Dragon Trainer

Back in the Spring I discovered a nest of dragon eggs in my garden, you can find out about it here and I was a little concerned by this. You see, there was no sign of the parents and I didn’t relish the responsibility of hand rearing baby dragons. Fortunately the adults returned, possibly because I had disturbed the nest, and removed the eggs elsewhere.


I know this will disappoint a good many of you who were hoping to see the hatchlings. So I thought I would share with you a dragon related adventure from a couple of years ago. We were lucky to have at work an exhibition all about Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon books and this included some of the dragons that inhabit her stories. For the most part they were quite well behaved, with the occasional visitor suffering only minor injuries. The staff took it in turns to take the dragons for “walkies” around the Ouseburn Valley where our museum is situated. I took the opportunity to draw the dragons, but they kept eating my pencils and setting fire to my sketch books.


Toothless, a Common or Garden dragon, in our cave.



He liked being tickled under the chin….sometimes.



Trying to capture a dragon’s likeness isn’t easy.

I had with me; Toothless, a Common or Garden dragon,  Stormfly a Mood Dragon and Fireworm a red Monstrous Nightmare dragon. Stormfly was my favourite because, as the name suggests, she changes colour according to her mood. Unlike the other dragons she speaks Norse rather than Dragonese and as I am married to a viking, I understood some of the things she was saying. However, she was a pathological liar (and turned purple when uttering untruths) so I paid her mutterings little attention.


Picnic’s were popular.



I soon found out that dragons and sheep don’t mix.

If you ever get the chance to take a dragon for a walk and a picnic I suggest you jump at it. You might lose a finger in the process, but it will be an adventure you’ll never forget.

Fact or fiction? You decide.

Harajuku Inspiration

When it comes to ideas for something to draw, or indeed for something to Blog about, I get my inspiration from all sorts of places; a walk across The Moor, a snippet of overheard conversation, the glories of the Internet, the darkest recesses of my imagination. But I still find there is nothing better than a good book to spark my imagination. I’ve got a lot of non-fiction books stuffed full of images from art to architecture, fashion to ornamentation. And a prime example is this one.

Fresh Fruits 2

 Fresh Fruits is a collection of photographs taken by Shoichi Aoki from the main street in the Harajuku area of Tokyo. Every Sunday from the late 70’s until 1998 this street was declared a pedestrian haven and all traffic was stopped for the day so the teens of Tokyo could strut their stuff. Now referred to as Harajuku Street Style their outfits are incredibly inventive and so much fun. Tokyo has thrown up a vast array of fashion styles and trends that are constantly changing and I love drawing them.

Rather than slavishly copy an image I take aspects of lots of different photos and, like a photo-fit image, merge them together.

This pose….

Harajuku pose



Plus this skirt and fabulous pair of boots…

Harajuku skirt and boots


Plus this hairstyle…..

Harajuku hairEquals this drawing..

Harajuku Girl 2014

harajuku girl face


Where do you find your inspiration? Do you plunder the internet or pore over books? Or do you simply turn to your imagination?







A Clutch of Easter Eggs

The Mid-Spring sun has been kind enough to shine throughout the Easter Weekend. So I decided that it seemed like a good idea to get out into the garden and give it a bit of a tidy up. The ivy in particular was in need of a trim and as I set to work with my secateurs I made quite an unusual discovery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHiding beneath an old rattan chair, which itself has been devoured by the ivy, was a clutch of eggs. Not birds eggs, not even chocolate eggs but Dragon Eggs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not sure what species of dragon is responsible for laying them. But I’m hoping Pygmy or Dwarf Dragon because anything bigger will make a terrible mess of the garden.


Dragons have the magpie tendency to be drawn to shiny objects and this nest has been woven with metallic ribbon. I have had some experience of living with a baby dragon and it’s not easy I can tell you, so I really don’t think we could manage another three. Perhaps now I’ve disturbed the nest the mother will move the eggs. Only time will tell.

Has anything been nesting in your garden this spring? I’d love to hear about it.


Fact or fiction? You decide.



How Now Ginger Cow

A few weeks ago I talked about the Town Moor; a huge open stretch of land lying North of the city of Newcastle. It is home to soaring sky larks, grumpy crows and Whippet Dave. But there is another animal that lives on the moor and that is the humble cow.  They graze the coarse grass from Spring to Autumn, arriving around Easter time and departing just before Bonfire Night on the 5th November.

Cows on the moor

The people that own and take care of The Town Moor are the Freemen of the City and they have the right to graze their cattle there. There are hereditary Freeman who can trace their right to the land back to Anglo Saxon times. And then there are honorary Freemen and these include, former US President Jimmy Carter, Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela and Newcastle footballer Alan Shearer.

