The sights and sounds of summer . . .
To start, why not put some sounds in your ears while you read over this post? Below is a compilation of various recordings I made (on my camera, so not brilliant quality) during June. Originally, I intended to do a recording every day for 30 Days Wild, but didn't manage it. Speaking of 30 Days Wild, it was fantastic to get my pack from the Wildlife Trusts, featuring cards with pictures that I drew! It was very exciting to have my art going out to thousands of people. I talked about the process of creating the cards here.
So, back to our activites in June. We paid a visit to London for a family wedding at the start of the month and enjoyed some green spaces in the city.
The wedding cakes were a sight to behold. All the fruit and flowers inspired me to try something I'd been meaning to get around to for the last few years: cooking with elderflowers. I foraged a couple of flower heads and made them into pikelets (sweet little pancakes), which worked quite nicely.
It's hard to fit in outdoors time around a full time job with a 1-2 hour commute each way, so we decided to start a little tradition of going on a walk on the way home at least once a week. We chose Arlington Reservoir, because it's a one hour circular walk on an easy trail, with a variety of stuff to look at: the water and waterbirds, a bit of woodland, views of the South Downs, animals, buildings, fields. It was satisfying to watch the evolution of the micro-ecosystem that is the reservoir wall over the course of the summer and autumn, until it got too dark to walk any more.
There was a gorgeous Chicken of the Woods fungus growing on Battle High Street, of all places. I didn't want to take it, as it looked so lovely and colourful. Somebody else didn't have any such qualms - it had been cut down when we next went past, a couple of days after I took this photo. (I later heard it was a friend of a neighbour, who presented it to a family member for their birthday!)
We had an amazing microadventure on the South Downs with probably the most beautiful scenery I saw this year. The HRRA walk this month was also on the South Downs, which meant even more fabulous views!
Small tortoiseshell butterflies, which have suffered a population decline, especially in the south of the UK.
And at the end of the month we went Champing for the first time. Despite quite a grey and drizzly month overall, we did manage to make the most of it.
Last June, I had a great time doing #30DaysWild, and I drew a little doodle or sketch each day to show what I’d got up to. It seems that some of the folks at the Wildlife Trusts appreciated my little pictures, because they asked me if I’d like to do the illustrations for the Random Acts of Wildness cards in this year’s pack. Of course I wanted to! How cool is that?! Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested in hearing a bit about the cards - thanks to Mags (of With Each New Day), Helen (of Stresswitch) and notso (of Bus-Stop Birding) for the following questions. If you’ve got other questions, feel free to ask in the comments.
What determined your choice of subjects? Did you think of the acts yourself or were you given a list?
I liaised with the fabulous Lucy McRobert at the Wildlife Trusts and she sent me a list of activities, along with some instructions about the shape and layout of the cards. Other than that I was left mostly to my own devices, which suited me. It was a nice way of working, to be free to think about the story I’d like to create around the text on each card. Some of the pictures are straight up illustrations of the text, others work in tandem with the statements.
On the other hand, this freedom meant that when I got stuck with what to draw, it took a lot of thinking to get me out of my pickle - I didn’t have many pointers! But, as is so often the case with creative things, some of the pictures that puzzled me the most ended out being my favourite illustrations. I had a hard time figuring how to illustrate "Google wild facts" without just showing a person at a computer. Hopefully the end result, although slightly fantastic, shows how research can bring ideas to life, off a screen and into reality (or at least into imagination).
Did you work on the art at the location or from photos? Were any of the cards inspired by specific locations?
I was doing most of these illustrations in February and March, when it was cold and bleak and I was not surrounded by the flora and fauna of summer. This was one of the most difficult parts of the process. I couldn’t walk outside and think, “Oh, that’s an interesting flower,” and draw it. I had to try to remember what kinds of flowers or fungi or birds are around in June, then find images of them to work from - photos, diagrams, other illustrations. Inevitably, that meant I was limited to the things I could remember names for, or which showed up in my many Google searches on variations of “wildflowers in Devon” or “fungi UK June” or “summer migrant birds Scotland”. I also drew on the pictures I did during #30DaysWild in 2015, and on my photos from the last few summers, using them as inspiration.
(Incidentally, I just read this great conversation between Sarah Perry and Amy Liptrot at Caught by the River, which includes a discussion about the difficulties in writing out of season - I can relate!)
In terms of specific places, I worked from memory a lot of the time - not to create exact replicas, but to get the feeling of a landscape. In the "Meditate in the wild" illustration, the bay was inspired by the beach at Hastings or Bexhill (near where I live) looking towards Eastbourne and Beachy Head. In the sketch a wild landscape illustration, I drew on our walk along the Grand Union Canal. For other pieces, I looked at photos and films of relevant landscapes to try to create appropriate backgrounds. In the "Watch a wild webcam" picture, there’s an osprey in the foreground and a landscape inspired by the hills of midwest Wales in the background.
What is your artistic process for something like this? Straight in with the pen or pencil sketches first? What equipment do you use?
