stories and illustration

Common Ground 2

I have no idea whatsoever where this painting is, I cannot remember painting it, but it is obviously a companion to a blue-violet painting of a moor at night. This is the landscape that is in my heart, out there in the central Borders, where I once saw, sitting hunched in a tree, a bird so large I still cannot believe it was not an eagle. These paintings contain emptiness. So different to illustrations, which are full of things – bears, banjos, outraged mayors, butterflies, mean fishmongers, canny seagulls, signposts, dancing children….The moors in the picture book I am creating are seen as places of hunger and desolation, except in the case of the blithe wee bear who chases a butterfly. The illustrations are nearly finished, the story is complete… I think I am spinning it all out, up there in my studio, aka the Tardis, which itself needs painting and patching. It always feels disorientating to finish something a project, so maybe I am putting it off. there will then be the hassle of trying to find a publisher, as there is no way I am going down the self-publishing line again; but being fond of the story, I will not be discouraged.

Soon, perhaps. I will make some more paintings, which I will lose track of – some get sold, some get given, a few are in the attic, where I don’t dare to go very often because it is eminently fall-out-of, having a door which does not fasten from the inside, and stuff and stuff, you have to cling on to the rafters and tippy-toe to avoid the stuff.


March 30, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Green Hill No More


A few weeks ago this landscape was green from foreground to background, but now, with fields of ripened wheat next to fields of  ripened barley, the colour of high summer has changed the landscape completely.  The helicopter was flying very low, probably checking the powerlines that run between the pylons that can be seen on the horizon. The hay is being cut, everywhere the edges of the pavements are strewn with hay from the lorries going past. The barley and wheat will be next. The summer has been like this almost all the time, hot, blue skies, for weeks; but at last we have some rain, and storms are forecast.

I have been working all week painting.  Next week I will be able to go out (storms permitting) and take some photographs, and get back to work on a picture book.  For the moment it is all hangings and mounts and lists and finishing details…..

August 1, 2014 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

River, Crows, Flowers, Herons


Crow Over Cornfield

Whenever I get near the crows, they hop away just too far, or fly away just too quickly – I wanted to get an Adieu Vincent image, but instead managed to capture this serene-looking crow flying  on its lonesome high above the barley. The swallows zip about, coming out in photographs like flyspecks.

I am walking late in the afternoon, feeling a need for some fresh air.  I climb up the muddy path to the Lees, and there is the rustic signpost in the distance.


Close-up it looks more sinister:


I take some pictures of the hills beyond the barley, beyond the curve of the river, as when I do the illustrations for The Midnight Hare I want to use authentic scenes, even if I move things around, as there is a difference in atmosphere when real places are used.  I use a kind of generic shorthand for horizons, and I think it is about time to get rid of this generic shorthand way of dong things.

I like the way the coloured fields fold into each other, and the way every angle changes the light:




This contraption has been sitting at the edge of the barley for some time. The crows perch on it.  What is it for?


Down by the river, my thoughts change, and I think about other work. Last year I painted a canvas, now sold, based on the flowers that grew on a bank on the other side of the Lees.  Seeing the flowers along the river bank, an idea comes to me to paint a similar canvas, but with for background the deepest colour of the river at the top, fading down to an earthier but still darker colour at the bottom, with some of the pale grasses thrown over this canvas, and the names of the flowers painted on top of this: marsh woundwort, rosebay willow herb, st John’s wort, balsam, ragwort, sorrel, peppermint … won’t think or talk about ths any more, as if I work something out completely beforehand I lose interest in the process and don’t get round to carrying it out….

The High Bank, August Acrylic SOLD




It is at this pont that I see a heron (that grey blob behind the grasses):


As I creep nearer, I see that there are two herons, standing on stones in the river shallows:


Now I am fairly close, but my camera doesn’t have much of a zoom, and also there are all these grass stems in the way.  I am nearly on top of the herons,  going creepy-creepy softly-softly, and am just gtting ready to rise slowly above the grasses and at last get a shot of some herons close up, when a woman and her dog go by on the path above the riverbank, and with a clatter of wings, the herons fly off across the river, and of course when I try to photograph them all I get is empty water.  A tad peeved, I walk on, and just as I get to the spot where the two herons were standing, a third heron flies up from its shelter in the lee of the bank. Off guard, I just shrug and move on.  Foiled again.

