Sketches from Cerne Abbas Open Gardens 2015

An iris (left); lavender (right); and some other flower-type thing (centre).

On Sunday I visited the little village of Cerne Abbas, in Dorset, for their annual Open Gardens weekend. Every year, the more horticulturally-minded of the village’s residents (who are probably in the majority) open their gardens to the public; and if I can, I go along and take my sketchbook. This year, I decided to try my hand at adding some watercolour to the mix.

Lupin; leaves with flowers; flower with leaves. There are gardens filled with fragrant roses in every shade you can think of; beautifully manicured lawns; tangly moss-covered fruit trees; and some interesting improvised water features.

A flower arrangement in the church hall. And a pink flower what I do not know what it is called.

There is also tea and cake, served in the village church, to revive you after the tiring work of looking at pretty flowers.

Rose that looks like it was spattered with paint. It wasn't my fault. The image above, on the far left, is a rose that looks like it has been spattered with bright pink paint. Of course I had to draw it. Even though the resulting sketch slightly resembles the kind of tissue you might have on hand during a mild nosebleed.

Christchurch Food Festival 2015: An illustrated viewpoint

Photo of a blue caravan that sells waffles.

Adorable duck-egg blue waffle wagon.

My annual visit to Christchurch Food Festival always begins early, as I try to arrive before it opens. I get the chance to find out where everything is, and what might be good to draw; as well as observing those interesting ‘behind the scenes’ moments of traders putting the finishing touches on their stalls. There’s a lovely feeling of anticipation; you imagine all the people thinking, will the weather improve? Will people like what I’m selling? What else looks good here, and what am I going to have for lunch? A lot of them know each other from doing the same festivals, in previous years or in different locations, so it’s a supportive atmosphere.

Riverford Organic Vegetable box display at Christchurch Food Festival

On both days this weekend, long bus journeys scuppered my chances of getting to Christchurch for 10am; but I still managed to arrive before most of the crowds. Saturday had begun rainy, but I climbed the stairs of the underpass into bright spring sunshine, and a hint of barbecue smoke.

A copper still for making Conker Gin, displayed at Christchurch Food FestivalNoticeable improvements to the festival for 2015 included the addition of the ‘Festival Village’, another batch of food stalls by Christchurch Quay (an area known as the ‘Quomps’, for reasons I am unfamiliar with). This was a really vibrant space, with lively musical entertainment on the bandstand, local and ‘celebrity’ chefs in the cooking demonstration tent, and plenty of grass and seating where festival-goers could enjoy their food. It was a welcome respite from the high street market, which can get very busy – though here there were also improvements, with more open spaces, particularly in front of key food businesses like cafés. On Sunday there was also the welcome return of family entertainment and more food traders on the Kings Arms bowling green.

What did I draw?

The Riverford Organic vegetable box stall (see top image), which displays some lovely fresh produce which you aren’t allowed to eat! I also drew a basket of garlic at The Garlic Farm‘s stall, and lamented that they don’t seem to make banana chutney anymore (although Riverford – by coincidence – apparently do).

Conker Spirit Dry Dorset Gin have beautiful branding, and hosted a tented bar area by the river. On display was a magnificent vast copper globe, with a tube coming out of the top, which I couldn’t help but draw (lower image). I suspect this was a copper still, of the kind that would be used to make the gin; surrounding it were jars of botanicals, and happy festival-goers sipping gin-based cocktails.

What did I eat?

Here are my recommendations from this year’s festival:

  • Bread of Devon apricot and almond brioche swirl – this was a bit denser and less sweet than the brioche I’m used to, but made for a pretty perfect breakfast, alongside a latte from Dorset Coffee.
  • Wild boar and apple sausage in a baguette – I remembered having one of these last year at the Bournemouth Food Festival, and that it was perfect. This one was similarly satisfying.
  • Chillicious frozen yoghurt, peanut butter and banana milkshake – it’s got fruit so it’s healthy? Probably? But anyway it was delicious, so I don’t care.
  • The Posh Kebab Company – Aberdeen Angus kebab with home-made tzatziki sauce and other interesting condiments – at £7, these were a little more expensive than some of the other options at the festival, but really worth the price. Even the bread was delicious. They also sell a lamb version which I’d love to try.
  • Banoffee crêpe from the crêpe stand by the quay – banana, toffee sauce, and layers of pancake, alternately crispy and squishy; tasty, but more importantly, hot – Sunday’s weather wasn’t as nice as Saturday’s!
  • Strawberry Fields Foods – lemon tea marmalade – I had to get some more of this after demolishing a previous jar. A very fragrant marmalade with lots of peel, and a hint of bergamot. Their pear and vanilla jam is also glorious.

I would also highly recommend The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Company – lovely people, high-quality bread and cheese and some creative combinations (they did a special edition spiced cauliflower cheese toastie at a Bournemouth street food event last year and it was AMAZING). And churros from Churtopia (or churros from anywhere, really).

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…

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.

A Priori

I’m in a Halloween mood today, so here are some of the more morbidly themed pages from my 2011 Moleskine:

I sketched these in and around Christchurch Priory, a lovely large historic church. I found it interesting how many differently shaped gravestones there were, but similar enough to each other that you don’t notice unless you really look. There is also lots of lovely carved stone inside the priory building itself. That bird-thing (eagle?) was part of a lectern.

Here are sketches from a singing masterclass I went to. Real skulls were used to demonstrate some of the vocal anatomy concepts; during lunch break I was allowed to draw them. Hence why this page is an odd combination of surreptitiously sketched people, and crumbly old bones.