I like writing in the garden, away from the distractions of the studio;
the only trouble is there's another set of distractions out here. I can't
help doodling away at the edge of my page . . .
blue tit (far left) is bobbing in and out of
the nest box on next door's kitchen wall, most likely working flat out
to keep its family fed and occasionally stopping to feed itself at the
sunflower feeder. It's squeezed through the nest hole so many times that
the feathers on the top of its head look as if they've been almost worn
away. Its plumage in general is looking faded, as if it's had too much
coal tit, (right) normally the duller bird,
is looking rather neater. The resident blue tit, on top of its normal
chores, keeps chasing it away from the feeder.
female house sparrow has a more relaxed attitude: she's
crouching down in a hollow in the lawn (probably where a squirrel has
been digging up a cached peanut). Other sparrows hang around the ground
feeder, like office staff around the water cooler (if offices still have
All Pheasant and Correct
ever, the pheasants stroll up to the feeder too. It feels
different to sketch them when I'm sitting out here with them
than it does to sketch them, when they're equally close, through the patio
window. That pane of double-glazing puts a barrier between us. Out here
I feel more as if I'm a part of their world.
What I like about all these birds is that they're such characters; they're
such a pleasure to draw. With their expressive shapes and soap opera character
behaviour they make themselves so tempting to draw. They're so amusing,
so full of life, that sometimes I think they have a richer, more incident-packed
life than I do; just by going about their lives and being whatever it
is they are: dotty pheasant, busy blue tit or streetwise sparrow.
The Land of the Happy Blue-Bottle-Flies
it's not just the birds; the bluebottle that lands on
the table also has a character all it's own - yes, really, it does,
if you stop and look at it: it's not an identikit field guide
specimen; it seems to have a life and character all it's own.
The way my quick sketch of it turns out reminds me of Edward
Lear (1812 - 1888). Although best known for his Limericks
and nonsense, Lear's day job was as a natural history illustrator and
landscape painter. In his Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets
(1871), he tells The Story of the Four Little Children who went Round
the World who, on their fantastic voyage, come to 'a country where
there were no houses, but only an incredibly innumerable number of large
bottles without corks, and of a dazzling and sweetly susceptible blue
colour . . . ' in which the Blue-Bottle-Flies live in 'the most copious
and rural harmony':
'At this time, an elderly Fly said it was the hour for
the Evening-song to be sung; and on a signal being given
all the Blue-Bottle-Flies began to buzz at once in a sumptuous
and sonorous manner, the melodious and mucilaginous sounds
echoing all over the waters, and resounding across the tumultuous
tops of the transitory Titmice upon the intervening and
verdant mountains, with a serene and sickly suavity only
known to the truly virtuous.'
I read Lear in the 1970s for my college thesis and that
' serene and sickly suavity only known to the truly virtuous' is a phrase
that's stuck with me.
Birds at the Bulls Head
collared dove flying out of a conifer and swift
flying in the open sky above, I drew yesterday evening as I waited for
Barbara in the car park of the Bulls Head, Horbury. I try never to miss
a chance to draw, and natural history appeals to me at the moment.
Richard Bell, email@example.com