made by farmers, out in all weathers with a job to do. It is debatable how efficient they are. My general conclusion was, that while they do not work for the birds, they do have an unnerving effect on the unwary motorist or countryside walker. They appear as strange apparitions in a misty early morning, striding across the landscape, trudging through rising corn, abandoned in an old barn or just propped up by a hedge.

Figures made of sticks and cloth, plastic and tin cans and old cast off clothes. Some so realistic as to be a reincarnation of the farmer himself, some stripped down and abstracted to the nth degree, a simple cross of sticks with some flapping fabric. It is easy to mistake even this basic scarecrow for a person, as our human programming constantly and anxiously scans our surroundings for other humans, always on the look out for either friends or foes.Over the next few days, between packing,

I will be posting a few of my favourite photographs and illustrations from the book, with, of course, a bit of scarecrow information and history.


scarecrow 1

Leaf of the Day: The UK .. Digging, Moving, and a Slight Hiatus

Here I am back in the USA, sketch book almost completely empty, but head completely full of ideas inspirations and possible directions. “Leaf of the Day” may have to become “Thing of the Day”.. or even just “Thing of the Month”.

UK Things:
Most of the trip seemed to be spent in the hire car, trying to keep to the correct side of the road and admiring the beautiful May countryside through sheets of driving rain, while visiting old friends and relatives.

I learnt many things on this trip:

*The origin of the Chelsea Physic Garden.
*The use of chicken’s feet skin in bookbinding with very beautiful results.
*Quite a bit about charcoal burning and ‘chicken in the woods’.
*Huge Indian mice and Ganesh.
*The problems of sourcing real English apples for a farm shop in Lincs.
*More about the far from grim, Grimsthorpe Castle.

I so enjoyed these things, (in no particular order);

*The warm and welcoming company of old friends and family.
*The joy of a real prize winning Pork Pie from Mr Thorpe, real Lincolnshire Sausages and fish and chips.
*The snowy beauty of the hedges white with May blossom, Horse chestnuts blossom and kecksey ( cow parsley)
*Regent’s Park on a beautiful summer day with my good friends Dorothy and Jill.
*London for all its wonderful treasures, specialist shops, great pubs and cafes.
*Catching up with my friend Dy over soup and a roll in Bloomsbury.
*The privilege of visiting London’s stunningly wonderful Museums for free.
*My sister’s hidden treasure of a sheet music shop, Counterpoint, in Lincoln, (although found and much appreciated by Louis de Bernier.)
*My friend Kate’s really excellent, specialist and aclaimed cheese shop “The Cheese Society” also in Lincoln.
*Seeing the Bookbinders exhibition at the Flow Gallery…more of this later.
*The big skies and tiny distant church spires of Lincolnshire.
*Huddling on Big Stone in High Bentham with my friend Gill, in borrowed anorak and wellies, in the chilly darkening evening, while clutching a beer, listening to curlews and peewits crying out over the moor.
*Meeting up with my wonderful dog sitters of ten years ago, Stan and Barbara.
*Sitting in a tiny old Derbyshire cottage and having tea with an old friend at a local Church Flower Festival.
*Listening to my Dad (91) admitting he had a friend with a gorgeous red sports car ( Jaguar ss 100) in the late 1930’s with whom he used to go to Blackpool from Leeds on weekends when they were flush!

I failed to do these things:

*Sketching 🙂
*Get to Scotland

In between I did some heavy duty gardening for my Father. It was sheer joy for me to be out in those cool mornings..light at 3.30.. accompanied by the singing birds, biting east wind and fine drizzle. Best activity? … digging. To be precise, digging out one of Dad’s excellent compost heaps, more of that later.

I have actually been back for 2 weeks but due to pressing economic necessity we have been trying to find a cheaper apartment. We are moving from shoe box to matchbox. The next step will be the cardboard box on the street corner or the workhouse, but we remain optimistic. It is at this point in my life that I realise the mistakes I made of; A, not training to be a nurse, they seem to be able to work anywhere and; B, not marrying a very rich man.

Creatively things are just on hold while I regroup..
“Hiatus” is the best word for this little break and has some interesting definitions ie:
Suspension: an interruption in the intensity or amount of something”
or “Latin = a gap, (like that between some people’s ears)” or the gap between the covers of my sketchbook!

Back soon with some fond discoveries in the attic, regarding scarecrows….