Saturday, 5 October 2019

Oak tree

This picture was drawn to accompany the following observations made during a recent visit to Worcestershire. It took may hours to work out what to do and I had originally planned a black and white illustration. I am fairly happy with how it urned out though its complexity significantly slowed down my iPad which meant I struggled towards the end to tighten it up. I worked in Affinity Designer without a clear idea of where I wanted to go which again made it difficult.
The writing here was written mostly in-situ with later editing to aid readability.

A little after 7pm on a September evening and the sunlight catches the tops of the cider apples trees. There is a great majestic presence of an oak in the orchard. Towering above me with its solid deeply fissured trunk and heavy evenly spaced branches, the tree holds its great domed canopy over the smaller orchard trees. It isn't a solid network of leaves and branches but, one formed so it appears, of distinct clumps of leaves evenly spaced over the its outer perimeter. This allows the background sky to be seen as fragmented pale blue patches with developing creamy pink and grey clouds, each catching the last of the day’s sunlight.
There is complete stillness, not even the faintest of breath to persuade a leaf to move. The faint tapping of a woodpecker can be heard a little way away. The hum of a distant combine, crows, pigeons, chirping birds, sheep and an occasional dog create a subtle background ambience.
The neat rows of cider trees, some bearing bright green apples, others tinged with pink, line the hillside. This oak stands amidst them, possibly twenty times their age, as a reminder that the passing of time in nature is so different to our own lifespan and the changes man brings to a landscape.
Beneath the tree, acorns have fallen, landing on the carpet of soft mown grass, well kept to ease harvesting the apples later in the autumn when the trees are mechanically shaken and the apples swept off the ground by a tractor drawn harvester and loaded into trailers.
A tawny owl hoots. Colours around me change to reflect the more orange-gold light of the sun and, as dusk deepens, it fades to give a more even light that balances out the shadows.
I am surprised at how tall and open the tree is. The lowest branches are a good eight feet or so above the ground and there is no easily discernible browse line. It must have grown with relative ease in the clay rich soil near the bottom of this valley and out in the open too. Free from surrounding competition and with only a few signs of once broken branches it looks like it has had a good life.
A sudden rustling of the leaves around me comes as a surprise and then I feel the breeze around me too. The boughs catching the fading sun have turned to orange and the sunset is obscured by the apple trees. Clouds have taken on more coral colours, deepening with pinks blending into the cream. The breeze subsides, then returns in a more gentle manner before disappearing again to an almost imperceptible whisper. 
A flock of seagulls passes noisily overhead.
To leave a great tree like this must surely have been a sign of goodwill by the farmer. He has planted the apples leaving a gap in the rows for the tree. There is another oak about fifty meters away and I can’t recall many isolated trees like this around here. There are many in hedges such as the one on the top of the hill where I am camped or within woodland. I can't remember what these fields looked like before the orchard was planted. If I could remember back 50 years or so to my childhood I would have known. 
I look more closely at the evenly deeply fissured trunk and notice that at a height of around eight feet there are the stumps of branches that have been neatly sawn off. The lower branches were removed at some stage, presumably to allow orchard tractors to pass underneath without damage to either. This would account for the shape of the tree. The other tree nearby though, has no indication of this. Its shape is less of an umbrella, and more compact with a denser canopy. It has more lower branches close to the trunk thus you can't see up into the structure of the inner branches. I note that each tree is exactly in the middle of an apple tree row, so the orchard was laid out around the trees - well, give or take a couple of feet. I would have to talk to the farmer to clarify any of my observations. Agricultural practices can change quickly. These cider orchards may only be ten to fifteen years old so the oaks could see many more changes if they hung around for another hundred years or so.
As I walk away the nearly cloudless horizon has turned a definite pale orange colour. More orange than pink or green or blue. A bright pale orange, gradually deepening. A huge gentle arc across the whole field of view and over the silhouetted horizon of the western hills.

Across the valley on the opposite hillside, smoke from a bonfire hugs the ground for a mile or so, drifting gently down into the valley.
Another day has passed.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Hop Picking Machine Repairs

I was very pleased with this iPad illustration/cartoon. I have not shown the caption to it because I don't generally like publishing information directly identifying people. It was basically playing on the idea that to keep an ageing hop picking machine running, the farmer has to salvage parts from a washing machine from the nearby farm house.