Interesting questions - though talking about “my process” makes me sound like I’m a pro, when I’m really not (this is the first time I’ve ever been paid to draw things, as far as I recall). As I said on Twitter, "Just have a bash at it!" is probably my first step.
All of the final images are black ballpoint pen on cartridge paper (sketchbook) - and a bit of whiteout, too! (That's Tipp-Ex or correction fluid to you.) There wasn’t a lot of reasoning behind that choice other than it’s what I had on hand when I began - and once I’d started I wanted to be consistent. If I did it again, I’d be interested to try out felt-tip pens. I knew the original images would be reduced a little in size for the cards, so I deliberately tried to keep them simple - lots of bold outlines, not too much shading. This also made them a bit like children’s book drawings, which appeals to me. I think Alison Lester’s artworks are gorgeous, and if my pictures captured even a little bit of the joy she is able to convey in her books, I’m happy.
For the first few images, I started with rough sketches and studies, but because pencil and pen are such different media (for me, anyway), I didn’t find that process very useful. As I continued, I tended to draw in proportions and light outlines with pencil and go at it with pen almost straight away. Some subjects required a bit more work, especially animals and people, where the proportions needed to be more accurate.
Were there any unused designs?
I ditched a couple of designs at draft stage, because they were boring or didn’t work for some reason. One of them was rejected as not being relevant enough to the text and I made a couple of spares just for the sake of it (again, I don’t think they were used). And then I did seven more on request that were to be part of the social media campaign - I haven’t seen them yet, though!
Which illustration did you do first? Which is your favourite?
The first one I did, though I ended up redrafting it later, was the "Switch off to tune in" picture of the electrical cord turning into ivy. I was pretty pleased with that visual pun. It’s too hard to pick a single favourite, though. The pictures that were my favourites to draw aren’t necessarily the best images; and my favourite illustrations aren’t necessarily my favourite cards (some were changed around in the design process). But here’s a few . . .
Have you tried all the activities yourself?
No! I’ve managed a few of them this month and I did many more of them last year. One I really do want to try - hopefully more than once! - is a proper digital unplug. My partner and I go through stages of having a weekly screen-free evening, and that’s great, so a whole weekend must be even better, right? Think of all the books I could read! I wouldn’t mind setting up a bird picnic one day, too. And making a bug hotel. And making seed bombs (I love the idea of guerrilla gardening!). And, and, and . . .
So, how was #30DaysWild for you? Have you followed people's adventures on Twitter? I have been a bit slack documenting my attempts to add some extra wildness to my days. Hopefully I'll do a summary post sometime soon. Meanwhile, if you have any more questions about the cards, pop them in a comment below and I'll try to give you an answer!
In June, the Wildlife Trusts ran a hugely popular campaign called #30DaysWild, encouraging people to "make room for nature" by engaging with the wild world around them every day.
When I signed up, they sent a wall calendar with squares just begging to be filled with sketches and doodles. Here's what I got up to . . .
1. A cup of tea in a field. I took my mug of tea out into the field behind our house and enjoyed the view - starting off simple, because I was feeling a bit poorly.
2. A walk in the rain. I had just bought a new raincoat and I wanted to try it out. The hood is massive!
3. An encounter with a curious robin. I went to the immaculately kept Almonry Gardens and did an awareness meditation. Hearing a rustle at my feet, I opened my eyes to find a robin peering up at me as if to say, "What are you doing?!"
4. Reading in a wildflower meadow. A properly sunny day to do whatever I felt like. I took my copy of Roger Deakin's Wildwood out into the field across the stream and spent a pleasant hour reading, identifying flowers and watching clouds.
5. Watching a thunderstorm. I went to Hastings Country Park to do a walk for my monthly column in the Battle Observer. I was treated to a magnificent storm, with thunder that shook the cliffs! Look out for the article, coming soon to this very blog.
6. A dip in the river. Shortie wetsuits were on special at Mountain Warehouse for £20 - and they fit me! We went exploring and discovered a secret dipping hole in the river. It isn't deep or big enough to swim properly, but it is a lovely spot.
7. A picnic with friends and neighbours. A friend and I organised a casual get together inspired by the Eden Project's Big Lunch. About two dozen people showed up over the afternoon and we introduced several locals to an open space they didn't even know existed.
8. Finding foxgloves in the woods. (Not hollyhocks, silly!) We're lucky to have Battle Great Wood just down the road from us. I spent quite a bit of time there in June!
9. Dinner in the garden. We have a little courtyard for a garden and doing this challenge kick-started our summer-dinners-in-the-garden for the year.
10. A tadpole extravaganza. I'd noticed some tadpoles in a pool in Battle Great Wood, so I went back with my camera to take some photos and videos. Wow! The pond was writhing with them!
11. Counting wildflowers in the churchyard. Species, I hasten to add, rather than individual flowers. I found twelve varieties including clover, ribwort plantain, buttercups and the ones depicted here that I can't name.
12. A walk around an iron age hill fort. My partner dropped me off just outside Brighton and I spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring this hill fort, the downland, the golf course, the wooded valley and the allotments before heading into town to do a bit of work at a cafe.
13. Save a spider. This is my usual MO, especially when living in a country where the spiders are small and unlikely to kill you! I feel terrible if I don't notice them in the shower and they drown or get washed down the plug hole.
14. Bird spotting. We went down to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve with our friend from India and spent a while in the different hides discussing Indian and Australian wildlife, watching terns squabble with black headed gulls, laughing at the plovers scooting across the shingle, spotting well-camouflaged chicks and admiring the wading birds - avocets and redshanks amongst others.
15. Defending my chips from herring gulls. Almost ironic after the previous day's outing. As I said on Twitter, this was more the "exciting" definition of wild. I ended up yelling, "Take the chip!" and running away.
16. An all-day, mapless ramble. This is quickly becoming one of my favourite things to do with a day off! My partner drops me somewhere on his way to work in the morning, I walk all day, then he picks me up on his way home from wherever I happen to be. I've seen lots of wildlife and found some great spots. (Imagine that rabbit thing is a very cute baby bunny, please.)
17. A big, shiny, blue bee (in Paris). We went to Paris for a day trip! We met some friends there who were visiting from Australia and they whisked us around to some fab spots. We spotted what I think was a carpenter bee in the community garden at Jardin Villemin.
18. Unintentionally following a kestrel. I was out on another mapless walk and this kestrel kept landing on wires, poles and trees along the lane. I think I probably annoyed it!
19. Cleaned and filled the bird feeder. According to Springwatch, cleaning the feeder is one of those things you're meant to do every week or two, but which I hadn't done for a two months (since we bought the feeder). Whoops.
20. Moth trapping. This was the most eye-opening activity I did all month! Here's my blog post about all those amazing moths!
21. Wild camping in the woods. We're doing Alastair Humphreys' microadventure challenge this year. I'd found a promising spot while out looking for tadpoles, so we slept there for the summer solstice. You can read about some of our other microadventures here.
22. Make a bee hydration station. I'd managed a wild thing every day, but I felt like I hadn't done very much for the wild world around me. This was fun. I used pretty pebbles collected from walks and beach outings and the water made all the colours extra bright. I'm still replenishing the water every day. Better go and do that now, as it's going to be a hot one . . . OK, done!
23. Foraged sorrel in a wrap. I love popping into the field to pick a few leaves, or bringing home a tasty treat when I've been on a walk. Sorrel is delicious anyway, but the tanginess went well with our Mexican-spiced sweet potato wraps. Yum.
24. Sucking nectar from honeysuckle. My primary school had a fence absolutely covered in honeysuckle and we used to do this all the time. If you try it, you need to bite off the very back tip of the flower. Choosing the ones with lots of nectar is totally a skill and not at all down to chance.
25. A fox on the footpath. Wow! It popped out of the grass and flowers not ten metres in front of me, then disappeared between the foxgloves on the other side. I couldn't see if the fox was wearing foxgloves as gloves, though.
26. Watching clouds until they disappear. Cloudbusting! A very relaxing way to spend half an hour - or five minutes, if that's all you have. It can be quite a meditative practice, focussing on just one cloud as it is now, and now, and now, until it's gone.
27. Wild swimming in a deep river. A relaxing hour spent by and in the refreshing River Rother, floating on the current, watching birds and clouds and dragonflies overhead, making way for kayakers from the nearby boating station . . . Brilliant. We chanced upon two of my partner's former colleagues and their family who were also out to find a swimming spot, which was a nice bonus.
28. Spotted a yellow wagtail. We were out on a walk (coming soon to the Battle Observer and thereafter to my blog - watch this space) when a flash of yellow sped across the field and into a young oak tree. A yellow wagtail!
29. A mapless ramble on the South Downs. Another glorious, meandering day. If you know this end of the South Downs you might be able to identify some of the things in my sketch.
30. A cup of tea in a field. Ending #30DaysWild as I began it - only this time with my partner and a whole thermos of tea, watching the shadows lengthen across the golden hillsides. Beautiful.
So, that was my wild month! I had a fantastic time getting out into nature, doing activities I wouldn't usually do, or paying closer attention to the things I do regularly. I also enjoyed chatting to people on Twitter and seeing what they were getting up to. I was chuffed that people seemed to like my sketches - especially as I thought I'd taken the easy way out by not blogging!
From a charity perspective, I'm interested to find out whether the Wildlife Trusts think this has been a successful campaign and why. Obviously, #30DaysWild has been extremely popular: it's captured the interest and imagination of many people around the country. I'm pretty sure it's achieved the aim of getting more people out into nature and getting people out into nature more. I wonder how many have (or will) become members of a Wildlife Trust as a result? How many people did something for wildlife during the month, rather than just doing activities they enjoyed (I felt guilty of this myself)? How many will follow their new or renewed interest in nature into political action or campaigning? I eagerly await the impact report, because I am a nerd.
I also hope lots of great photos continue to come in on Twitter via @30DaysWild and #StayWild!
Did you blog about #30DaysWild? There's a huge list of bloggers on the website, but if you'd like to share your favourite posts/activities in the comments here, I'd love to read them - and I'm sure other readers would, too!
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