stories and illustration

Hare Country

Hare Country

Hare Country

This is a painting that is going into an exhibition in Eyemouth that is opening on Thursday,  called “Telling Tales”, so most of the pictures I have put in are framed illustrations for children’s books.  However, I am also a showing a few paintings that stand alone.  This hare is drawn in charcoal and some crayon over an original painting that I took against.

This is the original painting:

The countryside is based on a real place, of which I have taken many photographs, but doesn’t really summon it up.  And the hares themselves, in their small sepia circles, didn’t really inhabit the picture.  Also I disliked the blue blankness of the sky, and the rounded shapes.  Anyway, at the beginning I must have felt Ok about it, but this changed. I had put some oil pastel over the top to try and jazz it up, but it didn’t help at all.  Eventually I took off the oil pastel with turpentine, then drew a hare over the top with charcoal.  I have fixed the charcoal with some nice, expensive Winsor & Newton spray that I ordered specially over the internet.  I suppose that, having done illustration for a long time, and having usually followed the rule of “make sure you rub out the pencil lines” (probably a very old rule that has fallen into dis-use anyway) I thought if I was painting I ought to get rid of the charcoal.

Well, why?

So now, I am leaving some charcol drawing in the painting I am doing; and this hare is just charcoal over the landscape, so the landscape is seen through the hare.

It is much nearer the feeling that I wanted for the original painting.  I didn’t think of the hare at the beginning, I just got rid of the sky with a lot of naples yellow mixed with other colours, so it looked like rain had overtaken the scene (naples yellow rain, but why not?). Then the hare appeared, very fast, and I decided to leave the thing as it is  – unless I make the back legs a tad more muscular, which come to think of it….

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mauve Field


Walking down the main Edinburgh road, towards the lane that cuts off down to the Tweed, I see this mauve field, which I suspect is a crop of Phacelia, planted to attract bees, and to provide “green manure”. What a plant!  I have never seen a completely mauve field before, as far as I can remember. Until a few years ago, didn’t see the bright yellow of rape fields, either. Plant a rape field next to a field of “bee’s friend” and you would have some colour scheme.


The field is across the other side of the Tweed, which would be hard to get to from here, as it is a long walk on the English side, right round the Cornhill bend and further; and besides, last time I went down there I had to climb over the fence, as it has been barred off (don’t think that would happen on the Scottish side, as there is apparently no law of trespass in Scotland).


Because of all the sun, the Tweed is very low, and birds are standing in the middle of the river. They fly off as I approach.


The comfrey, that I thought was called Indian Balsam, is fading beside the river, and the Himalayan Balsam, that I thought was called Comfrey, is growing in profusion:



 In my walk I have been bitten ferociously by insects, which is in one way a good sign, as the planting of Phacelia has obviously started to bring back insect life. I try to resurrect the calomine lotion from a few years ago but it has solidified, even when stirred with the back of a toothbrush.

A couple of days later I take the same walk, and look across for the mauve field, but the colour has completely vanished.  The plant will  now be on its journey to becoming “green manure”. Taking photographs has made me feel keenly the transience of the colours of the world. I wonder what fields will be mauve next year.

July 20, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Picture for a Story: The Midnight Hare



This is a watercolour painting of the Midnight Hare and a boy flying over the Borderlands.  It is an illustration for a text I have written about a brown hare, a boy, and the Midnight Hare. The Midnight Hare is a psychopomp, a charismatic intermediary between two worlds.  In the painting I am trying out a new technique which does not involve much use of pen and ink, because the sepia pens I have been using for a long time are no longer available; and besides, I feel like experimenting, since I have no deadline, unless I set one for myself.

In illustration many different media can obviously be used in the same painting, but I want to get an overall technique that uses line without the usual pen outline  In this painting I have got nearer the feeling of which I want than in any of the previous work I have done for this story.  I think I need to plan out paintings more carefully; then paradoxically, it will be easier to be spontaneous. I want to keep the colour clear and unmuddied by overwork, and have a good structure, even in the softened elements of the landscape.

For the background I will use the Borders landscape, including pictures taken from the air. The Hare flies with the boy to a place very like, but not exactly similar to, the Alnwick Garden, which is not far away from here.  It is not going to be a book set completely in the night, there will be daylight and fields in it as well, which of course will be taken from the landscape around me. I have photographs taken on my walks this year, and they will give me details to work from, so there will be poppies, and wheat, and the river, as well as the boy, the brown hare, and the Midnight Hare.

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chinatown, Newcastle upon Tyne


Went on a jaunt to Newcastle upon Tyne to see a friend of long-standing, who knows every nook and cranny, highway and byway and waterway and alleyway of this richly fascinating city.  During this visit we went to Chinatown, which has one of the largest Chinese communities in the country. The Chinese arch, a detail of which is above, was made by craftsmen in Shangai, then bought over to Newcastle and erected by Chinese workers as recently as 2005. As well as Chinese symbols of good fortune, it includes scenes from Newcastle itself.


