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Bird of the fortnight 9/05/16: Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk
If you’re ever in a churchyard or park and a little silvery grey/brown bird flits past you and you could swear it isn’t a sparrow, chances are you’ve spied a spotted flycatcher.

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

Spotted flycatchers may look a bit dull but they are charming to watch. But don’t be fooled. These little fellas are trained killers they fly from a high perch and burst into flight to catch a flying insect. They then flit back to the same spot to devour their prey.

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

They don’t look flashy, in fact they are fairly scruffy which made drawing my black and white sketches all the more fun. Let’s see if my worked up watercolour version will be as fun.

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Plant of the Fortnight 2/05/16: Magnolia

Magnolia black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk I bloody loves a magnolia I do. The exquisitely delicate blooms, the shiney dark green leaves, they are simply beautiful. Pink or white I look forward to their arrival, their presence sings spring and they are just so darn pretty.
Magnolia black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through our local streets that were littered with magnolia petals. I was sad that they won’t come around until next year so I wanted to draw them to keep them alive as it were.

Magnolia black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk
These black and white sketches took minutes to create – the shape of these flowers and leaves are so simple and iconic and can be captured in a mere matter of lines. So quick and easy.

I’m really looking forward to creating some delicate watercolour pieces celebrating this plant. Check in this Friday to see the results.

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Sparrow! Finished Bird of the Fortnight

Watercolour sparrow illustration. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

When Dr B urged me to draw sparrows for Bird of the Fortnight I did so reluctantly – what a fool I was! Through working up the black and white sketches, then exploring the bird through watercolour and ink, I’ve come to realise how charming these creatures are.

Their mottled black, brown, golden and coffee-coloured plumage is really quite lovely. The bird’s bodies are great for an artist too; depending on the individual creature it can either be cute, full and fat or sleek, slim and almost svelte-like. Now I think I’m going to work on a few more sparrow sketches.

I’m not the only one who loves these birds. In fact as I was working on these drawings I was approached by someone who is opening an antiques shop in the US. She wanted a logo featuring a sparrow wearing a crown. I was only too happy to oblige. Here’s the finished commission.
King Sparrow. Illustration Commission. Ella Johnston. ellasplace.co.uk

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Bird of the Fortnight wc 25.04.16: The Sparrow

Sparrow black and white sketch, Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

For ages now Dr B has been on at me to draw a sparrow; “People love them, I love them. I think they’ll be really popular.” So to please the man I love, this fortnight I’ve done some black and white sketches of these chestnut coloured creatures.
Black and white sparrow drawing, Ella Johnston. ellasplace.co.uk

Although I grew up slap bang in the middle of London, our flat was next to a park that used to be full of sparrows when I was little kid. But, by the time I left home in the mid 1990s there wasn’t a sparrow in sight. This wasn’t because I simply wasn’t noticing them anymore but there has been a decline the UK sparrow population. It has been estimated that they have dropped by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations. They now have RSPB red status; red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action.

Black and white sparrow drawing, Ella Johnston. ellasplace.co.uk

It seems that where I live now didn’t get this memo. Wivenhoe is full of them and you can’t pass a hedgerow, gate post or indeed our local train station without hearing them tweeting away. It’s quite a comforting sound and creates quite a quaint atmosphere while you’re waiting for your train or taking a stroll around the ‘village’. So it’s only fitting they be the subject of illustration.

Check in later on this week to see more worked-up colour sparrow portraits.

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Plant of the Fortnight: Thistle

Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
I have very good associations with the thistle, that’s why I picked them as this fortnight’s plant. They may be prickly but I think they are a great alternative to ‘girly’ flowers and I love the look of them either cut or as beautiful structural blooms in the garden. I enjoyed sketching these quick black and white drawings.

Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I also like thistles because they remind me of a very special friendship. Many years ago we had some new mates over to ours for dinner and it turned in a very boozy affair. One particular guest left her handbag at ours when she left in the earlier hours of the morning. The following day she turned up to pick the bag up with a full bouquet of white daisies and blue, green thistles and we ended up talking over strong cups of tea (and many crisps and biscuits) way into the evening. A bond was formed and we have been buddies ever since.

Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.ukThistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Thistle illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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Plant of the Fortnight: Tulip

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Tulip (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

My birthday is in March so the tulip really reminds me of celebrations. Also, as a very lapsed catholic, it evokes memories of Easter festivals and masses at school. So that’s why it’s my plant of the fortnight.

As is customary for this series, I’m posting three super-quick black and white sketches of this structural, elegant and understated flowers now and showcasing a honed, perfected illustration of the bloom in watercolour and ink at the end of the week.

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Tulip (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Tulip (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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Latest Bird of the Fortnight: Gannet

Gannet Illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Ah the wonderful Gannet. I really enjoyed sketching my black and white drawings earlier in the week and I’m loving my final watercolour and ink illustration as I wanted to capture his beautiful mother-of-pearl type bill and the peachy flush on the bird’s glossy head and neck.

If you’re in the UK you can catch these birds at the breeding colonies at RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs, St Kilda, the Northern Isles and Bass Rock in Scotland and Grassholm in Wales.

As you probably know, the word gannet is associated with greed, this is because this mighty bird supposedly has a capacity for eating large quantities of fish. Gannets hunt fish by diving from a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. Apparently Gannets can dive from a height of 30 metres, hitting high speeds as they strike the water so they catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds.

One of my favourite artistic representation of a gannet is by the fantastic Twinkle Troughton called The “A Gannet’s Stomach is Never Full”. I have a beautiful limited edition print of it in my front room – check it out here.

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New! Bird of the Fortnight: Chaffinch

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Welcome to my new little series, bird of the fortnight. Every two weeks I’ll do three quick black and white sketches then one really detailed, worked up illustration of a bird that takes my fancy. At the start of the week I’ll show off my sketches then give you the finished, polished drawing at the end of the week with some info on the creature itself.

My first one is a favourite of mine, the colourful chaffinch. I love these little guys. Look out on Friday for my final portrait of this most charming of garden and woodland bird.

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk