stories and illustration

Old Barn Door

To my amazement, I found that over the past fifteen months I have scarcely put an image on to WordPress, whereas before I used to go out walking for miles, with my camera, come home and trawl through the images I had captured, then put a few on to this site; it was like a kind of diary. I am quite a hoarder, I realise; letters, photographs, emails, thingummies, boxes, books, pictures, unsorted reference material, cards, even old newspapers (though I do manage to throw them away, these days, hoarding newspapers is not a good trait). There is so much in the world, the older I’ve got the more I realise how little I know; and behind me fragments of my life pile up, waiting to be sorted into some kind of shape.

So, this is an image that appeared among the many hoarded, and I put it up here, somewhat at random. I liked the light through the cracks. This same image I realise, was put on my website in May 2014. The words are different, the place is further away, I will let it stay. One day I will go out into the landscape again, with my camera; but at the moment, walking is for my health only; my energy is with a fiddle, a banjo, a little tin whistle. a guitar, a turquoise patterned drum, and some bears.

This image is of an old barn across the yard of an old house in the Liddel Valley, which is the place that has captured my heart; though it is only when I go back there that I realise how deep this feeling goes. The countryside round about belongs to the hawks, and the hares, and the orchids. There is a room above the barn which had old papers in it, including some of my father’s plans, though these days I don’t know what is there. Massive stone steps with no railing lead up to this room; last time I visited I think the room was padlocked, and the steps were were clotted with the droppings of barn owls, which made me happy, as barn owls are the spirit of the place. For years after my son and I left the house they disappeared; and now they are back. At dusk and even late afternoon they can be seen, flying slow and low and white, sometimes mobbed by smaller birds. Their cry is eldritch. I have a stuffed barn owl in my studio. He is called Marvin, after a magician in a book called Parchment House, which was published many years ago. My young son, who was used to me writing poems, sat down and read it, and said: “I didn’t know you could write a proper book!”

May 6, 2021 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Midnight Hare – Drawing

Midnight Hare drawing

Someone who knows me well was surprised when he knew that I was putting images from “The Midnight Hare” on WordPress when I was in the middle of working on the picture book, since I am usually secretive about what I am my working on until it is finished.  But the script for this book is finished, apart from tweaking a word here and there as I go along (see below); and I am finding that my feeling about showing illustrations in process is different to my attitude to text.  The book is already there, I am just working out how to interpret it.  Putting pictures on line distances me from the work so I can look with a more critical eye.  I spent some time doing two pictures of Milo sitting almost back view, in a flowery field, looking at the hare in the distance.  I thought the second version was all right, but after putting it on-line, after a while I had the same sensation that I had when I put the original idea for the cover on-line – there is some dynamic missing.  Since this is the first page of illustration I feel that Milo should be seen full-face and in action, even if he is creeping through the field.  And the hare herself is seen much closer, which is right as she is a real protagonist in the story, even if only at the beginning and the end.  So I did this drawing today, which I think works better; and now I will colour it up and try not to overwork it.  I also took out the words “small,brown” when describing the hare, as the hare is what she is in the picture, she doesn’t need words of description.  The Midnight Hare himself is quite obviously a distinct character, so they are quite differentiated enough visually without adjectives attached.

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , | 6 Comments

The Midnight Hare Appears

 the hare appears

This was always a difficult picture to do, so I decided to launch the final illustrations with this.  It is half finished, but the main elements are in there.  It is so much more satisfying to work against a coloured background, it has the atmosphere that I have been searching for through so many roughs, so at last this is how the illustrations are going to be done: gouache on Ingres paper.

This was always a project that I meant as a self-publishing venture, but winds having brought down a chimney pot (a chimney pot for which I am unfortunately personally responsible) with damage to the chimney and a neighbour’s roof (though very luckily not to any passers-by, which would have been horrific), and with the insurance refusing to pay up, half my printing money for the book has disappeared in a high gale; so I have decided that I will send out the book as a detailed rough with two or three finished pictures to all the suitable publishers I can think of, as a multiple submission, so I will know by September or so if I can get The Midnight Hare produced in this manner; with self-publishing as an alternative. I am pretty committed to this book, so however things pan out, it will see the light of day (or maybe that should by the moonlight).

Having looked at publishing websites I feel that my work is not at all what is fashionable at the moment, but I don’t really care about that too much, though it might make finding a publisher a bit difficult.  But hey, the luxury of a fallback position should never be under-estimated.

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , | 5 Comments

A Picture Book – The Midnight Hare

midnighthare 1This is a detailed but unfinished rough illustration for a book called “The Midnight Hare”. About two years ago I wrote a script in two hours, one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon.  I had deep feeling about the script, but it has taken me all this time to decide how I am going to do the illustrations for this work.

When the pens I usually use, which were fine-nibbed true sepia in colour, were discontinued, and when watercolour itself wasn’t giving me the feeling I wanted,  I decided to try new techniques. I treated myself to a real extravagance,  a big box of gouache and a big box of crayons, artist quality, they are just delicious, I drool over them, and keep them all in order, which is so unlike my somewhat chaotic manner of work (though when I was very young I had a lovely box of conte crayons, in a metal box, and  even when my father got locked in the larder and I was the only person able to rescue him – I must have been about 4 at the time – I apparently insisted on putting the crayons back in the box in the right order before trying to get him out – he was expostulating all the while through that kind of mesh they had on larder doors).

I digress.

Using new media, and drawing with a fine sable brush, the feeling of the paintings that I have been working on are at last corresponding with the feelng I had when I first wrote the script. There is a graphic quality that I want to keep, but with gouache it is possible to build up colour, and to overpaint, without the work getting muddy. Also it is possible to paint light over dark. I had always intended to send this book out to various publishers, but after listening to two agents talking about the difficulties these days of getting work published, and the very long time it took, and other limitations, I suddenly realised that I would by-pass all that.  I wouldn’t look on publishing my own work as second best but as something I would like to do in itself, and would not bother to send it out to publishers at all.

As well as having a lot of work published in the past by large publishers, here and abroad, I have quite a bit of useful experience working on small press picture books, and I know that good sales are quite possible. We have a very proficient and friendly printer locally who are proper book publishers, which is an amazing piece of luck – and I have worked with them in the past on books for Serafina Press.  So rather than trawl my work round I have decided to wade in straight away and enjoy the whole process of writing and illustrating, production, costing, publicity and sales all on my own.

I will be blogging now and then on the whole process, I might even give the book its own website nearer publication, which won’t be until 2016.  Wish me luck.

August 20, 2015 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Centre for the Children’s Book,, Newcastle: The Little Boat

Newcastle 3

Renovations of a magical place, the Centre for the Children’s Book, opening again in July. The Centre is set in Ouseburn, a very individual  part of Newcastle upon Tyne – spent a wonderful day there with a friend of long-standing. Every time I go there is something new to see – an inexhaustible area of the city.

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Centre for the Children’s Book Newcastle: Renovations 2

Newcastle 2

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Centre for the Children’s Book, Newcastle: Renovations 1

Newcastle 1


June 22, 2015 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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