Cows on the moor 2

No more than 800 cows are allowed to graze.

I used to have a problem when the cows arrived on the Moor because Mischa Skinnydog liked to round them up. But seven years of training and we’ve got it cracked.

Cows and Mischa

The cows are usually quite shy, but last autumn I met a particularly friendly one. (I’m saying cows but actually they are all boys.) I saw him in the distance with a Magpie riding on his back.

Cow and Magpie

Old Ginger and the singing Magpie.

“Gee up” said the bird and they trotted over to say hello. What a beautiful beast he was wrapped up in a thick ginger coat. He batted his long curly eyelashes then bowed deeply before me. “What a pleasure to meet you Ziggy.” he said then trotted away with the Magpie singing Ghost Riders in the Sky. 

Cow and Magpie


I imagine he’s “a ploughing through the ragged sky” by now, which makes me sad because he was so friendly. But there’s a whole new herd arrived on The Town Moor just waiting to make Mischa’s and my acquaintance. We’ll see what they have to say.

Ginger Cow

Fact or Fiction? You decide.


Faery Tale Friday; Snow White

Snow White is probably the most famous fairy tale brought to us by the Brothers Grimm, although arguably they have Walt Disney to thank for this particular story’s popularity. It was first published in 1812 as Little Snow White and in its original form was far darker than their finalised edition of 1854. This was because they were now aiming their stories at children. Disney’s animated film, released in 1937, owes much of its influence to the final version but he lightened the mood even further.


In the original story the villain is in fact Snow White’s mother, not step-mother, which puts a shocking slant on things. So jealous is she of her daughter’s beauty that she instructs a servant to take the girl into the forest and kill her. To prove that her daughter is dead the servant was required to bring back Snow White’s liver and lungs. (Not heart as in Disney’s story). The servant, however, takes pity on the child, who it should be mentioned is but seven years old, and lets her run away. On his return the servant slaughters a wild boar and presents its lungs and liver to the Queen. And what does she do? Orders the cook to prepare the offal and eats it for her supper. Ah, cannibalism. That wasn’t in Disney’s version.

File:Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen 2.jpg

Snow White comes across the house of seven little men. As none of them are at home the  girl helps herself to their food and wine and then looks for a bed to sleep in. “But none of them felt right-one was too long, the other too short- until finally the seventh one was just right.” Sound familiar? When the seven dwarves return from their hard day down the mine they are somewhat perplexed to find that their lovely house is not the way they left it. Contrast this to Disney’s version where you may recall Snow White started cleaning up after the dwarves. Mind you, what seven year old’s first thought is “Hmm I must tackle the housework” The dwarves are so bowled over by the girl’s beauty that they let her stay. (It must also be noted that the dwarves were never named. That came along hundred years later in 1912 in a Broadway production called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And you thought that was Disney’s idea.)

Snow White by one of my illustration hero’s Yvonne Gilbert


Meanwhile, back at the castle, the Queen is shocked to hear from her magic mirror that Snow White lives and is a thousand times fairer than she. Now, unlike Disney’s version the Queen visits Snow White three times in an attempt to kill the child and on each occasion disguises herself as a peddler woman selling her wares. Firstly she offers silken bodice laces with which she tightens Snow White’s corset so severely the child cannot breath and passes out. And the second time with a beautiful comb for Snow White’s hair. The tines are poisoned and when it touches her scalp Snow White falls to the floor. On both occasions the dwarves arrive in the nick of time and save the child. To be fair to the dwarves they had warned Snow White to not let anyone into the house while they were gone. But as in all good fairy tales good advise goes unheeded. Finally the Queen uses all her evil powers to produce an apple so delicious that Snow White can’t possibly refuse. One side of the apple is white and the other red and it is the red side that is poisoned. To convince Snow White that there is nothing amiss with the fruit, the Queen cunningly takes a bite from the white flesh. When Snow White bites into the red half she falls down dead.   The queen looked at her with a gruesome stare, laughed loudly, and said, “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood! This time the dwarfs cannot awaken you.”

Snow White illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia


And indeed they could not. Not wanting to bury her under the ground they fashioned a coffin from glass, placed Snow White within it and gazed upon her every day. Along came a prince and this being the very best of fairy tales he fell instantly in love with her. And being a prince he thought nothing of demanding that he take her home with him. The dwarves gave in but when the coffin was moved the piece of apple becomes dislodged from Snow White’s throat and she wakes up. (You may be interested to know that in the original 1812 version the Prince’s servants had to carry the coffin around all day every day so Snow White could be near the Prince. One servant got fed up of this, removed the lid and took his anger out on Snow White by slapping her around the face, so dislodging the offending piece of fruit.)


Well of course the Prince is overjoyed, automatically asks Snow White’s hand in marriage and she says yes. They get married and the Queen, who is blissfully ignorant of this new queen’s identity, is invited to the wedding.  When her mirror tells her that the new queen is the fairest of them all the woman has to go to the celebrations to see for herself. Instantly, she recognises Snow White and in her terror cannot move.

Then they put a pair of iron shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead. 

File:Snow White Iron Shoes.png

Disney opted to kill off the Queen by hurling her over a cliff, but I prefer The Grimm Brother’s shockingly cruel ending.

What do you think?


But Who Will Look After the Froglets?

There has been a considerable amount of action down on the pond recently; the Frogs have been a courting. My goodness, but what a racket! Splishing and splashing, dipping and diving and croak, croak, croaking.

A few days later and the writhing froggy bodies have been replaced with a thick clotted mass of jellied eggs. A tasty meal for someone. So who will look after the froglets? Well, surprisingly, up to 20% of frogs make pretty good parents. Sometimes Dad takes on the responsibility, sometimes Mum, either attached to their legs, on their backs or inside their stomachs. But what about the other 80% who are left to the forces of nature? Well it might surprise you to learn that…..no, wait….let’s have some froggy facts first.

  • a group of frogs are known as an army
  • a person who studies frogs is called a herpetologist
  • frog bones form a growth ring every year. So you can count the rings to see how old they are, just like tree!
  • frogs don’t drink water through their mouth, they absorb it through their skin
  • when a frog swallows its prey it blinks. That’s because the eye balls drop down in its head and pushes the food down the throat.
  • but it can only see in black and white
  • the Golden Dart Frog is the most poisonous frog in the world. The skin of one frog could kill up to a 1000 people

Golden Poison Frog

Frogs also feature in folk-lore and fairy tales, the most popular story being The Frog Prince in which a princess has to kiss the frog. They were believed to be a witch’s familiar and had an unfortunate habit of allowing their body parts to be used in spells and dropped into steaming cauldrons.

File:John William Waterhouse - Magic Circle.JPG

But back to my original question; who will look after the froglets? Well, it is none other than the Frog Elf, a strange little creature with bulging eyes and abnormally long legs. I’ve spotted him on occasion while walking Mischa down by the pond and managed to sketch him. He sits hunched in the grass by the edge of the water waiting to chase away predators, be they heron, duck or small child with jam jars. If you listen carefully you’ll hear him singing a little tune;

A frog he would a-wooing go,
Heigh ho! says Rowley,
A frog he would a-wooing go,
Whether his mother would let him or no.
With a rowley, powley, gammon, and spinach,
Heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley.

I’ve noticed he often sucks his fingers as if he’s just popped something in his mouth. Should the frogs trust him to be their protector? Hmm, I wonder.

Ziggy's Frog Elf

The Frog Elf

Fact or Fiction? You decide.

Faery Tale Friday; Little Red Riding Hood

I absolutely adore fairy tales, the darker the better, and one of my favourites is Little Red Riding Hood or sometimes known as Little Red Cap. It is French in origin and dates back to the 10th century. Of course it would have been told orally and over the centuries each story teller would have embellished the tale with each and every telling.

Illustration by Gustave Dore (1883)

The earliest known printed version was called Le Petit Chaperon Rouge by Charles Perrault. This is a very moralistic tale where the hapless Miss Hood naively gives the wiley wolf directions to her Grandmama’s house. He arrives before the girl, devours Grandmama then, after donning the old lady’s clothes, gets into bed and invites Little Red Riding Hood to join him. After pointing out all his distinguishing features, yet still failing to notice his wolfish good looks, Miss Hood follows the fate of her dear Grandmama and is gobbled up by the beast. There is no happy ending.

File:Carl Larsson - Little Red Riding Hood 1881.jpg

Little Red Riding Hood by one of my favourite artists Carl Larsson (1881)

Of course the Brothers Grimm version cleaned things up a bit and introduced a woodcutter who saved both Granny and Little Red Riding Hood. There is of course no happy ending for the wolf. But my favourite adaptation is The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter. Taken from her book of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, it tells the dark and savage tale of a werewolf who charms a young virgin walking through the woods to her Granny’s house. As in the original story he tricks her into telling him the location of the cottage then races ahead. Poor Granny is devoured and he lies in wait for the girl. However, on entering the house she spies a tuft of white hair burning in the fireplace.

