Growing Tips: 2

The word “Tip” has several meanings. The tip of something, advice in small chunks and to incline. So I decided, on the reverse of the lino plant tips, to make some small illustrated “tips” about how both humans and plants might flourish. We need very similar things really, plants and us; light, water, care, space, nourishment etc etc.


In any garden there are also pests and helpers.. as there are in human life too! So these had to be added. 🙂








The reverse side illustrations were done on scraperboard and scanned and printed alongside the type. It was very simple in one way but the construction was not so easy. I tried different card weights and stocks, printing on different papers and trying adhesives until I had a compromise which worked well.

The text for the first page of the tips is from the wonderful Gardeners Labyrinth by Thomas Hill 1653. A very favourite old gardening text book of mine.

“What care and diligence is required of every gardener: To these what increase and commoditie a well laboured earth yeildeth”

How very true...A little TLC goes such a long way with both plants and people.

I printed the linos on 300 gsm watercolour paper and the text and illustrations on a medium weight photo quality computer paper. Then laminated these onto the lino tips which gave them enough strength to enable them to stand up once the small stand slots were cut in the base.

Growing Tips

I printed lots of papers to cover the box. The trickiest bit was getting the points of the cover to meet nicely at the top of the triangle. But it closes fine and quite neatly, allowing the title to be seen through the front aperture. The inside of the box is yellow…. nice!

Here is a gallery of the tips and their “tips” 🙂








One project resolved…. about 50 more to go. The list of projects I want to do gets longer as the time I have gets shorter ! Oh so MUCH to do!

Again I have to thank Sue Doggett at City Lit boookbinding for advice and encouragement! She did say that a triangular box would be tricky.. she was right!



Some Coot, Coots or maybe Cootses

The Coot, Fulica atra, the dark waterbird.

Coming back from holiday always takes a bit readjustment and I am well behind in my various projects. I didn’t get any sketching done in Amsterdam so output was low but input very high.
The Museums, bars, canals markets, food and people were so much fun and so interesting, even in the rain, that we are going back in the autumn.
However it was my turn over on Beautiful Beasts last week and after seeing a feisty coot on one of the canals I decided to do some coot sketches.  You can read more about these sketches on Beautiful Beasts: see Canal Coot and A Cute…ah no….a Coot Chick.

Near the Rijksmuseum, sections of the canal have been planted with nesting platforms of water plants, just a few feet from the bank. This small coot was very busy chasing anything and everything, including us, away from her nest which contained at least one not-very-pretty little chick.

canal coot

Her ugly baby

But I am very fond of coot and see them all the time round the reservoir. I had made this sketch of one of our local birds last year.


It’s also also given  me the opportunity to finish a trial scraperboard of a coot chick which I had started some years ago.


Scraperboard on the desk..


Scraperboard 4 x 5 inches

In reality the very small chicks are odd looking, with their red/orange bald head and a halo of yellow feathers. They lose these quite quickly. The characteristic white shield of the adult bird, which gives rise to the old saying “as bald as a coot” takes about a year to develop.

coot-baby-sketch-bg      coot-wcol-bgv

Coot are comical and very attractive. I am fascinated by their feet. I am planning a print.:)

Pig in Jacket and the Consequences of Fire

Over at Printdaily this week my printing adventures have involved etching. Yesterday I spent the day going through the process, at a bit of a gallop, from start to finish. The whole process is faffy and time consuming and I had dithered about an image but, eventually with Chris’ Salute The Pig Project in mind I made a scribble based on my sadly lost, but not forgotten, Pig in Jacket.

Etching plate and Print of Pig.. you can read about the lengthy process over at Printdaily here.

Pig in Jacket” was one of the small treasures that I kept when we made the big move over ten years ago. He was a small, I think about 4 inches high, white porcelain figure. I cannot remember when or where I got him. He had been with me for many years. Today I went back to the photo I found and made some sketches.

Lost Treasure 1. Pig in Jacket


 The Consequences of Fire

Just over three years ago, on the day I set up my “Buzz”show in London. I received an email telling me that everything I had in the world, apart from the suitcase of things I had taken to the USA, had been lost in a “ catastrophic” fire in Spain.

I had taken a small storage unit, not much bigger than a walk in wardrobe, in a new steel, self storage facility, just to keep the special things in my life safe. It seems so ironic now.
I lost all my paintings and drawings, all my sketchbooks, beautiful old watercolour papers, my stash of now unobtainable professional scraperboard, my fine tools and brushes, gilding equipment, precious pigments, paints, the very special selected books I had kept, all my personal treasures, small pieces of jewellery, hangings and silks from India that my grandmother had brought back in the 1920’s.

