Bournemouth Air Festival 2014

The Red Arrows perform at Bournemouth Air Festival 2014

Aeroplanes, innit.

Bournemouth has an air festival every year, and even people who would not ordinarily be interested in aviation history turn out to see it. During 2014 I was quite lucky to be working in a prime town centre location, in a roof top office, with really fantastic views of the seafront. In fact, if they were to replace said office with flats, I imagine they’d do rather well out of it.

Sketchbook Archive: Edinburgh 2012, part 2


(Read Part 1 here)

Drawing was a welcome distraction during this trip. These are my sketches from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, where there are paintings, photographs and sculpture; it was one of my favourite places to visit in Edinburgh.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The building is also beautiful.


The National Museum of Scotland has an altogether more eclectic range of exhibits, including – as seen here – the wall-mounted skeletal remains of an American bison.

There are artefacts from around the world, taxidermy animals of all sorts, and – of course – teapots.


I most enjoyed drawing these two sets of chamber bagpipes, which here appear to be warring. They look rather like a cross between a goose and a Dalek.


Something which I did not capture in my sketchbook, but which I feel compelled to mention, is the cardamom buns at Peter’s Yard – a Scandinavian bakery which was coincidentally, and vitally, only a short stroll through The Meadows from my B&B. I wholeheartedly recommend them, and also enjoyed a delicious pizza-in-a-basket for dinner here on my last night in Scotland. At some point I hope to return, as there is a lot I haven’t yet sketched. And more cardamom buns to eat.

(Read Part 1 here)

Sketchbook Archive: Edinburgh 2012, part 1


I had long wanted to visit Edinburgh – a capital city, but smaller than London, less sprawling; where the light was said to be noticeably different in quality. A genteel place, if you believe the books of Alexander McCall Smith; or not, if your mental image relies on Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus.

First I went to London to spend the night at my sister’s flat before the long train journey northwards. She had two free-range pet rats, Ratty Jake and Ratty Elwood, who scampered and would not pose for their portraits.


In the morning I sat in the near-empty Leon café at Kings Cross station, at the back near the window, with glorious morning sunshine lighting up the steam from a takeaway cup of scalding mint tea.

Then, to the train. I am an aficionado of books, podcasts, and albums played in their entirety; I also lead a sedentary life in general. The four hour train journey from London to Edinburgh would therefore have been very pleasant, if it hadn’t been that the air conditioning in my train carriage was broken – and possibly the toilet too, judging from the smell. I was glad to get off at the station, but then proceeded to get lost. Google maps, dear reader, are not really designed for pedestrians. I wandered for a long time, trying to find what should have been a very obvious and large road, before realising that I was standing under a bridge and the road was above me.


When I eventually became un-lost, and arrived at my B&B, I fell upon the thoughtfully provided teapot and shortbread biscuits – for where there is tea and a biscuit, there is comfort and a sense of normality.

Pictured above: various teas. To be continued…

Captain Sid


This was a Christmas gift for my sister: a painting of the late Sid the cat, in his favourite jacket with the nifty shoulder pads. Inspired by portraits like these ones; and also by this portrait of (strangely enough) Bill Murray – painted by Steve Payne, after George Dawe – for which I used the non-Bill Murray parts as jacket-reference.

There’s a lot that could be improved in this, if I had more time; but fortunately the frame is quite forgiving.


Twenty Fourteen, here we go…

2014-heatherA new year begins: with it comes another time of reflection on the past twelve months, and another look into the future. There are more plans to be conjured up. I start to realise I will need another pad of lined paper for all my various lists.

In 2013, I wrote on this blog more than I have done in the past, yet not quite as much as I had intended to (and not at all since November, when I drafted a summary of my Halloween preparations and completely forgot to actually publish it). As a result, there’s a lot that happened which I didn’t share here: a new website at (as yet a blank canvas); publication of some illustrations in the Christmas issue of Arkadia magazine; a fun evening at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery Masked Salon; and a couple of rather ambitious concerts with my choir that went even better than we’d hoped.

If the new year is as eventful as the last couple of months have been, I will definitely need to write here more often!

Demon (cat) Days – Halloween 2013 at Hemlock Hall

Halloween pumpkins and squash

Hallowe’en has come and gone, in a blur of powder paint, face paint and giant chalk. In a mad dash to complete the annual display in the porch, I had to forego any attempt at suspending a stuffed crocodile from the ceiling; but the result was nevertheless noticeably occult in tone.

The story behind this year’s ‘haunt’ is that of an Elizabethan magician-alchemist type who attempts to summon a demon from the abyss and ends up with something rather different than envisaged.

Demon cat work in progress

Demon cat doorwayAlthough the scale of this year’s celebration was much smaller than in previous years, Trick-or-Treaters seemed impressed by the large pentagram on the driveway, and the mysteriously Gothic windows glowing greenly in the night.

