stories and illustration

The Flowers of Liddesdale


flowers1These are a fraction of the flowers seen in over a few days staying in an old house in hill-farming country. In the arable countryside where I now live, I have not seen a fraction of this diversity. In a space of about a mile I found, without looking hard, close on a hundred species of flowers, just along the roadside. There are also merlin, deer, barn owls, hawkmoths, linnets, blue butterflies…. Up the hillsides among the stones are small flowers I have not seen elsewhere. The fields have been left to rushes once more, and many of the sheep are unfenced. The place is quite empty of people, though there are enough in the area around to keep many businesses open in the nearby village of Newcastleton. I used to live here, and was working to try and survive, illustrating books mainly, and I never appreciated the diversity of the land (I used to copy pictures of flowers out of books!) – though the barn owls were a constant spirit of the place, and to go out at night and hear the foxes barking and see the autumn moon rising enormous over the hillside is something I remember clearly. My son, when I tried to tell him the names of some flowers, said: “Don’t give me bloody nature study.” I realised that at primary school they were getting information out of books, whereas he was roaming free (accompanied by the cat) and seeing badgers, foxes, deer, the birds, close up. Going back, many years later, I see the place more clearly. I want more of the world to be more like this.

February 12, 2019 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Eagle Owl 3


This Eagle Owl, as far as birds is concerned, is the real McCoy, unlike my beloved product of the taxidermist, Marvin the Barn Owl. Apparently the wing span is something to behold.  Far as I am concerned, the eyes have it….

April 29, 2014 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Sky

6 sunset vi

After packing off paintings for an exhibition, I put on my boots and went out  into air becoming more wintery each day. Walked out alongside the Hirsel course, where the small path will become impassable in a few years because of the new holly trees planted there, which might scratch out the eyes, like a bad spirit from a folk tale. Never met a soul walking up there. Just before reaching the communications mast on the edge of the woods, I looked out over the fields towards the hills and the sunset, and took these photographs, before walking back on the actual golf course.  Among the leaves were many forsaken golf balls.  Is there some mystique about this? Anyway, I collected a dozen or so and put them in a little pile, then set off back home.

January 19, 2013 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Pictures for an Exhibition

Last night I packed up some paintings for exhibition at The Berwick Watchtower, and today they were delivered to the Gallery. Earlier on in 2012 I took some pictures of earlier stages of these paintings, as I thought it would interest me to compare them.

High Bank August was a painting based just that, a bank along the Lees that was full of flowers. The preliminary painting was thus:


I don’t think it was ever this bright, it was just photographed on a sunny day which bleached it out.  The base was very dark, which was distressed with an overcolour, then  some rough grasses were painted on top.  I wanted to stencil grasses, but this was hopeless as an idea. I also wanted to stencil the lettering, but this also was hopeless (both trials just produced blodges). The finished picture was like this:


I didn’t want to paint flowers at all, but I wanted this feeling of a bank of plants and flowers intertwined, so I painted the names of the actual flowers that were growing on the bank, and their latin names, which I put in for two reasons.  One is, I think they are beautiful; and also I wanted to vary the lettering to make it more dense. I painted some butterflies.  I started off with more brilliant butterflies but they looked wrong, so there are these delicate brown butterflies, which were more or less the only butterflies I saw last year,which was almost denuded of them until very late in the summer. I remember buddleias covered with butterflies, alas not last year. I wanted High Bank August to have that layered feeling that a bank has, one layer over another.  The butterflies were the top layer.


This was a painting that was an evocation of the wheatfields above Lennel village where I liked to walk in the summer.


This painting is called Hare Country. Again this looks darker, but it was photographed on a very dull day (I photograph my paintings outside, with the paintings lying on the ground and me standing over them, trying to avoid to much distortion – I haven’t a clue really, it is all trial and error). If I was designing this picture again I would break up the curves more; however, this year I will have the time to study composition. One gets used to the shape of a page for illustration, plus text, in which the decorative element is important.  The  physical shape of the book itself provides a kind of structure. Studying composition should be beneficial, even if what is learned is then put into the background. Painting by formula can be dull.  Also I have a problem with the tedium of horizon lines, and perspective. I tried to paint a decent sky in this picture but it immediately upset the balance, so I just left it the usual blue.


This painting had at the outset two hares, one in the foreground, and one running (just visible in pencil).  The hares totally disappeared, and a strange person with a dog got inserted instead:


I was really unsure about this painting, and was in a bit of a strop about it (the washing-up suffered), but then my husband caught sight of it in the studio (when I wasn’t there) and immediately guessed that it was the painting that I was in a strop about, and said he found the imagery intriguing, so I did some more work on it and put it in the 38 paintings and illustrations that I delivered to the Gallery.  Probably not all the paintings I have done will be exhibited, so I wonder whether this one will make it on to the walls. It is called “The Fool in the Field”.


The boy is one of the lads who had horses on the common land in Sunderland, and rode them bareback. Most of the horses were piebald, so  changed the horse:


I worked on the horse after I had had it up on the wall, as I thought the black and white was very flat. I cut a sketchy painting by Munnings out of the paper, as I liked the way he had painted the horses, and I did use this a tad to make the horse have more substance.


This girl with a bird is the least worked on painting I submitted. At the end I just painted in the goldfinch and left it.  At the beginning she was holding some kind of broken string, but this has almost disappeared in the final painting (some of it dissolved when I put varnish on, but that suited me – I had experimented with putting it in with neocolour, which I knew wouldn’t take varnish – it kind of melts, which effect I didn’t mind as it gave a small pool of blue against the distressed blue of the background:


The darkness of tone is mainly to do with the photography. However I noticed that all my pictures have a fairly sombre tone, even if they are quite richly coloured. I am gong to experiment with painting against a lighter background. Also I am going to tackle painting skies, using glazing medium, which obviously work better when there is light underneath from the white of the canvas.  It is surprising that, even when the background colour seems to be completely covered over, a dark base does deepen everything.

I used satin varnish for most of the paintings, although I used glossed for some, and left one or two unvarnished.  I was really pleased to getto get hold of the satin varnish in Details in Newcastle, but in the event I quite like the gloss, as against the darkness it makes the painted surface look kind of precious.

However, I have always liked working against a dark background. There used to be some Fabriano Ingres paper that came in books, it had wonderful colours, and I would use gouache with this. I did several covers for books using this method. However, the covers were never really true to the originals as the base colour changed the overlaid colours too much, so a purple or a red would dominate. Sage green was better.

Of course with computers an overlay is more satisfactory in the sense of the background colour not bleeding through.  I was given a graphics tablet for Christmas, which I should have fun working on – a whole new world. My illustrations will never be basically computer generated, as I just don’t think this would suit my style at all.  But every new medium throws up possibilities, as I am sure this will do – and I should have fun in the meantime.

January 13, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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