Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Moorland Melody

Many of you may not have heard about an interesting event that took place in mid-summer. It was held at the beautiful location of Bolton Castle in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. The whole project started out as an awareness building exercise to highlight the plight of the curlew, an iconic wader who’s numbers have been dropping at an alarming rate. In both the UK and Ireland birds have declined by ~90% in some locations, which clearly indicate something is drastically amiss from an environmental perspective. Without constructive action the curlew’s distinctive moorland song will become a historic moorland (and coastal) relic, and a song that would be gravely missed by many if this outcome were to manifest. The event was a gathering of likeminded individuals ranging from the RSPB to Wader Quest, BTO and the Game & Wildlife Trust, along with experts and naturalists from the general public, all wanting to get involved and help in some small way. This event rolled on from Mary Colwell's charity walk that saw this passionate lady walk over 500 miles to raise awareness of this enigmatic bird. I donated three small sketches to this cause last year, which subsequently raised over £350 pounds (this topic is covered in one of my earlier blog's). Unfortunately I could not attend this summer event in person due to short notice and other commitments, but in my absence I put together this larger than life ink drawing of an adult female curlew to provide a focal feature for the event, and add some colour and a visual element to the weekend.


I think you will be hearing more about this event in the coming years as it starts to attract larger crowds of enthusiastic people all sharing the same passion for this bird, and the breeding landscape it occupies. The event covered all manner of associated topics including various wading birds and moorland management discussions. In addition, a guided curlew walk provided the public a chance to observe the bird in its natural habitat along with a whole host of beautiful native flora and fauna that is synonymous with the rolling Yorkshire landscape. Please make sure you mark this event in your calendar for next June...it will be a great family day out with education opportunities to fuel both novice and serious birding enthusiast passions alike. Further details are available direct from Bolton Castle website. www.boltoncastle.co.uk


The piece of artwork I have for sale is a very large ink drawing of a wonderful female curlew in a characteristic bold upright pose on toned artboard. I wanted it to be a large focal feature for the event, and appeal to others who have an affinity with one of the UKs most majestic waders.


The complete piece is professionally mounted and the drawing size is 640 x 480 mm, with external frame dimensions at 1060 x 850 mm.


I will once again donate to the Curlew fund when the work is sold - priced at £650.

Please feel free to contact if you require any further information.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Lurking In The Shadows

We have all had that feeling when we are being watched, where the hairs on your neck tell you something sinister is lurking amongst the shadows. It is a sense that serves us well and evolved for good reason – predation. Predators such as the Goshawk not only bring balance to the food chain, they also breathe fear into an environment. There is a German saying that you know the goshawk is there ‘because you don’t see it’. An arboreal jaguar, the Goshawk is as adept at striking fur as feather and a perfect example of a calculating opportunist. Bang…this bird hits like a hammer and has the skill and nerve to match its lust for killing. It has a wide range in culinary tastes that enable it to take mammals as large as hares (the female Gos is much bigger than the male, so this is gender dependant) to rabbits and squirrels. Feathered quarry range from pheasant and wood pigeon, to corvids and crossbill (yes, I once found the remains on a nest site plucking post) and everything in between.

For such a bold apex predator, very few people have ever seen one. Countrymen with serious knowledge and experience rarely get more than a glimpse if they are lucky, and that includes having the field-craft to even know where its home range lies. Its an apparition, a flash of barred steel grey, an ephemeral glimpse, even then your brain has to try and process the data to comprehend it was what you thought it was, or maybe just a dream-like fantasy where you convinced yourself it could have been a Goshawk? It’s like a Sparrowhawk on steroids - very similar in design but so much larger and bulkier. In contrast to the Spar, the Goshawk in flight has a much deeper chest, rounded tail and more conspicuous head and neck. A true Olympian of the hawking world and if you were to put both the Gos and Spar on the podium, it would be like the clash of the titans between Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu in their heyday!

Certain species evolved over millennia for one purpose only and that's to kill for survival. Predators play a vital balance in the eco-system, and while many people cannot relate to the bloodlust of certain creatures, I have always been fascinated by their intelligence and ability to survive. I have noticed through observation over many years that most predators are more intelligent than herbivores. This is not a given with some of the largest primates like gorillas and orang-utans being highly intelligent, but on the whole it seems to be the case. Regarding food, if you think about most herbivores' requirements, they have not had to develop the skillset to outwit their chlorophyll prey (granted though, they must evade capture). Vegetation grazing at ground level or any other kind of plant matter is a simple process not requiring wit, cunning or premeditative tactics to meet your daily nutritional needs. On the other hand a predator has to make calculated judgements every time it wants to feed, with no two scenarios the same it takes a highly intelligent creature to perform this task each feeding time. Oftentimes, predators such as the Goshawk have no more than a few milliseconds to make an adjustment to achieve success (or failure) resulting in the greatest price for its prey - death. The fear it brings to its environment can also be a good thing as it keeps clever egg and nestling opportunists such as magpies and crows on the move and looking over their shoulders. It is interesting that small birds such as the Goldcrest have been documented breeding extremely close to Goshawk nests due to the protection they afford from such opportunists – obviously they are too small a meal!

