After a bit of thought, I have decided to close this blog down and begin a new journey on my main website. I set this blog up over 10 years ago and I think it has now run its course. The new blog will be similar and will have more of a focus on my illustrations and regular scribbles. If you wish to follow me on the new site then send me an email and I will aim to send out a little update each month in return. This is still work in progress and I will see how things develop.
This blog site will be close sometime early in 2018
A few days ago I spent a merry few hours building a new path through a patch of lawn. This now completes the path all the way up the garden to the summerhouse - a job that I had been planning to do for a long time. Near the house is a patch of patio that is rather dead space perhaps around 8m squared in area. It had originally been covered with paving blocks which, sometime ago, I relocated and then filled the remaining hole with hardcore and topped with woodchip. To make the above path I dug up the larger pieces of hardcore (bricks and old concrete path) crom the patio and reburied it in a trench along the path line. The soil and turf removed will then be replaced back over the patio space to form a new lawn by the house. The path was edged with recycled plastic lawn edging from Homebase and woodchip salvaged from the patio area. I'll put new woodchip on the path when I can get hold of some or buy some. Hopefully it will be last time I see that hardcore and that it now has a permanant home. A pity in some ways as moving it all was an excellent workout! I still have a few lumps of concrete that I didn't have space to bury and so might just move these round the garden every few weeks to keep me fiit.
My new sketchbook is proving to be a pleasure to carry around and it is beginning to fill up with scribbles, doodles, notes, prayers and anything else I want to add. Its arrival seems to have coincided with some new and interesting challenges in life and I hope it will be a way for me to try and find a path through them over the next few months. I may share more about that in the future.
I seem to have got bored with the iPad in the sense that I find it a little restrictive in how I want to physically move about on the screen and also the fact that it is yet another digital screen. After looking at my mac at work for hours on end each day I want a break from the digital world. A larger iPad might perhaps be good, or one of the new touch screen things that are becoming popular - a Wacom Cintiq or a cheaper equivalent. Technology moves fast and there are increasing opportunites for alternative working methods for designers but they are still not cheap and I am not sure I could justify the investment. That is one thing about a humble sketchpad and pen, it doesn't cost much and hand created artwork somehow seems much more pleasurable to handle and show people.
I don't always find it easy to focus or maintain a direction with my art and at the moment I think I need the sketchbook to nurture my creative soul. I always jump around between one thing and another: urban sketching, character design, cartoons, caricatures, whimsical ideas and nature based art. My mind switches between things depending on the inspiration around me and I get easily distracted. This isn't helped by some medication I am on that slows me down and getting my brain in gear to be creative can feel like hard work.
A few days ago I was talking to a guy at work who seems to spend his lunchtimes and evenings glued to a computer screen doing some form of artwork. I can't work that way, it would be too stressful to me. I have done it in the past but now, in my more mature years, I can't cope with excessive hours in front of a computer screen. In some ways I would be happy to get rid of all the technology around me and be free of its seductive lure. In other ways I wish I could embrace it more and have the time and space to explore my own creative dreams.
Summer holidays and experiences are great time for thinking about change. Have decided to change my rough and rather scrappy sketchbooks into more of a journal. Bought a new hardback A4 sketchbook today with a stitched spine rather than wire. This should make doing larger illustrations easier as well as an encouragement to draw more acurately and make notes, write things etc in a more constructive way. Also bought some wonderful 'Aqua Flo' watercolour brushes that can actually be filled with water or coloured inks. This will make doing more tonal sketches far easier as I can work loosely in watercolour with just a dab of paint on a jam jar lid and have a flexible watercolour brush that can add water by squeezing just when I need it and without all the fuss of water pots etc. That has also saved buying a new IPad and Apple pencil! Looking forward to seeing how it will work out. Filled in the title page this evening.
The best place to draw and meet people at Greenbelt: the Tiny Tea Tent. Visited Greenbelt for one day this year and really enjoyed my day there. The Tiny Tea Tent provided endless varieties of tea but only one type of coffee. Not sure how my first cup of the day was brewed but the second, in the evening, came in a one cup cafetierre and was delicious. Apart from doing lots of sketching here and chatting to a few unknown people, managed to help light some of the many candle lanterns in the evening. Must return again sometime!
