‘Later’: on conkers and the unforeseen beauty of watercolour-ed leaf decay

Well, after what must have seemed an unfeasibly lengthy excursion in pursuit of drawing materials (ostensible reason for abandoning last week’s blogging effort after only the most paltry – and, frankly, cringeworthy – of offerings [and those in shamefully clunking rhyme…]), I thought I ought to return and publish a ‘later’, more substantive post as I rather rashly suggested I might. Incidentally, I did in fact manage to score some pretty decent pencils in the high street within an hour or so, and was not compelled to walk to the Derwent factory in Keswick to procure something suitable, as you might be forgiven for having theorised – on the basis that it might more reasonably account for the yawning chasm of time between last week’s shameful limerick post and this.


Autumnal mouse, bounding in a carefree fashion through a sudden, highly localized leaf-fall


To be entirely honest, last week was rather a struggle, creatively speaking, suffering as I was a curiously debilitating case of inspiration-deficit-itis. Such bouts are not necessarily infrequent, but rarely quite so demoralising and confidence-devouring as this last. However, as I am acutely aware that self-indulgent ruminations upon one’s navel and/or bleats of existential angst don’t often make for particularly compelling reading (especially if you had visited this blog in anticipation of some mildly diverting, possibly even uplifting/humorous morsel – please, indulge me…), I shall move swiftly on to my oft-deployed Malaise Avoidance Strategy – not an infallible system, but one which allowed me to go trudging through drifts of wholesomely earthy-smelling autumn leaves (and miraculously avoided treading in some concealed, dog-generated horror beneath – although there surely must have been some lurking there) on a blustery October afternoon! Although a suitably refreshing, even exhilarating, exercise, I can’t confess to have gambolled in quite such an unreservedly carefree manner as the above-pictured rodent (most of these leaf drifts occurred courtesy of roadside horse chestnut trees, ranged along a stretch of prime white van territory – not worth it…), but returned home reinvigorated and with a pocketful of gratifyingly shiny conkers in a mood far more conducive to creative endeavours.

*Interlude* – In appreciation of the conker: There is something so utterly satisfying about a conker, particularly one found still nestling in its spiky shell with an immaculate sheen and beautifully marbled colouring – the antithesis of its rather course outer casing, looking rather more like something fashioned artificially as a paragon of ergonomic excellence from a very expensive piece of varnished walnut than the ultimate in improvised playground weaponry (and here I’m referencing a very sheltered childhood in rural Lancashire, although one in which the game of ‘conkers’ represented something rather more savage and bruise-precipitating than the mere swinging together of a couple of tree ‘seeds’ on string that its rather tame namesake encouraged). The very thought of hastening the miserable, wizening process of the d[r]ying (sorry – there’s my Victorian melancholy surfacing…) conker with vinegar or surgical spirit, or whatever viciously abrasive cleaning product was most readily available the night before ‘the fight’, seems too brutal, now. The abundant distribution of such conkers across el thoroughfare during my little afternoon sojourn last week also contributed to my own more cautious gait – I could only envisage myself skittering over them, like so many marbles, in some excruciatingly humiliating manner as I made Tom & Jerry-esque efforts to avoid full body contact with the ground.

A little note about the illustration: if you have previously happened upon my post entitled ‘Oh tell me why, do we build [sand]castles in the sky… etc.’ (6 Oct 2010), you will probably have surmised that this is one of the Seasonal Mice quartet, finished a couple of weeks ago (along with the other three). I haven’t yet determined precisely to what use the little collection will be condemned, but am reserving (despite previous assertions) the Winter version as illustration-of-last-resort for my Christmas card work this year – his infuriating, whiskery smirk should be enough to marshal me into some sort of evasive illustrative action if I position him prominently enough above the drawing board… On a more technique-related tip, I did experiment a little with allowing the paint to work more freely on the paper in a few (very small…) regions of the illustration – chiefly, the autumnal leaves. I think a less proscriptive approach to colouring, especially where the subject is supposed to be representative of ‘nature’ (and, here, the natural, unregulated, non-uniform process of decay), lends it a more vibrant, organic quality – I was trying to capture the glowing, evolving colour of autumn leaves, and rather enjoyed watching the colour patterns magically develop on the paper as I applied water and pigment. Obviously, I’ve only experimented on a very small scale here, largely to preserve the integrity of the original, rather clean-cut design, but am looking forward to future, more ‘freeform’ dabblings within less rigid parameters…

With a whole day to myself on Saturday, and having tired of leaf-kicking and apple-collecting (which I am beginning to regret somewhat – I wouldn’t’ve thought  it, but there is definitely an upper limit to the amount of apple pie a person can consume, even with the assistance of those cherished facilitators, Mr. Custard and Mr. Ice-Cream…), I moved onto the next stage of sketching for a small private commission I’m working on. The client, on hearing tales of my young niece’s highly inventive but deeply improbable excuses for leaving her bed in the night to come trickling downstairs and moither her grandmother (“I can’t sleep grandma – my eyes are too sweaty” – I ask you…), had identified this dissembling trait in her own children and asked for a sort of ‘cartoonized’ representation of them with a caption suggesting that they’d come up with a similarly lame excuse for bed-absconding. The image they finally settled on is slightly different from the one shown below, but I so enjoyed drawing them (they are seriously cute children!) in their matching pyjamas and absently dangling their matching teddies, that I thought I’d introduce them to you, too:


'Our eyes won't stay shut...'


Well, there is still quite a hefty swathe of ‘finishing touches’ (*ahem*) to make to the Bologna competition entry, so I shall shield you from any further prattling (I feel I am, again, teetering on the cusp of mere word-spewing where something of far greater import and merit is demanded) and get back to it. (Plus, what will I have to talk about on Wednesday unless I stop playing on the computer…?)

x A.

About illustratedbyamanda

Illustrator and time-fritterer extraordinaire
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