The Goshawk embodies all the attributes of an excocet missile and to watch one flash through a woodland glade, ride or boundary edge is nothing short of hair-raising. In fact its turn of speed through close wooded quarters can appear to defy physics. To try and depict this bird in any other way would be an injustice and a complete lack of understanding on my part, it’s like the velociraptor of the bird world...in fact mention the word ‘Goshawk’ to anyone in the know and their response would say it all I guess! If one bird were solely designed for killing its victim with precision and lack of empathy, the Goshawk would be close to pole position. As a sprinter its short broad wings and long tail aid acceleration, pursuit and manoeuvrability in both deciduous and coniferous forest. Combine these attributes with stout legs and extremely powerful talons and you have the recipe for a bird designed for ambush tactics using speed and skill to bring down prey with a very high success rate. I have been more than lucky in my time to witness wild hunting and nesting Goshawks, but on most occasions, nothing more than a ghostly flash. I even have footage of a first year bird with its prey on the ground, along with other close encounters I have witnessed, which have left long lasting memories.

The piece I have put together is 740mm x 340mm (drawing Size)on grey-toned art-board, with mix media consisting of ink pen, graphite and white chalk. I wanted to try and capture elements of the Goshawks energy, from the glazed look of a serial killer, to the ghostly outline passing through a woodland glade, along with powerful talons that show the sheer power this hawk possesses in that pounce of sinew, bone and hook. The piece is for sale professional mounted and framed. 
                                                                     Priced £370

I have also been sketching to try and work out the composition for a large Sparrowhawk drawing I have in-mind this year. This sketch piece is also for sale on A3 paper (drawing Size 190mm x 100mm)                                                           
                                                                          Priced £120

The last drawing for sale is a Peregrine study, once again on A3 paper (Drawing Size 330mm x 290mm) and this time something a little different with an internal border added to the paper - it’s something I have been playing around with and you will be seeing more of this feature incorporated into future pieces. The reference for this drawing was gathered from a wild peregrine that had been injured, which allowed me to spend a day with the bird just before she was released.
                                                                     Priced £200

I hope you enjoy my latest works focused around birds of prey, but once again a big jump on the board over the last month and I'm back drawing fish and fishing related subjects!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Flash Of Blue

When I think of my time spent wandering the river bank, a bird that first springs to mind is the Kingfisher. No other bird is more synonymous with angling, and no other angler is more consistent at catching fish than one of my favourite waterside birds. When you get the wonderful opportunity to view this beautiful bird at close quarters, it is like Mother Nature went overboard with the colour palette, such bold and striking colours. Combine those colours with late evening sunlight and it is hard to describe in written words the brilliance of that electric blue central stripe cresting the length of its back from mantle to tail - nature at its most beautiful.

Over time I have become accustomed to the high pitched single note that announces the Kingfisher’s presence. Often produced in flight and lasting less than a few milliseconds, each note precedes that iridescent flash. With just enough time for the call to register, you pause and look up from the float as he powers past with conviction. Banking hard to one side like a fighter jet, he twists and turns following the contour of the land, all the while tracking the stream like a rally driver co-pilot using an ordnance survey map. After what can only be described as a moment in time, you refocus back on the stick float which is no longer present, only to bump the fish due to not striking the hook home....Arrrrrrr! I never have worked out how that happens, or coincides with turning to your rucksack for a flask or sandwiches only to miss that single bite of the day....I'm sure these fish are watching us.

Towards the end of last year I started working in watercolour and thought the Kingfisher being so bold & beautiful would provide the perfect range of colours for which to try my hand. To be honest, I found it quite instinctive and soon got to grips with controlling a brush instead of my usual pencil - the difference in speed is staggering and much more fluid. I soon realised that mastering a pencil is far more demanding and painstakingly slow compared to working in watercolour. Nonetheless, graphite develops essential skills and is equally rewarding. I haven't worked in oil yet, but I have been building up to that moment and will start this year, so keep tuned for a change in my future works. Instead of a static pose, I wanted to express the Kingfisher’s motion in watercolours; this resulted in a 3-stage piece blending from graphite pencil into partial colour, with the final bird presented in full colour. Maybe this was a transition stage in my mind from pencil to paint, either way I was really pleased with the resulting effect, which is something I do not say very often.



