Pig Progress and Florence 2

There is so much going on right now, but in between the prints and drawings and learning a bit more bookbinding, I am working on the pigs. More 3D ceramics ones this time. I had experimented with some 3D shapes over a year ago and have been wondering how to decorate them. On my recent trips to the Fitzwilliam Museum I had looked at the wonderful old English decorated and sprigged saltware, which at last sparked some ideas.
My skills don’t quite run to sprigging yet, so my first pigs ( of what will hopefully be a series, called “The Well-Fed Pigs”) are just black and white scraffito. I thought it would be rather nice to pattern them with all their favourite foods, “well fed”, in both quality and volume. More, many more perhaps, to come!


Sketches and notes for “The Well Fed Pigs” and a couple of trial pieces. I like them!

This autumn I decided to try to bring more ideas and experiments to some sort of resolution. I find it impossible to say “finished” but at least something other than files and folders of random sheets.So I made a small folder (good bookbinding practise) for the Florence prints and mounted them on folded sheets. It is a much nicer way of storing these colour woodcut experiments and they looked  much improved for a bit of care and attention

IMG_7353. IMG_7346IMG_7345.

Notes from the Fitz; China Ladies and a Thoughtful Monkey

Last Thursday I went to Cambridge to meet my good friend Alex but also to get started on the small sketches. We managed just one hour of drawing but it was well worth it.The Fitzwilliam has wonderful ceramics galleries which I always visit. I am particularly fond of the early English slipwares, Staffordshire figures, painted Delft and the wonderfully varied animals and birds, owls, bears, lions and tigers.
Nice for starting the quick drawings in the small sketchbook.
I was hoping to catch some of the robust character and delightful oddness of these early works.

Grumpy Queen

I feel a real affinity with them, perhaps because I worked in Stoke on the pottery factories, perhaps because I have always loved the slightly wonky, slightly out of kilter, outside-the-lines sort of art.

sleep   lion   baby

angelz  lady-with-owls  florence n

grumpy queen   hat   lobster

madonna   monkey   rest

In Japan I came to realise how much I preferred the woodblock prints where the the colour blocks had not been perfectly registered. How much more life there seemed in these than in the perfectly printed ones.My favourite is Florence (as in Nightingale).. she is the one I will be taking into a print.
florence n    FN

Work for the Winter

In the last two weeks I have been taking some time to reassess work and winter projects. Three weeks away is quite disruptive but perhaps in a good way. Some things that seemed a great idea before Japan now seem not so interesting and I also had a good studio sort out which has made me see some old work with new eyes. I mean really old work, going back some 16 to 30 years. Having some distance has been really useful.

What do I want to do?
As a commercial artist you generally do as you are told. Teaching generally involves looking at the talents, aptitudes and desires of your students and guiding them to fulfil their potential. But what about me? I am really happy to be working on the bees and the pigs and the careful observed drawing, all of which tend to be crowd-pleasers, so instant ego gratification! But when I look back at my casual sketchbooks and exploratory drawing from many years ago there is an energy which can get lost in carefully rendered and necessarily designed work. There are also subjects that I want to explore but never felt I had skills in the right medium. Learning printmaking over the last few years has definitely helped but now it’s time to really see what I can do. It may also be that the years are ticking by!!

How to do it?
Sometimes the answer to problems is blindingly obvious. In my case it is “just draw with a different tool”. So I am temporarily banning pencils and just working with brushes and felt tips.



A couple of brush sketches for Diana the huntress from 2000I found some small sketchbooks from about 8 years ago where I was looking at “notan”. I was making Small sketches from paintings or the garden, with just 3 felt tip pens. It was mainly for teaching puroses. But looking again they are so full of possibilities that I have decided to go back to this simple sketching form.. alongside the commercial work on the pigs, the books and the bees and the careful drawings.

sketch books














The tiny sketchbook notes. The books are only 4 inches square.So that’s what I will be exploring… 🙂

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.

April Sketchbook: Days 22 to 30

The last week of the April sketchbook, making notes about what I see on my route through the woods.


22nd April: Some bird notes. A few shapes of birds that I see regularly in the wood.


23rd April:
Leaves from trees. Most trees are getting their leaves now. My tree knowledge is a bit sketchy so it seemed a good idea to make some notes from the leaves I have collected.
24th April: Tree shapes. I am thinking about some prints so a few thumbnails of possible designs. The weather had suddenly turned very cold so it was an opportunity to do some thinking inside rather than freezing outside.


25th April:  Bugle, wild crab apple and groundsel. There is Bugle on one of the rides through the wood. I love these pretty plants and have the cultivated form in my garden. The hairyfooted flower bees love it!
26th April: Alder. Alnus glutinosa I knew very little about the alder tree before this week.Now I know a lot more now. There is a small grove of very tall and stately trees by the bird hide. Lovely tree.


