Tuesday, 14th December 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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wraithI saw a strip of polythene sheeting blowing down the road earlier. It's got stuck on a twiggy plant by the beck. It waves and bends in the breeze like a ghostly hooded figure. Mourning the loss of the ash and the stout old hawthorns perhaps.

goosandergoosanderI'm off to the post office and, as I cross the bridge over the river, I'm glad I've brought my binoculars: I thought it was worth checking out the three birds on the calmer, deeper area above the weir. I thought they'd be three mallards but they're two female (or juvenile) goosanders and one passing moorhen.

The Old School

grammar school3.40 p.m.

I'm walking around Healey Mills marshalling yards along what was the route of the junior cross country in my grammar school days in the early 1960s. My old school on the hill, built around the Victorian mill owner's Park House (gable ends on the right), is now surrounded by a new spiky fence.

It seems appropriate to draw it in blue ink as I must have written a kilometre of spidery Quink washable ink notes on English, French, geography, general science, Latin, religious instruction and mathematics during my time there. The art room was on the top floor, extreme left, next to the chimney.

Healey Mills

Healey Mills3.55 p.m., 10°C

The senior cross country route went across the River Calder at Healey Mills and under the railway bridge (right) towards Thornhill. Even allowing an hour or more, that was a tough run and my school friend John and I generally ran as far as the canal then took a gently ambling shortcut along the towpath. Which makes far more sense to me.


kingfisherA small passenger train goes over the bridge, followed by a long, slow goods train. As I arrive, a kingfisher flies from the bank below me and streaks along over the river. In the late afternoon light I can't make out the colour but I recognise it from its straight, steady, 'guided missile' flight-path and its size (a bit bigger than a sparrow).

Crepuscular Canal

evening on the canal4.20 p.m., Calder and Hebble Navigation, below the Figure of Three locks

A blackbird alarms and pheasants go through their evening cacophonic chorus.

I sit on a wall and draw the bank of trees then stand to draw their reflection in the water. I blot the pen and ink with my waterbrush to create a wash, as I did in my drawings in Coxley at this time yesterday, but then decide I need a bit more depth of tone in places so I quickly add some lines with a fibre tip pen (the one I grab from my bag is a Pilot Hi-Tecpoint V5, extra fine).

Glitz versus Graft

I think that for me there's something to be said for not being able to see the paper too clearly. As an illustrator I probably have too much of a tendency to want to be in total control (I'm used to having a client with specific needs waiting and a particular space on a page to fill), and this can lead to worthy but dull drawings. But, at the other extreme, I wouldn't want a drawing to be glittering with manufactured 'excitement' on the surface but vacuous on closer examination. There must be a balance!

This actually looks better now in daylight than it did in the dimness when I had the full majesty of a towpath tone poem to compare it with. My feeling is that it's worth attempting these nocturnes. The light changes continuously on a sliding scale so the effect might last only for minutes anyway, so it's appropriate to try and capture the general effect in a quick drawing. If I can keep doing it, again and again, the way such scenes work should gradually become apparent to me. Next Page

Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk

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