Sunday, 29 September 2019


This 30x30cms acrylic on canvas painting will be going into an exhibition at the Art Nest gallery in Hitchin, 12 October to 2 November. Earlier in the year I painted a picture similar to this as an experiment. It has now been improved, repainted and mounted in a handmade wooden frame. This is a one off and I have no plans to do any more, though I must admit I think this worked quite well.... so you never know...


Monday, 23 September 2019

Notes from Hanley Childe

I have watched a late summer dawn break over the still, mirrored surface of a lake and now make my way back to my campsite over dew laden corn stubble and through the cider apple trees.
On the edge of a small wooded track, passing down from the cherry orchards to the damp, shady alder filled woodland, lies a tree trunk. It is an ideal place upon which to sit and absorb my surroundings. Many years ago it had fallen across the gentle bank beside the bridleway and now its decaying form is covered in soft green moss. A slate-grey leafy lichen is growing along the side facing out away from bank. This forms flat, paper-like structures with creamy upturned edges. For various reasons I initially thought it was a fungus and, when I couldn’t locate it in any identification guide, I realised it was dog lichen (Peltigera Canina). 
There is a deep “croak, croak, croak” in a tree high above me. I assume it is a carrion crow. However, once home I listen to various crow calls on the internet and realise it was likely to be a raven. I hadn’t even given this possibility a thought and will have to look out for them more carefully the next time I visit here just to be sure.
Pigeons form a background wall of cooing and tits chatter nearby. A wren sings nearby, and then a robin too. I notice the gentle murmur of stream down in the alders. It is forever damp here, even in the driest of summers, and it always has a smell of marshy, willowy, muddy, decaying vegetation. The path of churned up deep reddish clay reveals puddled holes where horse hoofs had sunk into the slippery softness. Greater plantain, with its broad oval leaves and tall flower stalks thrives where the the soil is bare on the path. There are several tall purple stalks of angelica reaching up several feet out of the cool earth. Their leaves are the palest of greens, almost cream, standing out in sharp contrast to the darker tones of the surrounding nettles and brambles. The broad ball-like seeding inflorescences composed of thousands of tiny flowers are conspicuous in the space above the undergrowth between the trees.
Leaves are just beginning their autumn descent in this dark secluded corner of the landscape and honeysuckle is still in flower entwined in vegetation by the edge of a small duckweed covered pool. A squirrel appears on a branch nearby and runs off.

There is more deep croaking above me, an eerie call, in what feels an enclosed place of shadows and timelessness.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

September Update

I have been working on various creative projects in the past few weeks:

  1. The pen and ink doodle above was a 'lunchtime filler' over a couple of days as an escape from rather intense concentration on other things.
  2. I have completed a small acrylic painting for an open exhibition in Hitchin in October. Going back to traditional painting was hard work and far more time consuming and stressful than digital illustration. I will post a photo of it here once I have completed making the frame.
  3. A couple of days were spent camping out out in deepest Worcestershire gathering information for my novel. It took me about four lunch hours to then write up all my handwritten notes.
  4. Several pieces of nature writing emerged from the above which I am editing and will post soon.
  5. Another illustration has been completed which I will post when I can share more information.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Hop Picking 2019

The hop harvest has always fascinated me and a few days ago I had the opportunity to visit a farm in the Teme Valley in Worcestershire to watch the huge hop picking machine at work. I was there last year but didn't really get what I wanted so spending a whole day drawing on the farm was like being in heaven! The sketches were rather quick as I wanted to work freely and unplanned machine stoppages could easily happen at any time. The black and white sketches were A3 pen and wash sketches whilst the coloured ones were done on the iPad. I took lots of photos and have a few ideas for some proper illustrations to work on during the autumn.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

John Deere 9620RX

Took a few photos of this tractor working near Offley, Hertfordshire, yesterday and then created this illustration. Only gave myself a day to do it as I should have been thinking about some pictures I want to put in an exhibition this autumn. iPad illustration using Procreate.