27th April: Pendulous sedge. Up in the wood there are clumps of this  growing by the path. They are in flower right now with very attractive nodding heads which scatter yellow pollen.
28th April: Piece of bark with accompanying woodlouse. I brought a piece of wormy bark back to draw. It had a resident woodlouse so I drew that too.

29th April: a Snail and some moth notes. Busy bank holiday Saturday so a few quick sketches of a large snail and some moths associated with the trees from the Spinney. I really like moths and have a moth trap which is due to come out as soon as it warms up a bit more.
30th April: Beech, an old twig with leaves and a new twig with emerging tiny concertina folded leaves waiting to unfold. I have learnt today that the name for trees retaining their leaves in winter, as the beech does, is called ‘marcescence’. Fascinating. These beech twigs, one very new and one old, with last years twisted dried leaves, are from the same tree. And that’s it for April!  I have a really busy May coming up, so not planning a daily notebook. But its a good and useful habit. Maybe…

A4 Sketchbook.. with a convenient 32 pages. Nice to finish a sketchbook for a change !

April Sketchbook: Days 15 to 21

More sketches from my woodland route.


15th April: a young oak twig with oak flowers Quercus sp and the very strange and sinister shoots of the black bryony Discorea communis. In the spring their long swaying heads emerge from the ground like searching snakes.
They wave about until they can find something to support them, sometimes each other, and then continue skywards unfolding handsome spear shaped leaves as they go. They drape themselves over trees and shrubs have small flowers but beautiful strands of red berries in the autumn.

!6th April: A fallen larch Latrix decidua twig with cone. The larch branches are too high for me to reach in the wood. They tower up into the sky on spindly trunks, their main leafy branches held right at the top in the light. The larch flowers are red…pretty…and develop into the rosette like cones.
And below the larch a single elder leaf. Sambucus niger


17th April: Field maple Acer campestre spring with small flowers and the start of those twin seed pods and charming little trotty wagtail Motacilla alba, ever present along the waters edge.

18th April: Lichen possibly Hypogymnia physodes blown off a tree in the wood in the recent strong winds. It’s curiously spiky and a lovely faded grey green. Some old sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus keys from a last season, fallen, spray.


19th April:  Elephant Grass. Miscanthus sp The elephant grass which grows in a large field by the reservoir has just been harvested. The harvester scatters bit of straw and grass heads along the road. It’s curious stuff with these very attractive fluffy seedhead.

20th April: Spring blues and pinks: bluebell, ground ivy, dog violet, red dead nettle, campion.


21st April:
Deconstructed dead mole Talpa europa. Back in 2015 I had found a very smelly dead mole on the track in the wood and made some sketches.

moles-2[3]   mole-sketches-bg[3]

I then buried it in the garden in a pierced plastic tub in the hopes that worms and bugs would clean it up for me and leave a pristine skeleton. However when I unearthed it after two years it was just a slimy mass of black fur and many tiny bones all mixed together. Ah well. Maybe the compost heap next time. But it was worth digging a few out and I found a couple of jaw bones and some ribs and leg bones but the strangest I discovered are the 2 huge, (relatively  speaking) criss-cross shaped humerous bones from the front legs. See mid left on the sketch. Big strong digging bones. Very interesting!

mole-humerous   mole-bones

And I am past the middle staples in the sketchbook now!

April Sketchbook: Days 1-7

Up in the dark wood, the plants are starting to grow. Blossom is out on the blackthorn, primroses and bluebells are starting to flower. I wanted to make some sort of record of the developments for my work about the Spinney and I had also suggested to my painting group that a daily drawing sketchbook would be a good way of getting back into observed drawing before our first meeting at the end of the month.
So it seemed only fair that I should do the same and I really need to get back to this essential bit of looking and seeing. So here are the first 7 days of sketches. I try to limit the time and not be precious. It’s just a bit of daily practice but also a really good ideas generating process. A4 super cheap sketchbook with just 32 pages perfect for a month. I collect a bunch of single leaves and other bits and pieces from my route. Some leaves are small, just emerging, some already well on their way. I keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge. Easily mistaken for salad apparently.


Some of this weeks ‘salad’… Mmmm…delicious!


1st April : Arum, 2 thistles..(ouch), burdock, fascinating agrimony with its additional leaflets, celandine, dock.
2nd April: Dog’s mercury, speedwell, ground ivy, primrose, wild garlic, goose grass, cranesbill, violet, dock with spots, field maple, dandelion, elm seed, ivy, cow parsley.


3rd April: Pine twig, dock again showing how the leaves turn back on themselves, spurge laurel flower and leaf. This shiny leaved plant manages to survive under the canopy of the wood and has curious nondescript little flowers and the beginning of the berries at this time of year. Dogs mercury again showing more of the plant and the spray of tiny flowers. A cowslip. This one from my garden but they grow happily on the banks of the reservoir so included in the “route”
4th April: Goat willow stem and its lovely catkin which has a fascinating structure when you look closely. A twig of blackthorn which is beautiful, a long black stem ending in a few white flowers. En mass this is such a poignant evocation of spring in the British countryside.