Cooking chicken curry in the garden. The wheelbarrow holds a barbeque fire pit. Suspended from the ash branch tripod is the top grill section from the bbq set raised above the fire by chains from a hanging basket and some thick galvanised wire. This holds a wok and can be raised or lowered up of down depending on the fire beneath. Once cooking complete the wheel barrow and fire pit can be moved from under the tripod to enable a larger fire to be created for evening warmth (and not burning the tripod).
Gifts received for looking after a neighbours dog recently: a selection of Romanian rugs handmade by the mother of the dog's owner; a large 700ml bottle of brandy on a box shaped like an antique book; and a bottle of what I think is a sour cherry liqueur placed in a small wooden cart with wheels and six shot classes hanging from its sides.
Some pages from my sketchbook from a recent trip to Northumberland. Alnwick town centre with some rather disproportionately sized people, a man on his phone in Alnwick Gardens and a gardener mowing the lawn at Howick Hall. This was supposed to be a sketch of people wandering around the garden and sitting on the benches, but no one obliged at the right time...
With thanks to the rain and the sunshine the garden is actually looking rather pleasant this year. The spring always seems a stressful time as seeds are sown and expectations are placed high on the ground to bear fruit, vegetables and flowers. Next year I must remember to start off all seeds undercover, that does seem to produce the most successful plants.
The runner beans, courgettes, lettuces, cucumbers and herbs have been successful though not always plentiful. Sweetcorn looks to be progressing well and I will be picking tumbling tomatoes any day now. I have quite a few healthy purple sprouting plants in various places which look very healthy thanks to my de-caterpillaring when they were young. My hop plant is now over six feet tall and looks healthy too. Sweet peas and cornflowers have done well along with all sort of other flowers here and there. One apple tree has failed with small scabby fruits only a few centimeters in diameter but Lord Lambourne seems to be happy!
Digging up part of the lawn and the ground beneath it seems to have eradicated the fungal problem only for it to appear in another part of the garden. Might have to do the same thing there too.
Blackberries have been in abundance with many bags of frozen berries filling the freezer. This has been one advantage of our neighbours leaving their garden to run wild.
The tide looks fully out. Under the clear blue evening sky the north sea on the Northumberland coast is probably as smooth as it could ever be. Gentle waves only about three to four inches high gently lap the shore. We are here on a mid-August evening. Soft sand stretches in either direction as far as we can see with Coquet Island in front of us, yet we are almost alone. Just a few other remote figures. Where is everyone on this gloriously warm evening after a beautiful summers day?
Birds: oystercatchers, curlew, terns, gulls, cormorants, a couple of dark things flying that aren't cormorants, a small flock of 15 or so small white things flying close over the water to the rocks as the tide comes in and probably a few other unidentified waders or similar. I am reminded of the many times my father and I used to watch similar birds on the estuaries of north Wales when I was a teenager.
The tide turns and the rocks, covered in slippery brown and bright green seaweeds, are quickly submerged again. The sun makes one last peek out from beneath cloud over the Northumberland hills to the west and the dunes cast their shadows over the beach. The expanse of seaward horizon before us seems immense, reaching from Dunstanburgh Castle in the north to the power station chimney at Lynemouth in the south - a distance of approximately 25 miles.
This is one of the few places where I have ever seen my daughter be almost spellbound by the beauty of the natural world.
It is hard work climbing steeply up through soft, dough-like warm sand away from the seashore. Behind me there is the gentle swooshing of waves running up the shore and the chatter and shouts of high-spirited children enjoying beach-side freedom. Around me the breeze ripples though the dune grasses. The well-worn path dips away between the mounds of sand and within a few metres the sounds behind me disappear and I enter a place of complete calm - shielded from the noises from the beach and the grasses - I am in a different world. I follow the path inland and down though the dunes. There are people here, but not many. It is a gloriously sunny, warm August day, and the miles of sandy beach have only perhaps a hundred or so assorted people and dogs as far as I can see. My wife comments that a friend in Cornwall has commented on Facebook about a beach being rammed with people. Here, in early afternoon, the path in front of me to the beach is often empty with just a few tourists passing by every few minutes.
