Archives for category: Exploration

Roots, in a way not normally seen; a reminder of how the mysterious life of trees goes on as much underground as above

Beech Tree at the far end of the wood, at the path between High Utley and Spring Gardens Lane

My walk around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park has been going through a dormant phase for the last few months. It’s not that I haven’t been walking, but my walks gave been shorter and less frequent – but since this project started with the relaxed intention of letting it take its own time, I haven’t felt the need to push myself and it may be just as well to have paused where I did, in Moorside Wood, because winter is a quiet time. It’s a time of rest.

The most beautiful of seasons in this place is yet to come – we’re still waiting for the arrival of bluebells and the first bright greening of new leaves, when the sky is still visible through the canopy. In the meantime, we have daffodils, and moss, (there’s always moss) and some of the most beautiful fungus I’ve ever seen.

The photos below were taken at different times of the year, and mostly in the long strip of woodland along the back of the sports fields of UAK school. Until recently I thought all this area was Moorside Wood, but this section which was planted much more recently is actually called Steepfield Wood, (it’s not hard to see why). There are two paths here, so you can walk away from the Castle towards Utley on what’s grandly called King George VI Avenue (planted with cherry trees in 1953, now mostly gone) and then at the far end you can double back and return on the upper path which is narrow and much less obvious, and make your way back slowly through the trees.

Stone commemorating the planting (with cherry trees) of King George VI Avenue

Early daffodils at the edge of the path

Fallen tree above the upper path in Steepfield Wood

Large trees that fall here lie at rest and undisturbed

Fungus on a fallen tree trunk in Steepfield Wood

These woods have eyes…

Moss covered drystone wall

The way out of the woods is just as interesting……so that’s for the next bit of the walk. With more hours of daylight there’s more opportunity to explore (in between gusts of wind and showers of sleet hail and snow, like today). Every day something new.

There are days when I want to draw and just can’t get started.
Just like writing – sometimes I need to play around and not think, but just get some stuff down on the paper. I came across a lovely idea the other day from Moose Allain, and it’s more than just fun – I never know quite where it’s going to take me.

You start by splodging some colour in blobs on the paper. (I didn’t photograph that, I was too busy wanting to get to the next stage.) Then you draw simple faces on some of the blobs. And then you see what happens next….


Some background setting puts things in context (though doesn’t necessarily explain things, which is part of the fun). A few more details…


……and a story starts to emerge. Then it’s just a question of trying to work out what’s going on, and listening to what’s being said.


It’s a bit like slipping down a rabbit hole and finding yourself in another place, in a world where anything can happen.

Where to next?

imageUntil recently I’d never heard of Urban Sketchers (though you’d think that to have missed them I must have been living under a rock, or on some remote island without an internet connection). USk as it’s known for short was launched in 2007 by Seattle-based journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario who created an online community of urban sketches on Sketchers could scan their drawings and share them on the group’s Flickr site, Facebook page or blog – and the idea went viral; so far communities of sketchers have formed 60 regional chapters in 29 countries. “Artists of all ages and skill levels have stories to tell,” says founder Gabi Campanario. “Urban Sketchers is a free group that provides a platform for them to renew their love of drawing and to learn more about storytelling”.*

In order to qualify, a drawing must be done from life, on location, a record of place and time and done without using photos for reference – and at this time of year in this part of the world that can mean braving some pretty uncomfortable weather – but fortunately drawing barefoot isn’t a literal requirement; this kind of drawing is about going back to the basics, the nitty gritty of connecting with what’s in front of you and getting it down on paper. And you don’t always have to become numb with cold or struggle with wind and rain – indoor sketching is fine (the Yorkshire group have just done a lively sketchcrawl at the Hat Works in Stockport) and sketching from a car, or a window (as my drawing above) is another good grim weather option. No wonder it’s so popular. I’ve joined Urban Sketchers Yorkshire and even though as yet I’ve not made it to a sketch meeting I’m delighted to have found this bunch of friendly sketchers in my part of the world.

There’s an accepted ethos about urban sketching and the group has a manifesto, which goes like this:

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

I’ve picked up some invaluable tips on drawing tools and new materials from discussions on the group’s Facebook page (there’s nothing like hearing other people’s personal recommendations and exchanging experiences) – and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to keep in touch this way.

(*Thanks to Lynne Chapman of ‎Urban Sketchers Yorkshire for her short written introduction to USk)

Given the drab greyness of the landscape at the moment, and the way winter drags on here without showing much sign of spring, perhaps it’s not surprising that to counteract all this my head is full of vivid colours. Blue, yellow, red. I want to bask in memories of blue-green translucent seas, golden sands, and the sudden exclamation of brightly painted boats.

I can’t keep away from this digital drawing thing. It’s taken me by surprise because I found it clumsy and frustrating at first and I’m still struggling and way out of my depth, but this is probably why its so compelling. I can’t use it to draw the way I do on paper – I can’t control it the way I’m used to when I’m handling a pencil or a brush – so I’ve stopped trying to make the same sort of marks that I’d use if I was working in any conventional way, and instead I’m drawing in a way that I probably haven’t done since I was a child, most of the time using my fingers. (I’ve tried all kinds of different apps, and different styluses, but nothing works as well as a finger – and strangely this does make it a sensuous, tactile experience which I would never have believed possible. When you’re rubbing or stroking on colour you really can have the sensation that you’re applying rich creamy oil pastel, or crumbly chalk…)

The one thing I really haven’t mastered yet is using layers in the Artflow app. If anyone can offer me any helpful tips I’d be grateful. (I tried to put the boat shapes in using a layer after I’d put down all the sea and sand, but whatever I drew on the layer was invisible – except on the thumbnail icon thingy of the layer itself. What am I doing wrong?) Also I must remember to save things – I’ve already lost I don’t know how many drawings. But when all’s said and done, I love learning – even if sometimes it’s a lot of trial and a great deal of error!

Window sill vase

I didn’t think I’d be able to do this.

On the window ledge in my bedroom is a translucent glass vase. It has a bunch of very beautiful peonies in it, artificial but lifelike and nice to gaze at when I’m resting in bed. I particularly love watching it as the light outside fades at the end of the afternoon and the glow from the street lamps slowly collects in the glass, as if in some magical way light is drawn into it and then trapped there. I thought I’d try drawing on my smartphone while lying down – just to see if I could – and to my surprise I soon realised that this is one very compelling reason to use a drawing app. Even on very small screen (I have the smallest smartphone on the market) I managed to draw most of what I wanted. I just had to cut off the tops of the peonies. And I could never have done this on paper or in a sketchbook from my resting position on the bed.

When I started playing with digital drawing I didn’t think I’d be likely to take it seriously but somehow I can’t put it aside, and I’m not sure why. I need to get more comfortable with it, and faster too; but even at this stage I can see some of the advantages. I also need to avoid some of the pitfalls, one of which is the relative ease of making images that are pretty and slick but not honest, not really well seen. An easy trap to fall into. But it’s going to be fun grappling with this, and that’s important; having fun is good.

This post is part of a series in the Draw More Project – an investigation into what drawing means to me, what it can do, and why it’s important. It’s a practice, an exercise, and a journey of discovery all rolled into one.