5th April: Common hogweed leaf. a young one and the very odd flower of coltsfoot with its long snaky stem with scale leaves. The flower has faded but again a fascinating structure.
6th April : Feathers picked up over the last couple of days. A big pheasant feather and I think an accompanying small one. A very beautiful spotted woodpecker feather and a mallard feather rescued from the little that was left of the bird on the waterline…only its head was intact. I know I should have brought it back to draw,  but….


7th April : A page of deconstructed  little wych elm seeds. A small bunch had blown off the tree by the shoreline. I removed them from their twig to draw. There are  17 of them. They are neat,  heart shaped seeds with a red seed capsule. I missed the flowers which are tiny red-ish bobbles. It seems so early for a tree to already be setting seed. When ripe they will rain down like heart confetti all over the village and into our garden.

Spotty Woodpeckers and the Fiery Redshank

Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major

I see the spotted woodpeckers often in the woods but we also have a couple that visit the birdfeeders here so it’s easy to watch them. They love peanuts.



Common Redshank  Tringa totanus

A pretty dainty little bird I saw pecking about by the shoreline. I did get a hazy shot this but it is easy to ID because of its brilliant red legs.

As it flew away catching the sun, it looked as though it was on fire. Very beautiful.

Thumbnail of fiery Redshank

It’s those sort of thoughts that make me want to record and note things visually. Not in a conventional accurate drawing but just as a record of what I have been thinking about, what characteristic I find interesting, maybe a colour, a shape, a line or an attempt to understand how something works.
Sometimes it might develop into print or a very detailed painting or even something 3D. Thumbnails are very useful !

Distant Cormorants

Today I went up to the hide in Savages Spinney. It looks over the inlet where many birds take shelter. Looking south there is a small spit of land which juts out into the water from the western shore, right now it is a more extensive sand bank, revealed by the low level of the reservoir. Here the cormorants gather in considerable numbers. They love being together. It’s too far away for a photo but I could see the birds quite well with some modest field glasses. Enough for some scribbly notes.


I made a slightly bigger sketch at home. I love the way sit with their wings outspread, preening or with heads titled skywards as if expecting
something to happen. A few gulls had joined them.


Distant Cormorants A4 sketchbook

One bird was standing on its own, right at the end, gazing out over the water.




The tiny sketches are not much more than squiggles and dots but you get the idea! I am very fond of cormorants. 🙂

The Spinney: Starting with Drawing

One of my projects this year is to make some work about the small spinney which I cycle through most days. I have already made some drawings and prints but it’s a wonderful place with so much to offer that I have decided to make more. A few days ago when it was sunny I took a small notebook with me and stopped to makes some scribbly notes.

It was very cold and the drawings are quick shaky lines but really useful to me. To stop and draw, however quickly makes you sort out what exactly it is that you are really interested in. Ignoring the muddle you simplify and isolate (I think intuitively) the things that are important to you in that moment. Another day the drawing would be very different and the added bonus of drawing outside is just the joy of being outside and those chance encounters with the natural world. It makes you stop for a while and in this quiet place, off the main track, there is little to distract other than the noise of the wind in the tree tops, squirrels, woodpeckers and a friendly robin.

Today I returned for more drawing and again the robin appeared and hopped around by bike.

Yes it is very muddy! Why Savages Spinney?
The Spinney is a narrow strip of fascinating woodland which contains some fragments of the ancient wood. It features on the old maps. On this scale it is tacked onto the end of Calpher (Calfe)wood. This one from 1643.

 old mp1
This from 1687
Here nearby Brampton wood is encircled. It was an important hunting wood, once part of the much larger Royal forest of Warbridge.

In 1889 the spinney is more clearly defined. I have highlighted it. There is the addition of the railway line, now long gone and Low Farm, lost under the reservoir in the 1960s.


Then 1986 and the reservoir has engulfed Low Farm, the railway line closed and fractured and the spinney now has its feet in the water. This is how it is today.


So it is an area which has seen development and loss. Settlement here dates back to the Iron Age. Roman remains have been found near Perry and the church here dates back to the early 12th Century. So there is much to think about.

The wood itself is very lightly managed by the Wildlife Trust. Piles of logs are left to rot and are overcome with moss and fallen and broken branches remain undisturbed. There are woodpeckers, owls, fungi, carpets of bluebells in the spring, orchids many many bees and insects and down the side track is the bird hide, looking out over Savages Creek. There overwintering waterbirds take shelter along with resident swans, coot, moorhens, herons, cormorants and egrets and delightful grebes.

Yes indeed, so very much to think about!!