The wind catches in a few scattered sycamore bushes and the grasses. Ragwort, hawksbit, hairbells, rosebay willowherb, clover, common centaury, wild thyme, a solitary carline thistle, snowberry, a few varied butterflies - white and browns, grasshoppers, a pipit?, tiny sun-bleached snailshells, black ants and flies, thorny ground hugging bushes with bright red berries (sea buckthorn), hawthorn, some rather ragged orange fungi and a yellow and black striped cinnabar moth caterpillar on some ragwort. There is not a huge variety of colourful dune flowers here. I recall some dunes on the Gower coast that I am sure are carpeted in floral displays at this time of the year. White rosebay willowherb seedlings float past me in the wind. Clouds of them errupt from the plants down in a damp boggy patch. Occasional heads appear above the dunes as people walk the varied paths.
The dunes form an interesting barrier landscape between the beach on my left and its people and dogs and castle, car park and village on the right. It is this edgeland that draws me to itself today. A place to sit and rest for a while and take in something of the landsacpe.
As I approach the land side edge of the dunes the vegetation begins to change drammatically. I first notice it with the presence of blackberries, then nettles, knapweed, horsetail, more varied flora and a more dense covering of grasses and general land-ward plants. I could have spent ages looking and writing about the transition between the dunes and the landside vegetation. There was no point in doing so though, it was just good to observe the change in ecology and landscape and leave a scientific investigation for other places.
Here is sketch I made in Hitchin market yesterday. I decided try something a bit different and use a black watercolour pencil to add a bit of shading to my fountain pen linework - a little more like how I would have drawn it on an iPad. It was A4 sized and before I could even finish it the market stall owner bought it.
A test sketch made on the iPad from my imagination this lunch time. I find it slightly depressing that I can instantly achieve, almost, exactly what I want to create this way rather than with pen and ink on paper. It is just so much more fluid and instantly variable. Need to explore both media more.
VIsited Milton Keynes today and was quite pleased with the following ink sketches. I am approaching this style of work with the aim of jumping straight in and getting on with it. They are more laboured than I would like but that does give them more depth. On an iPad it is so much easier to vary line width rather than having to change pens and I much prefer having a little more flexibility with tools working that way. I am not quite happy with the lines and it will be interesting to come back and look at these in a few months time and see how things have evolved - which I hope they will have done.
I had a few minutes spare whilst waiting to go to the dentist today and so did this quick sketch in St Albans. I only managed to get an outline down in ten minutes or so and so worked on it more during my lunch break. Am I happy with it? Partly. It is just taking lots of practice.
The garden seems to be deciding to grow at last. Each year I get the impression that it is several weeks behind what is generally happening in gardens at large. This year is no exception. There was a cold, dry spring and now, after some rain a couple of weeks ago and the present warm weather, plants look like they are growing. Two successive sowings of parsnips failed to materialise and my onion sets are not much bigger than when I planted them around Easter. Fortunately a few things have not succumbed to the elements or eaten by something. Lettuces, runner beans, courgettes, sweetcorn and strawberries a doing well. The latter have given us a plentiful crop off only a few plants. The roses are doing well with profuse blooms in places but the honeysuckle doesn't seem to like the garden and is rather spindly. My hop plant is progressing very slowly and I do hope it does something as I adore the smell of them in late summer when they flower. All the things that have done well are those sown from seed under cover. Most seeds sown in the soil have perished apart from the spinach. The lavender is nearly out and at last the flower beds are filling out bit. I am trying not to buy much this year though unfortunately I have a few gaps near the house which might just have to filled after a visit to a garden centre. Shhh, don't tell the wife....
A warm sunny evening in the garden and there is the faint scent of elderflower drifting on the breeze. At last there is a stable spell of warm weather. This year has been so varied and I hope now that the garden will catch up a little. It seems so slow to get going this year so roses, honeysuckle and other odd flowers are a welcome sight. Now I am trying to maintain the flow a writing for a while.
I think I have written about prayer before and the subject just came to me as I was walking down the garden path wondering what to write about. In a sentence I could just say "Yeah, fine. It's just a thing that makes me feel good about myself when I think of other people for once" and leave it at that.