The arch frames the Tyneside Irish Centre, with good luck Chinese lions guarding the entrance to Chinatown:


The main street is Stowell Street, on which a Chinese store opened in 1972, and which has since grown into the main thoroughfare of Chinatown:







In the middle of the street is this rather incongruous very old-fashioned pillar box, in a nice Chinese red:



A Thai Cafe has got in on the act, and looks well at home:


Set in the heart of the renowned area of the city called  Grainger Town, a community has grown from small beginnings,  and has become a part of the fabric of Newcastle itself, with a spectacular and famed Chinese New Year’s celebration  that brings colour and festivity to this part of the city every year.

July 16, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berwick Bear on a Banner



I have been asked, at very short notice, to create a banner for Berwick upon Tweed Market, so this version of the Berwick Bear will maybe be seen shortly on banners round the town.  I had him in a chef’s hat at first, but it didn’t suit his character; however, a stripy apron seems to suit him quite well. The salmon looks surprisingly cheerful, under the circumstances.

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Flowers by River Tweed

Flowers by River Tweed

These flowers grow along the banks of Nun’s Walk, which rises high above River Tweed, with a sheer drop to one side, and the walls of gardens on the other side, so that plants drift over the wall and find a rootold amongst the wild flowers. Now the June flowers have been scythed, the July flowers have sprung up with amazing speed. It has been very hot, I have taken to walking in a straw hat.  I will have to hold on to it going up Nun’s Walk, as it may easily be blown away by one of these light summer breezes, and land down in the water amongst the swans and ducks and the occasional heron. There are evening primroses on the banks, and mallow. The martins zip above ones head on Nun’s Walk, and I go past a group standing perilously close to the edge, where a young girl is telling her older companions some story about a long-ago nun jumping off the edge. But no known accidents in recent years. My husband has promised me never to ride his bike down this path again.

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bee’s Friend


This crop was growing alongside the edge of the rape field, in profusion.  It looks like a wild flower, and yet it has obviously been planted there for a reason. I never saw it before.  After Googling crop mauve flower, and getting some strange images, I found a website that was selling this plant as a herb.  It is called Phacelia, and is otherwise known as “Bee’s Friend”, for obvious reasons.  If I had known this I would have paid more attention and tried to get a picture of bees on the very strange flowerheads, rather than this dull picture of a field.  However, I found it interesting that this had obviously been planted to help counteract the disastrous decline in bees last year, which meant that even people who produce honey had to buy some in. The flowerheads are rather spectacular:


I think I may go out and take some more detailed and maybe a tad more interesting pictures of this plant, which has been put into the field for such an specific reason. There have certainly been more bees around this year.  The beans in the garden are growing fast, and when I go out to water them in the evening I try not to drench the bees that are buzzing about among the bean flowers.


July 12, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



When my son was young, more than twenty years ago, I remember passing a heap of dusty earth outside a farm gate and seeing a bunch of poppies growing there, and thinking that was some sight, as poppies had almost completely disappeared from the fields of the North. A week or so ago, my husband, who walks about six miles a day,  told me that on his walk he had come across a field full of poppies which had been left to grow amongst the rape, and that maybe it was something I would like to see.  So on a hot day last week I went out on a longer trek to search out this field.  I walked out into this field through the first gate, and waded into the grass beneath an enormous, humming pylon, and started to photograph the poppies there:




Then I heard, above the noise of the pylon and the hum of the summer’s day, my voice being called, and saw across the field my husband, in his straw hat and mauve walking jacket, who in the course of his normal walk had caught sight of my head above the rape and poppies and grass.  He told me that if we went on down the lane and round the corner there was a good view of the poppies as they stretched away towards the horizon of the field.  I followed his advice, and when I got to the spot, leant across the fence and photographed the poppies from there:



Then I walked on furthedown the road which leads to Lennel, and thence to Coldstream, still following the poppies, until I got to a gate right at the edge, which I could get over.  There I took some pictures of the poppies close-up, including them waving against the sky, and being blown almost inside-out by the wind:



Since looking at the poppies, I have been painting a boat in a bright poppy colour.  Maybe after I have finished the paintings for an exhibition coming up shortly, I might might paint some poppies.  Although I may not, because I would not  capture their life, their silkiness, their delicacy.  Maybe they will find their way into the illustrations for “The Midnight Hare”, not all of which takes place at midnight.  Whatever comes of my experience of the poppyfield, I went home feeling good.

July 9, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poppies 1


July 8, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Field in the Wind


Along a field beside River Tweed the wind was ruffling the young wheat, blowing it across as if it was an acre of silk.  I took some close-up pictures of the wheat, they were very green, the greenest pictures I have ever taken, dark green between the stalks, then pale ears and the green sprays, and the surface of the field very pale. Green is a colour I have difficulty with in painting, I hardly use it except that deep fir green, or a very dark viridian with blue and maybe sienna added to it, to muddy it up. There was something about the wind moving across the wheatfield that harked back to an earlier time.  Maybe it was the memory of the field of corn that we had opposite the house where we lived near Ardingly in Sussex, when I was a child.  I must be haunted by this field, as I sometimes find I have put it in paintings (and then gold-brown, not green); though it has now become intertwined with images of the fields above Oxenrig, those places of hawk and hare, where I like best to walk.  In that field of long ago, I remember harvesters putting the crop into stooks, in the late summer evening. The field is still there, I Google-earthed it, and the lane beside it, and the farm in the dip at the end of the lane, with its pond – though if I went back, perhaps it would be completely changed, even if from far up it looks the same.

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: