Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Flash Of Blue

When I think of my time spent wandering the river bank, a bird that first springs to mind is the Kingfisher. No other bird is more synonymous with angling, and no other angler is more consistent at catching fish than one of my favourite waterside birds. When you get the wonderful opportunity to view this beautiful bird at close quarters, it is like Mother Nature went overboard with the colour palette, such bold and striking colours. Combine those colours with late evening sunlight and it is hard to describe in written words the brilliance of that electric blue central stripe cresting the length of its back from mantle to tail - nature at its most beautiful.

Over time I have become accustomed to the high pitched single note that announces the Kingfisher’s presence. Often produced in flight and lasting less than a few milliseconds, each note precedes that iridescent flash. With just enough time for the call to register, you pause and look up from the float as he powers past with conviction. Banking hard to one side like a fighter jet, he twists and turns following the contour of the land, all the while tracking the stream like a rally driver co-pilot using an ordnance survey map. After what can only be described as a moment in time, you refocus back on the stick float which is no longer present, only to bump the fish due to not striking the hook home....Arrrrrrr! I never have worked out how that happens, or coincides with turning to your rucksack for a flask or sandwiches only to miss that single bite of the day....I'm sure these fish are watching us.

Towards the end of last year I started working in watercolour and thought the Kingfisher being so bold & beautiful would provide the perfect range of colours for which to try my hand. To be honest, I found it quite instinctive and soon got to grips with controlling a brush instead of my usual pencil - the difference in speed is staggering and much more fluid. I soon realised that mastering a pencil is far more demanding and painstakingly slow compared to working in watercolour. Nonetheless, graphite develops essential skills and is equally rewarding. I haven't worked in oil yet, but I have been building up to that moment and will start this year, so keep tuned for a change in my future works. Instead of a static pose, I wanted to express the Kingfisher’s motion in watercolours; this resulted in a 3-stage piece blending from graphite pencil into partial colour, with the final bird presented in full colour. Maybe this was a transition stage in my mind from pencil to paint, either way I was really pleased with the resulting effect, which is something I do not say very often.



After a couple of recent attempts in watercolour, I swung back to graphite pencil for my latest piece, a Kingfisher on an anglers rod tip...why would it be anything else! I had chosen a lovely old cane rod to maintain a traditional feel to the piece. Using strong side light, I could add a nice dark shadow to the underside of the bird to produce maximum depth. It is not an easy subject to depict in graphite because your mind subconsciously links this bird to colour, so it was important for me to try and achieve a large tonal range to provide the illusion of colour.

For sale priced at £250, double cream mounted. Actual drawing dimensions 300mm x 110mm Graphite on Artboard. SOLD

Raptor blog coming soon!

Monday, 6 March 2017

A Frozen Tail

It has been some time since I last posted on my Art blog. This is not to say I haven't been busy, in fact just the opposite, but this is my first blog for 2017 and tailored for the angler rather than artist. It’s a post I have wanted to put together for a while and the perfect situation had arisen over the course of the winter. I have to harvest fish stocks every two years from our fishery business and I have seen numerous examples of what I'm about to explain. However, I never managed to gather any photographic evidence to prove it so when I have recounted the story to fellow anglers in the past, I have noticed a look of disbelief and sniggering, whilst all the while I try to convince them it’s the truth and not another ‘old wives’ tale’. Of all the fresh water fish I have had to deal with over the years nothing can compare to the Tench for being the toughest of’s almost indestructible!

If you can imagine, when you drain a lake you are left with lots of little puddles of water on the lake bed and these frequently contain very small fish, anything from roach to perch fry, along with tench and the odd small jack pike. Most of these fish will not survive more than a few hours and that's if they can evade the Heron & Egrets capitalising on the easy free meal. In the past I have observed Marsh harrier working the lake beds, along with night raids from Boar, Fox & even Pine Marten. Once the bulk of the fish have been removed a team of men will then work the remainder of the lake bed in a grid fashion just to make sure nothing has been missed.

 Unfortunately with fingerling size fish it’s almost impossible to save them all and I justify this by the bird life capitalising on the free meal over the harsh winter period so nothing is lost or wasted....which is always the case with the natural environment. One year all the tench had been harvested and graded into large tanks that are loaded onto a pickup ready to be transported. This particular evening the weather had been cruel and the fish dealer arrived late, so we worked into dark with hands the colour of blue steel and core body temperatures that felt like the inside of a chest freezer. With the job complete, we retired for the evening, cold and wet and tired. The following morning we awoke to -4oC and a hard frost carpeting the outside world.....after slipping back into the frozen waders and preparing for the daily events, I noticed a small tench no longer than 4" long frozen to the pickup bed. It was frozen solid to the steel and I could not prise it off. As I stopped and took a close look, pitying my mistake, I thought its eye moved slightly within its cannot be I thought, so I gathered a bucket of water and poured it over the fish to defrost it off the steel floor. After quickly transferring into a bucket of water, within 10 minutes that fish was swimming around. Now I know that's hard to believe because that fish had spent a minimum of 12 hours out of water and was then frozen solid in -4 oC temps and it still survived! Unbelievable and just goes to show when a lake freezes in winter and the fish bed down into the soft silt to enter a dormant state, they have little to worry about compared to that poor chap.

This winter a similar scenario happened, only this time a small tench was missed underneath the weighing scales when fish had to be graded and weighed. You might think ‘how careless’ but when you are talking of 1000s of fish that require grading it’s very easy to lose or miss something as long as your hand. Nevertheless, this little tench lay there all night frozen to the trailer which I inadvertently stumbled across in the morning when the steel scales were moved - as can be seen in the first picture with the grass and mud frozen to his flanks.

Once again his little red eye swivelled in its socket, I placed him into the bucket to defrost, washed his flanks to remove the frozen debris and as can be seen from the series of pictures you can see how miraculously it comes alive and swims away to fight another day. Now if that's not one of nature’s miracles!

This is a story I really wanted to share, it doesn't tie in with my artwork very well but gives you a little insight into my working life outside of art. It is a small indication of how the natural world can still leave me speechless after all these years. I have drawn the tench on numerous occasions; my last attempt was in a different medium using Ink on scraper board for the illustrations in the wonderful book ‘A Coming of Age’ by Stuart Harris, a gifted writer and angler. I'm afraid this drawing is now sold along with my other tench works, but I'm sure it won’t be the last one now I know the magical powers this fish possesses.

I hope you enjoyed the story; my next blog is linked to water but this time a little more colourful!