Gothic arches at Halloween

The house is dressed in green for Halloween

I had enormous fun mixing old house paint and Early Learning Centre powder paint to create cardboard signs, as well as the demon-kitty itself, leering out of the brickwork. I also created numerous dribbly candles, using a tutorial from the ever-inspirational My Ghoul Friday (link to be added, when I find it!). Candlesticks have been amassed over the years from charity shops and the like; offcuts of curtain fabric add colour and texture in the background.

Cauldron and candles

Halloween porch

Of course there are several beautiful pumpkins and squash, in addition to the big orange jack-o-lantern. I remain unsure as to what use an occultist would have for these, but they somehow add to the Halloween atmosphere.

Occult jack-o-lantern

Now to come up with a theme for next year…!

The sound of the sea.

Arts By the Sea Festival Opening Weekend – September 2013. An account of a mysterious marriage, rendered in purple prose and pencil by yours truly…

(It’s the sound, it’s the sound of the sea.)

Dressed in white with ceremonial red crowns, a train of women make their way through the town, chanting strange words of the sea and a mysterious sacrifice. They are accompanied by a motley crew of officials – a choirmistress, a souvenir seller, a chimney sweep – and me: a hanger-on; an impromptu wedding guest. Somebody has given me a small paper flag with a silver horseshoe, and I wave it self-consciously.

Passing through the square and towards the lower gardens, crowds line up in the gathering gloom, capturing the spectacle with cameras and mobile phones. People are curious, but not surprised: there’s an arts festival happening, and they’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I walk near a gaggle of brightly-dressed characters in Commedia dell’Arte masks, whose cheerful song and comic capering add an air of exuberance to the solemn parade.

We are now heading for the sea, and at the pier, the procession pauses. There is eerie music and a sense of foreboding. The sky is a deep electric blue, and coming across the water is a small boat lit by strings of yellow bulbs. The brides are illuminated, too, by torches clutched in nervous hands. Their pale, carefully made-up faces glow. They wait and the crowd waits.

A short time later, as the brides recede into the distance aboard the little ferry, I lean on the pier railings and think about what has just happened. A woman I meet tells me she’s heard that the brides are in fact on their way to Poole, where they will go on a post-parade pub crawl. The mental image of 50 or so women in second-hand wedding dresses descending on quay-side drinking establishments is as surreal as anything else I’ve seen tonight. Then I go and take a last look at the giant robot horse parked on the seafront, before going home.

Sketch for a picture inspired by the Marriage of the Sea parade

Sketch for a picture inspired by the event, which I might finish one day.


Note: for some excellent atmospheric photos of the event, see this website. Look carefully, and you might spot the impromptu wedding guest in the red scarf under the word ‘Rapunzel’.

Sketchbook Archive: Bournemouth Natural Science Society Open Day, 2011

Bournemouth Natural Science Society - CaribouBournemouth’s Natural Science Society has an open weekend every year. I was familiar with the building from my secret identity as a singer, and competing (not very successfully!) in the solo classes of the Bournemouth Music Competitions Festival – these are held under the gaze of slightly tatty stuffed animal heads that necessarily smell of moth balls.

On the open weekend, which is worth a visit, they display some of the exhibits that are not usually open to the public – collections of birds, butterflies, minerals and various other fascinating things. Here are some sketches I did in 2011.

Books Illustrated: Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie


I have always loved mysteries but it took me a while to start reading Agatha Christie novels. This one is probably not one of her best – and in fact I suspect that I haven’t read her best books, since the Bournemouth library system seems primarily to hold her less popular and later titles.

The book is set in the late 1960s, and features Hercule Poirot and the mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver (who Christie wrote as a parody of herself and her writing); as well as a couple of minor characters who are described as wearing colourful velvet bell-bottoms, and who were judiciously written out of the recent television adaptation. The title, and the slight supernatural aura of the plot, is of course what drew me to purchase my copy – that, and the lovely orange pumpkin on the cover. It is one of the Harper Collins editions which all seem to be excitingly designed, thus to lure the innocent book shop browser to buy an entire colourful set.

I’m intrigued by the foreign language alternative titles of this book, as listed on the Wikipedia page – such as ‘Kurpitsajuhla’ (Finnish, meaning ‘The Pumpkin Party’); ‘Schneewittchen Party’ (German, ‘Snow White Party’); and ‘Festen for de døde’ (Danish – Wikipedia has this as meaning ‘The Eve of All Saint’s Party’ but to me it looks like the literal translation is ‘feast for the dead’ or similar; doubtless they are the same thing). I feel like these could be the inspiration for entirely new books; they conjure up completely different images in my head. Perhaps I’ll use them in a future project.