This is not the place to battle with age old arguments for and against it. Perhaps my sentence is true and what difference is there in purposefully wondering how to get things to grow in the garden with praying for a sick relative? I like the idea of intention. If I am to apply my thoughts to something or someone then what is my intention in doing so? I mustn't pray just so that I can get a nice warm fuzzy feeling for having spent a moment thinking about someone else and boosting my ego. Though that can be kind of pleasant. It is, I think, about entering into a mindful
process that is reaching out to something that is bigger than yourself. For me, that thing is the underlying connectedness that holds the world together. It isn't about petition or asking the impossible, it is about connecting with my belonging. That gives me peace. If I bring people into the equation then that will change how I relate to them. In the garden, on the motorway, at my work desk, chatting to people in the cafe... - these are all places that I visit and therefore places I make a connection with. People don't see me as a wise old sage who can offer wisdom and counselling in times of need apart from the occasional exception. If my intention behind what I do is right, then all I can do is try and pray. It may well be that what will be will be, but I am sure there are connections somewhere and there is no harm in trying and so bringing others into my world.
I feel as though I ought to write more. I miss doing so and more often than not the reason I don't write is because I don't know what to write about. My father didn't seem to pass on his genes of political discussion, debate and opinion to me. If he did, they are very rarely stimulated into action. This does frustrate me as most people around me seem to have the ability to discuss something in depth that leaves my brain struggling to cope with with sentence construction. I depends though. I don't think I am being particularly selfish in not wanting to engage with people. The opposite is true. I want to, but I don't NEED to. I am now wondering if I am reaching a point where this is no longer true. It is not easy and I usually have to make a conscious effort to engage.
This does, to my surprise, link up with what I had originally thought about writing today. Prejudice, descrimination, preconceived ideas and perceptions about other people that I might have. I'm not stupid enough to see the world through rose-tinted spectacles and know that I can't live in a utopia of love and peace. Not at the moment anyway. Part of my faith system suggests that I am tolerant and respectful of all living things. I should not separate out the conifered hills of Herefordshire, the walled garden at Croft Castle, the honeysuckle next to me in the garden or the Muslim/Asian/Eastern European communities around where I live. They are all part of the wholeness that makes up this earth. Everyone suffers emotional or physical pain inflicted intentionally or unintentionally upon them, that is part of life. I wonder if I have held onto things for too long. I wonder if my more people-centred/urban sketching artwork can help me....?
Several years ago (was it really 9?) I wrote a blog post here entitled the 'Christian Druid' in an attempt to find a way through the thoughts I was having about my spiritual life. I was trying to reconcile a few problems I has having with an evangelical Christian faith, connection with the natural world and creativity. I found a path that seemed more in tune with me personally and the post provoked a few interesting comments. In simple terms I found that I was very interested in aligning my ideas with the more philosophical and nature based ideas surrounding modern druidry, neo-paganism or whatever you want to call it.
A few days ago I received a comment on the blog wondering where I was with things now. A good question. Now how do I answer it? I answer it with caution in the sense that I don't always feel comfortable sharing with other people and what I write is in the public domain. I also don't want to delve too much into the workings of my mind which I have a sneeking suspicion may not always be working quite in the way I would like.
Rather than ramble on for hours, I could redirect you to the author and blogger Nimue Brown (https://druidlife.wordpress.com). Her frequent posts and thoughts on her path have been found to be very helpful to me. She covers anything from politics, nature awareness, mental health issues, sexuality, topical news stories and a host of other things from a druid/pagan perspective. I don't necessarily agree with everything she says, but her view on what her spirituality means to her from a day to day perspective I find very encouraging.
Over the past few years I have read quite a few books that I have found by searching through Amazon - either physical books or Kindle downloads. Finding authors who have something meaningful to say is easier here as there are usually plenty of reviews by which to judge what will be interesting. Nimue's book 'What happens when a pagan prays' was such a welcome find and provided an interesting insight into a surprising subject.