By mistake, I take a photograph that is of somethig unrcognisable, but is like some delicate voile in natural dyes, or an abstract watercolour:


Time to go home. Grass is growing thick and flaxen, it bends in the wind, I wonder how to paint this abundance:



The fields at ths time of year remind me of opening lines of “The Lady of Shalott”:

                                                 On either side the river lie

                                                 Long fields of barley and of rye

                                                 That clothe the wold and meet the sky

                                                  And thro’ the field the road runs by

                                                  To many-tower’d Camelot….

Nice one, Tennyson.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Paintings Unfinished

This painting is an evocation of walks up above Coldstream, in the summer.  Nothing up there but hares, and the hawks.  In this picture at the moment there are three hares.  At the left hand corner there was the head of a flautist, but I took him out: I wanted a picture without people;  he was out  propertion; and this is a deep edge canvas (I continue round the edges) and painting the arms of a flautist in the third dimension like this looked ridiculous. It works with houses going round a corner, but not with the human body.

I have another painting of a flautist on the edge a wheatfield, but this is on a narrow edge canvas, which contains the picture within the rectangle.

Today I have been working further on this painting seen above, overlaying colour .  It is good to leave it and go back to it, as the acrylic dries properly, so a new colour laid over the surface looks fresh. This used to frustrate me with gouache, the way the underlying colours bleed into each other.

When this painting, and others, are finished, I will put them up on this website, before they are exhibited at Berwick Watchtower in January.

A did the ground for this painting a long time ago (one colour overlaid over a colour beneath, patterned with clingfilm, which is manipulated and left to dry, so that when it is lifted there are striations and whorls in the ground through which the underneath colour shows).  The canvas has been sitting perched up again the wall.  Nagging me.  I always knew what the subject was, the high bank on the edge of the Lees fields, where a mass of wild flowers grow in the summer.  This week I started to throw paint at the canvas.  I picked some dried grasses to see if I could use them as a base for printing, but this didn’t work at all, so I have been using paint very freely, scattering, using the edge of a pallette knife, gestural single brushstrokes, spattering. Overlaying this will  probably be some stencilled words, some colours/flowers, and some delicately-painted  insects, which I will then overlay with more freshly applied paint.  We shall see.  So far I like the freedom of the shapes, this looseness is something new for me, after many years of illustration.

There were at one time gong to be mirrors, with reflections of things that wouldn’t be reflected, I had an idea for a rider on horseback in armour, probably memories of Lady of Shalott.  Anyway, too complex an idea – it didn’t seem to gel.  Still, I am working on this idea of layers that lower layers can be seen through, and also using lettering, though I don’t know whether this will work on this particular painting.

Something about this  image reminds me of Liddesdale. It seems to take place in some kind of moorland, with water in the background, I think the hare must hare strayed out of its habitat, although I have seen hares not too far away. The colours have been made gentle with an overlay of oil pastel.  The two figures will be more detailed, especially the boy playing the flute, but the overall colouring should remain misty and silver pink like this (in the sky, on the water and in some of the foliage I have used pearlised paint, which I got from a craft shop – very seductive it is too). To the left I shall  paint some darkish moths. The feeling of the painting I have got already though, so I don’t want to work it too much more.

This was a rather dark painting, which has been hanging on a hook in the Tardis for some time.  This week I added the table edge, the gold old-fashioned easel and the fabric anenomes, and suddenly the picture is a tad less sombre.  The owl is Marvin, I bought him at auction, he is called after the magician in “Parchment House”, which I wrote years ago. There were always owls, for years, at Stonegarthside, they were part of the magic of the place. The perspective is odd, because everything is painted from a different angle, but I like this.  Poor Marvin, I left him in the window in the summer and half his feathers have got bleached.  I am thinking of doing a (vry delicate) paint job on him, but will finish the picture first.

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment


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