When the girl saw that she knew she was in danger of death. “Where is my Grandmother?” “There’s nobody here but we two, my darling” Now a great howling rose up all around them…the howling of a multitude of wolves….”These are the voices of my brothers darling; I love the company of wolves.”

Carter’s story is inspired by the very early versions of the tale and her young woman triumphs over the wolf.

There must be as many illustrations for this story as there are versions of the tale itself. So I thought I would add to them.

Faery tale Friday Sketch

My Little Red Riding Hood


Faery Tale Friday Composition

What big eyes you have.

FaeryTale Friday Little Red Riding Hood

Faery Tale Friday; Little Red Cap

Do you have a favourite version of Little Red Riding Hood?


Back in the Saddle

Spring is finally here so I’ve dusted down my bike and I’m commuting to work under pedal power. For my birthday Tall Man bought me a Brooks saddle and after two weeks I think I’ve broken it in.

Ziggy's Brooks Saddle

Ziggy’s Brooks Saddle

The route to work is lovely as it takes in crossing Newcastle’s Town Moor. A haven of peace to the north of the city. It’s about 350 acres which is bigger than Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath combined. If you’re talking football fields that’s around 299 of them. Of course if you add all the other moors; Nuns Moor, Dukes Moor, Little Moor, Hunters Moor and Castle Leazes Moor then you’re probably looking at, what, 600 football fields?


You don’t see a lot of people on The Moor. They hurry along the tarmac paths that criss- cross it’s belly like a hot cross bun; on their bikes, with their dogs or just jogging. Kids don’t play on The Moor or picnic on it. Nobody lingers. Maybe it’s because it’s so exposed and desolate and wind-blown.


But that’s what I love about The Moor, its wide open space, huge skies, and emptiness. I love listening to the skylarks singing their hearts out high above my head and even the beady eyed crows that swoop down and shout abuse at me and Mischa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not a speed freak kind of cyclist. On the contrary I take things steadily and with what I hope is a modicum of style. You won’t catch me in skin tight Lycra going for the burn. Everybody overtakes me, even children on tricycles, but I don’t care. I like to arrive at work energised sans sweat. Unfortunately the wind plays havoc with my eyes and I roll in looking like this……

Should.ve worn waterproof mascara

Should’ve worn waterproof mascara

Do you ride a bike? If so how do you stay stylish?

And talking of being back in the saddle, it’s good to be back blogging. Hope you’re all doin’ fine.

A Haunted Halloween

It’s that time of year again when the door to the Otherworld opens a fraction to let who knows what into our midst. Pumpkins are carved, kids faces smeared with grease-paint and dogs are being made to dress in ridiculous costumes.

It’s also the time for a good ghost story and a bit of Author Elfing.

Earlier this month author William Hussey visited Seven Stories for an evening of chilling tales in our Artist’s Attic. With the lights down low the Attic was the perfect place for William to frighten the living daylights out of us. First he read Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You by M.R James, just to get us in a spooked out mood and then went on to tell his own short story Turn Her Face to the Wall, that had a brilliant twist in the tale. Finally William read an abridged version of the prologue from his latest novel, Haunted. That really had everyone leaping out of their chairs because….well I can’t say, you’re just going to have to read the book which is spooktastic. Of course this isn’t a book blog but my literary hound just loves to have a bit of book banter so check out Mischa’s review here.

After the readings it was Q and A time.

William told us he got his inspiration from everywhere and that we should carry a notebook with us at all times…just in case. The spark of the idea for Haunted came from a true story based on an incident in the life of Thomas Edison. In 1920 Edison claimed to the press he was on the verge of inventing a machine for speaking with the dead. After his own death, a search was made of his lab notes but no such machine was found. Everyone assumed it was a practical joke. But William thought, “What if it did exist and someone got their hands on it? What would happen then?”

About writing William said he covers 2 sides of A4 for ideas and plotting and that character is “the God of story”. Funnily enough the original story had a boy as the main character. It was later on that William changed this to Emma Rhodes, the feisty, ghost busting heroine.

Even though it was dark and gloomy in The Artist’s Attic and I was shaking with fear I managed to sketch William entertaining the audience while he sat in our massive story tellers chair.

Lomogram_2013-10-03_08-45-45-PMHe was kind enough to post this up on his website and referred to me as “Seven Stories own artistic genius.” So I thought I should repay such kind words by elfing Mr Hussey. He asked if he could be a dark elf, which given that today is All Hallows Eve, seems highly appropriate.

William Hussey Elfed

He may not be truly dark but his “elfter-ego” certainly has an air of mystery about him. Check out William’s photo here to see what he really looks like.

Happy Halloween everybody.