Florence 1

I took the little Florence sketch from the Staffordshire figurine in the Fitzwilliam and made 3 woodblocks to correspond with the 3 main tones and printed them… many times, just as an experiment.

florence n blocks

The results were very interesting. Nothing wonderful but enough to make me think this is a good way to work.

prints     IMG_7245
Some of the overprinted details are lovely and unexpected.The different colours and weights of colour change both the atmosphere of the image and her “look”.I also made a little watercolour of the figure, just to get to know her better. I have a weakness for china figurines. Strange smooth shiny little people, often “idealised” versions of real people or classical figures, in pastel colours often with painted features that do not quite follow the contours of the model.  Nice! More character and much more real in a way. Sometimes, people whose makeup has gone askew, look just like this!

flo 1 copy
I had a look at the real Florence Nightingale, who looked nothing like her china portrayal. The moon faced ideal of gentle Victorian beauty she was not, but a handsome, and uncompromising looking lady.

Colour Sketches from the Wood

Some small sketches from the wood to make some colour notes as the weather changes. They will help so much for printmaking. I start with a pen sketch just quickly getting down some main lines and lights and darks and then follow up with the colour notes.
I have wanted to do this for some time dithering about what paint etc as I need a quick drying paint for working outside.
In the end I used gouche. Gouache is still my go to paint for these quick colour notes. I love its thick slightly chalky texture.


It’s a small square sketchbook 5.5 inches square 14 x14 cms


There are 60 pages.. I hope to fill them all.

Back to The Spinney

While working on other projects and having a bit of a holiday in Bilbao ( very nice) I continue to cycle up through the fragment of ancient woodland that is Savages Spinney. Heavy leafy branches now arch over the path which is patterned with the slanting rays of sunshine and dappled shadows.

I hope to be working on some bigger prints next week and so yesterday I decided to do some more sketches from my favourite spot for some reference material to work from.


There is a particular tree on the path which often catches the light. This little sketch to record the basic shapes and the lights and darks.

My sketch by a fallen tree in my favourite spot.

Then more, to simplify things and look for shapes and ideas, making a rough record of what I am seeing now, in summer. It is so much busier and complicated,  so different from the stark tree shapes of the winter I had sketched before in November.


This one above just line and a few details then the following sketches with more tone, to record the dappled light, the path, butterflies, branches knitted together with lichen, seed pods, spotted leaves, bees and leaf canopies, puddles and the water of the reservoir etc etc.  I made written notes about sounds and wildlife as well as notes of shapes that I might add.
There is nothing like working on site. You can eliminate so much of the muddle and focus just on what you want.

tree-1     tree2     tree3     tree4     tree5     tree6    tree7     tree8      t10

A4 Sketchbook pages, pen and brush and inks.

The more abstract the sketches become the more possibilities present themselves and the more they represent to me the essence of what I see in the wood. I hope to get some small paintings done later this week to explore some of these in colour.It will be very interesting to see how these carry forward into prints!

April Sketchbook: Days 8 to 14

Continuing April sketches to record what is happening up in the wood.  Lots going on out there now. I have started noting the Latin names now, which are often illuminating and explain much.

8th April: A neat little fly that I see everywhere. It is elegant and attractive with spotty transparent wings. Hence its Latin name Syvicola fenestris otherwise known as the window gnat. Like most flies it has some grubby habits but is very pretty non the less.

9th April: Shepherds purse, Capsella bursa pastoris, from scrubland.( more heart shaped seeds ). The pretty silver backed silverweed leaf, Argentina anserina, and a sprig of already flowering cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris.
10th April: Pussy willow aka goat willow, Salix caprea, catkins and stems.

11th April: A page of yellows. Pretty greeny yellow of the celandine, Ficaria verna, which opens and closes with the sun.
Delicate pale yellow of primrose, Primula vulgaris, with a darker flash near the base of the petal, buttery yellow of dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, and the daisy, Bellis perennis, centre.
The gorgeous marsh marigold, Caltha palustris, and my phone, Objectus irritatus, which was on my desk at the time.

12th April: Sadly not all bees make it.  I found a little early bumblebee, Bombus pratorum queen on the track. Shame. They are so very attractive, with silky long hair and that slightly blunt ended ginger rump. Another small grey and white female mallard feather, Anas platyrhynchos, from the execution scene. And a tiny creeping weed, the ivy leaved speedwell, Veronica hederefolia, whose flowers and leaves are neatly arranged opposite each other all the way up the stem.

ash ash2

13th April: At the top a sturdy ash twig, Fraxinus, with its black leaf buds and contrasting little fluffy spray of flowers which have red tips. You can see old “keys” still hanging onto some of the trees. A little group on the right. I have never noticed these flowers before. Here they are sprouting either side of the leaf bud, looking like mad sort of ears.
14th April: Below two more willow catkins from the grey willow, Salix cinerarea, on the left and the elegant arching crack willow, Salix fragilis, on the right. All sketches in A4 32 page sketchbook. I shall be in the middle soon.. hurahhh!

Gathering My Materials

This week has been one of research; people, plants, shapes, colours, design possibilities, words and thoughts. I regard “materials” as visual knowledge as well as factual knowledge. The sketches are the only way I can really work out what it is I want to do.
Sometimes (often) I would rather go and eat cake than start this stage, but once I do get started it’s not so bad. In this story of the Hortus I have a fascinating cast of characters and I need to get to know them, so I have one notebook for the plants and one for the people.

The first plant I am looking at is Datura stramonium, the awful Thornapple with its dangerous beauty and powerful narcotic effects. I will be having a much closer look at all of the plants as I continue the research but for now it’s just a double page spread for each one, just to get an overview.


And some seed/pod sketches. I am not so interested in the real thing as in their design possibilities. .


And then some pages of pencil figure sketches, in order to discover what I want my people to look like.  Slowly, I know, they will take shape. Through the drawing and redrawing my personal set of characters will emerge and I will get to know who they are.


They certainly won’t all be good. 🙂

December Bumble Bees

Today was mild-ish and weakly sunny and the sweet smelling winter honeysuckle by the kitchen window is in bloom. It seems too early… and it seems way too early (or too late) for little worker bumblebees to be collecting pollen.
But there they were. But the winter honeysuckle is a real star of a bee plant and if I cut it back it will flower again. The bees are very small so I am not sure if they are terrestris or lucorum workers. Just a hint of yellow after the last black stripe makes me think perhaps terrestris… but so tiny!!

bee-2      bee-3

and here they are together…


I hope these little bees are close by and have a well protected nest and that winter is kind to them.


Beekeepers Ancient and Modern

Also, to accompany these, a few sketches of beekeepers, ancient and modern. I am considering adding some figures to my current bee charm project and have been working out what I might include. Some are based on old manuscript drawings and some are modern beekeepers and of course there is a bear, which I changed a bit ..
The figures are all engaged in varying bee keeping activities from evasive action, banging pots to quell a swarm, catching a swarm, general hive work and cutting the comb. The most sinister are Pieter Bruegel’s three faceless hooded figures with their circular wicker face masks ( Pic 4) Wonderful…

bk1     bk2

bk3     bk4


bk5     bk7


Where there is honey, there is bound to be a bear.

September Sketches 4

These are the last of my September 30 minute sketches. Just a short break and then I’ll be back.


Monday: Geese and the Harvest Moon: Last night the huge harvest moon hung in the sky ( I didnt manage to stay up for the blood moon!) and the flocks of geese which visit the reservoir this time of year flew by. Their cries send shivers down my spine. The beating of their wings are like sheets flapping in the wind. They are Autumn to me.


Sunday: Autumn leaf, a breezy day and daddy long legs. I was not sure what to do today but I had a leaf on my desk. It’s windy and bright and yellow outside. By the window are the remains of daddy long legs caught in the huge spiders webs.  My ginny spinner still has a bit of life left!


Saturday: Last Plums I love Victoria plums these are the last ones.


Friday: Plum Alley Muntjac. In the early morning wildlife are scattered along the cycle track and woodland paths. Rabbits, squirrels, many birds and sometimes a weasel or a fox zig zag in front of me. Plum Alley is an old railway track where trees on either side of the track now meet forming a leafy arch. I often see little muntjac deer. They are capable of leaping high across the track. Falling leaves are turning yellow. Sometimes the deer just blend into the background.


Thursday: Come Again Lacewing . Found an old receipt in my jeans pocket, it had been through the wash. The only clue to its identity are the faded letters. “……ME AGAIN” A little lacewing has been flying around recently. I keep seeing it. They are always welcome.


Wednesday: Fence Crows. The twa corbies. They are always there, sitting  on the posts in the sheep field down the lane. Black, black unremittingly black.


Tuesday : Rain rain rain:  Sitting gloomily looking out of the window at the dreary relentless rain……puddles, drips, runs, sheets, stair rods and dreich, dreich drizzle. It rained all day.. even a frog would be miserable.
Back soon…

September Sketches 3

Week three of the 30 min sketches: It’s been really interesting. I find I am freeing up a bit more, getting more interested in ideas that might develop further, less concerned about how they look to anyone else but me. But, after Tuesday, I decided to scan the whole sketchbook page as I don’t want to give the impression that these are finished works.
However sketchy these quick, sometimes scrappy, things are, they are proving to be very useful. More than I would have imagined. More useful to me than a careful study because the time constraint makes you engage some immediate responses and be creative. This can be frustrating because other (better) ideas keep occurring while you are rushing to get them done.


A4 sketchbook
with notes.

I found myself making additional notes and sketches on the page opposite the image. It was not really my intention to do this, those other ideas just have to be set down somewhere. This week Blackberries have been on my mind quite a bit. I have picked them, eaten them straight, cooked them with windfall apples. My skin has been lightly flayed by them and I was fascinated by a coincidental and wonderful little programme about them on the radio.The legends, superstition and life style of brambles is most interesting.. the dark side most interesting of all… as it always is with me 🙂 And lovely birds are still a part of every day; reservoir birds, garden birds and  woodland birds. And the glorious colours of autumn just cannot be ignored!


Today, Monday: Early cycle by the reservoir in a misty grey chilly morning. The terns are barely visible. They blend into the haze. Red beaks and legs and their black caps are almost all you can see.


Sunday: Elderberries and Spindle tree: A glorious sunny day so I made two drawings. The red stems of the berries are wonderful. The leaves are turning yellow green.
Then I saw the spindle trees with their flame red autumn foliage, bizarre pink berries and orange yellow seeds

spindle 1    spindle-2

I first made a wimpy, nothingy sort of sketch, when what I REALLY wanted to record was the colour, those clashing reds, pinks and oranges. No 2 is what it was really about. It’s a good lesson…visualise what really interests you… It would be worth making a good drawing of the pods, seeds and leaves, though. They are very interesting.


Saturday: Dazzle camouflage.  There are quite a few grebe families on the reservoir. The young ones are growing up now but when they are little they are gorgeous, stripy, black and white, perfect camouflage for ripply water. They often hitch a lift on the back of their parents. I had to include a one.


Friday: Grave Plantings: Another dark superstition from the blackberry programme: Apparently they are planted on graves to keep the dead in and the devil out. I thought the worms would find there own way in so added some wrigglers at the bottom. I went along to look at our church graveyard here. Sure enough there are some brambles growing in tangles over a couple of old faceless graves. There were berries. I didn’t try them..


Thursday: Blackberries and bodies. I had heard a programme about brambles and liked the remark that bramble plants are often found in places where people have done very bad things to other people. Either people choose those places to dump bodies or brambles quickly twine and cover the evidence. Brambly undergrowth is not somewhere you really want to investigate if you value your skin. Winter may be revealing though.


Wednesday Picking blackberries for an apple and bramble pie. It is a process of negotiation with bugs, daddy long legs, lacewings, wasps, tiny green things, white plume moths and ladybirds.. etc etc.


Tuesday 14th: It’s chutney and jam time, I made some plum and apple chutney with chilli. For me it has to be  hot hot HOT… That’s all for this week.

September Sketches 2

Week 2 of my half hour A4 sketches and they are a mixed bag. At the moment they are very random, sometimes from memory, sometimes from what is in front of me. Great for just getting colours and ideas visualised…however roughly. And it’s an opportunity to play with different techniques and new materials.

It’s quite a challenge to keep to half an hour and I am having to simplify things and work quickly with bigger brushes.. There is no time to faff. ( that’s good for me). It’s a bit like the Sketchbook in a Day project ..That’s something else I am going to do again soon.
Watercolours are annoyingly slow to dry so am using more gouache.


Today Monday. just a page of shapes looking out of the window at the garden.

It was a great little exercise in just looking at shapes and greens.I am thinking much more about prints these days and the simplification is really useful.


Sunday Rabbits 13th: In the quiet early morning rabbits leap across the cycle path. There was a small black rabbit. too. I have seen a few round the reservoir over the past year or two. I guess domesticate ones make the occasional bid for freedom. I can understand that.


Sat 12th Spider: It’s a spider time of year. This sketch is a rough for a “September” print for the “Bird Cherry” book. These big stripy spiders are everywhere at the moment. Also the monster spider that lives behind the fire in the front room is back.. oh dear. I am still struggling with the stupid fear of large spiders.


Jenny and 5000 miles ..


Friday 11th: Tattoo. A man on the bus yesterday had a simple old fashioned swallow tattoo, with a girls name in the banner. A sailor having done his 5000 miles would have a swallow tattoo..so would an an ex prisoner…..


Thursday 10th Yale : An afternoon in Cambridge. A sketch of one of the “Yales” over the entrance to Christchurch College. Yales are gloriously odd spotty mythological creatures.


Wed 9th: Bird Cherry leaves and seeds. I have to think about my bird cherry tree for Tree Following this week.


Tuesday 8th Sept:  The straw bales have been moved. The excess straw piled up and burnt off. Harvesting this summer has continued late into the night. They used to burn the stubble fields. Spectacular snaking stripes of brilliant fire in the twilight following the lines of the harvest. This was just a patch of bright flames against the dark woodland. I have used pastels for this one. I am not very keen on pastels but sometimes I feel guilty when I buy materials and don’t use them (often)

The MA course starts again soon… a slight feeling of panic is setting in .. must do more work ..:)