Moths (A4 coloured pencil on prepared paper 2017)

Isn’t ‘moth’ a beautiful word? It’s almost onomatopoeic in that soft ending, suggesting talcy, fluttering wings.

I haven’t always been a fan of moths. As a teenager on holiday in a Welsh cottage I was reading one night when a beast the size of a small bird flew in and started battering itself against my light. It took me about half an hour to get rid of it. More recently, one laid eggs in a ridiculously expensive winter coat that I bought when I worked for an international German publisher. It now has three noticeable holes.

Many moths share that peculiar single life purpose that one finds amongst insects: they exist only to breed and have no mouths as they don’t live long enough to require food. What’s the point of existing only to breed creatures that exist only to breed? Other moths with more complex missions sip nectar.

Inevitably they have acquired symbolic value for those who like to give themselves animal characteristics. Their single-minded attraction to light suggests  determination, yet their inability to differentiate between a teenage boy’s bedside lamp and a candle flame apparently demonstrates the dangers of blind faith.

They are also symbols of love. The female moth emits powerful pheromones that can attract a male 11 kms away. He’ll fly through the night, making clicking noises to confuse predatory bats, charting his course by his relationship to the moon, until he ends up in the dusty embrace of his one true love.

Talking of which, here’s an excerpt from a poem which I bought from a homeless street poet in New York City for $5:


My gentle love

Holds you like a moth

In cupped hands.  Protecting,

Not confining, I release you

To the sheltering night.


I’m not sure what the implication of that last part is, but I didn’t feel that $5 covered both poem and explanation.

The drawing above owes a certain amount to the wonderful drawings and paintings of wild things by Cornwall-based artist, Kurt Jackson. It’s drawn in coloured pencil on gessoed paper which gives the drawings their mothy textures.





Toad blog

Toad (10cms x 10cms ink and watercolour 2016)

I know many of you have been busily producing daily watercolours for World Watercolour Month, a wonderful initiative by the tireless Charlie O’Shields.

So far – 19 days in – I’ve managed the buddleia that I posted last week and this watercolour of a toad (I have been away quite a bit). I’ve been given a book of wildlife studies by the Cornish artist, Kurt Jackson, whose work in a variety of media is never less than interesting and often inspiring. I used some of his loose linework and spattering techniques in this image of a chap I’d disturbed while pulling up weeds in our garden.

Did you know that the common toad can live for up to 40 years? A particularly large one once made his home under my Mother’s garden shed, occasionally ambling out and frightening her when she was gardening. ‘Toad’ was also the title of an endless drum solo that took up an entire side of a vinyl album by Cream, but the less said about that particular toad the better…


Junk-food crazed flying devils of the English coasts

Seagulls blog

Seagull sketches  (A5 graphite on A5 sketchbook page 2015)

In England, seagulls have acquired a bad reputation: they steal your ice cream cones and grab your sandwiches; attack children and old people for no obvious reason; crazed on fast food leftovers they swoop down on small dogs and cats and then turn on each other. In Brighton and London there is talk of culling them to reduce the dangers posed by these wild-eyed flying devils with unlimited resources of anger and razor sharp beaks.

Last week we spent some days in North Devon where the seagulls seemed more reasonable. I did spend some time watching three of them sitting on a rowing boat, and whenever a fourth arrived one of the three had to clear off, instead of just rearranging themselves so that all had some private space.

The gulls in these sketches, however, were much more reasonable. Perhaps there are fewer fast food leftovers in North Devon and they’re less brain-damaged by additives and chemicals, but on Woolacombe Beach they seemed to co-exist reasonably enough with us and with each other, picking over pieces of leftover food and the occasional cigarette end without too much aggression. These sketches were each completed in under a minute before they moved on. I thought of polishing them up into finished drawings but they’re reminders, as they stand, of a sunny afternoon on a sandy beach in early September. No dogs, old people or ice cream cones were damaged in the making of these sketches.