After a couple of recent attempts in watercolour, I swung back to graphite pencil for my latest piece, a Kingfisher on an anglers rod tip...why would it be anything else! I had chosen a lovely old cane rod to maintain a traditional feel to the piece. Using strong side light, I could add a nice dark shadow to the underside of the bird to produce maximum depth. It is not an easy subject to depict in graphite because your mind subconsciously links this bird to colour, so it was important for me to try and achieve a large tonal range to provide the illusion of colour.

For sale priced at £250, double cream mounted. Actual drawing dimensions 300mm x 110mm Graphite on Artboard. SOLD

Raptor blog coming soon!

Monday, 6 March 2017

A Frozen Tail

It has been some time since I last posted on my Art blog. This is not to say I haven't been busy, in fact just the opposite, but this is my first blog for 2017 and tailored for the angler rather than artist. It’s a post I have wanted to put together for a while and the perfect situation had arisen over the course of the winter. I have to harvest fish stocks every two years from our fishery business and I have seen numerous examples of what I'm about to explain. However, I never managed to gather any photographic evidence to prove it so when I have recounted the story to fellow anglers in the past, I have noticed a look of disbelief and sniggering, whilst all the while I try to convince them it’s the truth and not another ‘old wives’ tale’. Of all the fresh water fish I have had to deal with over the years nothing can compare to the Tench for being the toughest of all.....it’s almost indestructible!

If you can imagine, when you drain a lake you are left with lots of little puddles of water on the lake bed and these frequently contain very small fish, anything from roach to perch fry, along with tench and the odd small jack pike. Most of these fish will not survive more than a few hours and that's if they can evade the Heron & Egrets capitalising on the easy free meal. In the past I have observed Marsh harrier working the lake beds, along with night raids from Boar, Fox & even Pine Marten. Once the bulk of the fish have been removed a team of men will then work the remainder of the lake bed in a grid fashion just to make sure nothing has been missed.

 Unfortunately with fingerling size fish it’s almost impossible to save them all and I justify this by the bird life capitalising on the free meal over the harsh winter period so nothing is lost or wasted....which is always the case with the natural environment. One year all the tench had been harvested and graded into large tanks that are loaded onto a pickup ready to be transported. This particular evening the weather had been cruel and the fish dealer arrived late, so we worked into dark with hands the colour of blue steel and core body temperatures that felt like the inside of a chest freezer. With the job complete, we retired for the evening, cold and wet and tired. The following morning we awoke to -4oC and a hard frost carpeting the outside world.....after slipping back into the frozen waders and preparing for the daily events, I noticed a small tench no longer than 4" long frozen to the pickup bed. It was frozen solid to the steel and I could not prise it off. As I stopped and took a close look, pitying my mistake, I thought its eye moved slightly within its socket.....it cannot be I thought, so I gathered a bucket of water and poured it over the fish to defrost it off the steel floor. After quickly transferring into a bucket of water, within 10 minutes that fish was swimming around. Now I know that's hard to believe because that fish had spent a minimum of 12 hours out of water and was then frozen solid in -4 oC temps and it still survived! Unbelievable and just goes to show when a lake freezes in winter and the fish bed down into the soft silt to enter a dormant state, they have little to worry about compared to that poor chap.

This winter a similar scenario happened, only this time a small tench was missed underneath the weighing scales when fish had to be graded and weighed. You might think ‘how careless’ but when you are talking of 1000s of fish that require grading it’s very easy to lose or miss something as long as your hand. Nevertheless, this little tench lay there all night frozen to the trailer which I inadvertently stumbled across in the morning when the steel scales were moved - as can be seen in the first picture with the grass and mud frozen to his flanks.

Once again his little red eye swivelled in its socket, I placed him into the bucket to defrost, washed his flanks to remove the frozen debris and as can be seen from the series of pictures you can see how miraculously it comes alive and swims away to fight another day. Now if that's not one of nature’s miracles!

This is a story I really wanted to share, it doesn't tie in with my artwork very well but gives you a little insight into my working life outside of art. It is a small indication of how the natural world can still leave me speechless after all these years. I have drawn the tench on numerous occasions; my last attempt was in a different medium using Ink on scraper board for the illustrations in the wonderful book ‘A Coming of Age’ by Stuart Harris, a gifted writer and angler. I'm afraid this drawing is now sold along with my other tench works, but I'm sure it won’t be the last one now I know the magical powers this fish possesses.

I hope you enjoyed the story; my next blog is linked to water but this time a little more colourful!