My path is evolving. I am not hugely interested in social media so finding connections with like minded people is not easy. They pop up occasionally and then life changes and I am left to my solitary walk again. Well, it isn't really. I am beginning to think that a more people-centric life enables me to bring my path alongside those around me at home, at work, at church and when I am out drawing. It is a slow process. That is how things seem to work with me. I sit and wait. I explore, I wait. I observe, I wait. I talk to people and I wait. Small steps. I feel as though my solitary self-centered, getting lost in the wilds of the countryside 'me' is shifting to another perspective.
So, faith? Sometimes I think there is nothing there. Sometimes I just want to dance in the joy knowing that I am someone who can just appreciate the world around me, natural, physical or otherwise. Sometimes there is fear. Sometimes there is no need to fear.
Perhaps there is nothing. But there is ME! I am here. There is a journey to explore, a world of interesting things around me and I am finding a way through it all in a way that feels genuine to me.
Ever since I fell in love with the the pen and ink illustrations of Ronald Searle, I have been enticed to attempt to draw people in places such as towns, cafes or any where else they might congregate. I have always been held back by a lack of confidence and a feeling of not really knowing what I want my drawings to look like. Most of my life I have been trying to find artistic inspiration in the natural world around me. This is fine but, as I find myself more and more drawn to urban environments just through the necessities of living, I find my artwork is taking on a new sense of direction and interest. Without going into too much detail I get a sneaking suspicion that this is also a consequence, or reaction to, some long term health issues and medication. My art has to evolve and looking back I wonder if I should have done more training. Creativity has always been a personal journey and, fortunately, has more than adequately kept me employed even though what I do in my own time is very different to the artwork I do for International Greetings.
Each lunchtime I look forward to going to a small cafe where I have freedom to sit in a corner and sketch the people around me - it is a fun and creative time. It has also become a little social world and I can end up spending an hour talking to new acquaintancies.
I don't always find it easy finding a comfortable place in an urban/social setting in which to sketch. Sometimes I feel quite secure and relaxed. Other times I can feel exposed and self-conscious. What I am trying to do is to learn a confident way of drawing what I want to draw. It is a big learning curve for me. What I also suspect is coming out of the process is a subtle change in how I view and relate to people. This could be part of a journey that is initiating some subtle emotional healing. I have moved away from the iPad and back to my sketchpad. I would prefer to use the iPad because of the tools available to me but I think there is a greater discipline in moving back to traditional pen and ink illustration. It just has a fluidity and character that I can't get on a small screen and it works in bright sunlight. One day, it would be interesting to try out one of the large 12.9 inch iPad Pros in this context. However, I am not sure I really want to carry around an £700 sketchbook and a £100 Apple Pencil in the middle of Luton!
A series of fountain pen sketches made a week ago in Hitchin. I've been working hard on developing this style of drawing over the past few weeks. In fact, I feel as though it has taken me 30+ years to get to this point - finally something seems to be fitting into place. They are fun, quick, loose sketches and I am fairly pleased with them.
Posts on the subject of wildlife are few and far between it seems at the moment. I'm not finding myself in places where I am taking time out to be in the wildness of nature. There are occasional forays into woods and hills but usually I am just pottering around in the garden and not delving into deeper things.
This evening was one of the first few this year when we have had bright hot sunny days and warm evenings that have encouraged me to sit outside in a short sleeved shirt. The sun was beginning to disappear from the garden and I was watching a flock of long-tailed tits chattering in the trees next door. Sunlight lingered in this corner on the tall conifers and old apple tree. My eye was caught by something small and brownish darting up into the sky and circling round. My first thought was that it was a bat. They do fly around at times but usually later on at dusk. Then I saw that it was a red admiral butterfly and it would dart up from a high branch, fly around and then land back in approximately the same place. What amazed me was the power and speed in its flight. It behaved almost like the spotted flycatchers I used to watch as a child. When the long-tailed tits fllew off down the garden, the butterfly flew up and followed them, dodging around the birds in flight, easily matching their speed over around fifty feet before flying back to almost the same perch in little more than a very few seconds. This wasn't the normal dainty flutterings of a delicate butterfly around some flowers, but an interesting display of power, flight and spacial awareness - not just of the garden space but in interactions with birds.