My teddy, my old toy dog, my tiny old lead farm animals, my desk, my easel, my book press and countless other small but irreplaceable things which I had tried to keep safe. But the state of the art storage unit protected with alarms, sprinklers, cameras etc  had gone up in flames. It was Spain, at its worst.

Probably arson, possibly an electrical fault. Who knows, and not worth wading through the corruption and concealment to find out. What is gone is gone. I have not mentioned the fire before because I loathe “pity me” blogs and the very best thing to do in these circumstances is to shake yourself down, be thankful for small mercies and get on with life.

Anyway amongst the losses was this pig. Oddly enough I had taken a few snaps of my favourite small things just before I left as I had planned some drawings and the photographs were on my laptop. It’s been in my mind lately to have another look at them, now things are not quite so raw, and Pig in Jacket fits in so well with what I am up to now.

A Previous Incarnation of Pig

It’s not the first time I have used Pig in my work.  Some 23 years ago he appeared in my Devil’s Alphabet, which I am about to reprint. Pig here is rejecting the drunken advances of the Devil.

The Devil with Pig… A tiny scraperboard drawing. .. and I think there will be a lino cut too.. He was a nice Pig!

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

Happy Easter and Blog Break.

I have been so busy that Easter has just come out of nowhere. With the exhibition up and running, posting here will be sporadic for a while. No, I am not lounging around in the sun unfortunately, but doing some illustration work. A book I illustrated some 20 years ago is to be republished in a smaller format and needs some illustrations to be re done; a curious job, to be copying my own work! There will not be a leaf in sight so the work doesn’t really fit in this blog but if the author permits I will publish progress. I will hopefully be continuing leafy, pod-type posting twice a week here, with more Leu finds or other images and stories

Also with a year of sketches and drawings piling up it is time to make room for more so I will be offering some work for sale. Therefore, my faithful blog readers, if you find you can’t live without a strangely beautiful little pencil drawing of a seed pod or two let me know….special rates apply for faithful readers! I am about to get more organised but at the moment my selling strategies are haphazard.. i.e. if you have seen something on the blog you have liked let me know and if it I still have it and it is in a saleable form I can let you know price size etc.

Meanwhile Happy Easter to you all and many many thanks for all your kind comments and good wishes for the exhibition, which so far is going very well!

I am having a couple of days off!

Spring Tree and Bird

Leaf of the Day: The Telegraph Plant Says It For Me

Well it’s Valentines day, and as life here is generally bound up with plants in some way, I had decided to make my nearest and dearest a home made (yet another) plant-themed card! Well these are times of thrift and I have been thinking of designing some cards anyway, so this is a sort of early prototype. I made a scraper board of the Telegraph Plant seed pod and combined it with the earlier pencil drawing of the stem and leaves in Photoshop and added these nice little telegraph diagrams to spell out the message. Ok, I admit, it is a rather obscure way of writing a message, but not everything needs to be obvious does it? I did put the easy-to-decode key on the back for those whose telegraphy might be rusty!..and it wouldn’t take a huge intellect to imagine what it might say on this particular day.

So, my Valentine card with a little help from the Telegraph Plant which I wrote about before here

I like playing around with images, meanings and words, so I am planning a series of scraper board images, possibly for a couple of small handmade books or cards. It will be called “Gone to Seed” …another good reason to explore my favourite seed pods.

St Raphael v St Valentine
Apparently, according to the BBC, if you are already hitched you can thank or blame St Valentine, but for those who are looking for a soul mate, it is St Raphael not St Valentine that you should petition.
Back in biblical times St Raphael seemed to do a successful job for Tobias’ dangerous liaison with Sarah.
“Raphael, according to legend, helped Tobias enter into marriage with Sarah, who had seen seven previous bridegrooms perish on the eve of their weddings.” more here .

Tobias and Sarah by Jan Steen. There is an interesting history to this painting which was once cut in half and owned by two different people .. read more about its reassembly here

In order to avoid a similar sticky end and drive away the demon, Asmodeus who is due to attack him on the wedding night, Raphael instructed Tobias to burn the liver and heart of a giant fish which he had killed on his journey. The noxious smoke repels Asmodeus who flees to Egypt where Raphael binds him and renders him harmless.. Phew!! .. all this and more can be found in the robust book of Tobias in the Old Testament.
The equivalent dragon these days is presumably the bride’s father or worse, the groom’s mother..


Telegraph Plant Seed Pods

Leaf of the Day: You say Scratch, I say Scrape..Scraperboard Trial and Error.

I will be doing some retro posting for last week and trying to catch up but, as always seems to be the case, as soon as the word “time off” is uttered, along come the band of malevolent cold germs. Just why is that??? You know how it is, you carry on with work feeling perfectly healthy, and then, come the first day off, down you go!
I read this some time ago and it made me laugh. It’s about how to get over a cold.

“Use this time to de-stress by listening to your favourite music, playing a musical instrument, reading and other at-home leisurely activities. Take your mind off things that are currently worrying you and enjoy some time off.

Hmmmm…but it was taking the time off that brought the cold on in the first place … I should just keep working.

Well I have not been completely idle. My decision to go back to scraperboard work (“scratchboard” here in the USA) has meant finding some boards and then getting some practice. That has meant having some debate with various suppliers here about good old Essdee British Scraperboard which I used to use. After many phone calls and emails and some bad temper it seems that Essdee Scraperboard in its excellent professional grade form is no longer available. It is still sold but without this, the old logo on the back and only in one grade.

So what arrives are some thin anonymous looking sheets, which is not very comforting and they are not even wrapped. They tell me it is just as good. I am not entirely sure about that but don’t have any of my old boards here to compare. I see that professional artists are using Ampersand clayboards so that is probably the way to go when these not very good Essdee boards are finished. But, if anyone finds they have any of these old boards lying around, let me know, especially the thick professional grade in white!

If you are interested in the techniques there are quite a few tutorials on the Internet. Many just involve copying photos of animals with every hair faithfully portrayed which is not really what I am interested in, but, in essence it’s all about tone, and getting a balance between black, white and greys. The greys are achieved by working into the black areas and many different techniques and tools can be used to arrive at these tonal areas. I only normally use a couple of tools but made the big mistake of ordering some Scratch Art ones which are terrible.

This panel shows some techniques for shading from a short tutorial about scraperboard here

I have had two attempts at ordering the board, one company sent me black instead of white which I like even less but am using it for practise, and my goodness I need it.. I wasn’t quite sure what to practise on but found these old sketches of grackles from last year which I thought might do.

I am fascinated by the grackles. There is nothing quite the same in the UK, maybe magpies, for their strutting walk and attitude, and maybe jackdaws for their glossy iridescence but they are curious to watch, endlessly marching up and down and throwing their heads back to cackle raucously. I had made these scribbles of the grackles which come and sit on the deck here by the lake. I keep a very small sketch book with me which comes in useful just to jot down ideas and I had thought about the possibility of some designs with the grackles some time ago.
So here are my rusty experiments, a couple of grackles and the moorhen chick from last spring, all based on sketches so not true to life at all!
The moorhen chick seems to be having a bad hair day!

Scraperboard Experiments

Leaf of the Day: Back to my Black and White Roots

Some things you can only see in retrospect, like the pattern your life may have taken, and how early influences both good and bad have shaped your path and direction. While having this short break I have been considering what and why I started drawing and what influenced me..and still does.
Also revisiting my grandfather’s story made me remember my first favourite books. Some of them were his books and although he died long before I was born I would read them at my grandmothers house. Favourites were Kipling’s story of Riki Tiki Tavi, in the Jungle Book and the Just So Stories. There were Joseph Jacob’s Old English Fairy Stories, and Sherlock Holmes and Dickens and M R James Ghost Stories.
What these books all had in common were black and white illustrations and that is how I started drawing, copying some of the engravings and pen and ink drawings from these and old art magazines. I have said before in the blog how much I feel that black and white work is underrated, I love black and white photos, am drawn to black and white design, and I started my art career working in pen and ink.
So if last year was getting back to the basics of observed drawing maybe this year is revisiting some favourite subjects and techniques.

Some years ago I worked in scraper board which I had played about with for as long as I can remember. Its clean, crisp, black and white quality was used extensively in the early part of the 20C for advertising illustration. You would see much product illustration drawn on scraper board, for some reason I mostly remember shoe adverts, and at one time it was a very popular technique for medical and scientific illustration. One of the finest exponents who kept this style alive was Bill Sanderson you can see his wonderful work here

I made a few samples pieces for commercial advertising including this one,

and this was for an advert trying to persuade people to relinquish the messiness of real fires for the the virtues of gas heating.

I went on to work in scraper board as well as pen and ink for quite a few years, returning to it from time to time if the job allowed.
My favourite job was a lovely poetry book called “Chasing the Sun” which showcased poetry from around the world. I had liked the woodcut type feel I could get with scraper board. Here are some examples from the book.

The Village School by Judith Nicholls was lovely to do as it is about the county where I grew up and, yes, we too had slates in our very first school class.

Two poems by Roger McGough.. This first one likens the smelly Durian fruit to a small animal.

and I didn’t know the Aardvark was such a good mimic.

Dancing the Anaconda by Mike Johnson

And one of my favouitres from the Greek section by Simon Pitt

Poetry is really rewarding to illustrate and has got me thinking of some possible projects.

So February is going to be black and white month.. I will be exploring some of my favourite old techniques and artists and I will be continuing with the leaves and botanicals too with maybe a small book in mind.