Tuesday, 16 June 2009


A few weeks ago I visited my local art shop in Cambridge to stock up with my favourite Winsor & Newton sketchbooks. I was disappointed to find that the familiar blue covered hard back books were no longer on display, and that the only Winsor & Newton books had black covers and a different weight paper - 110gsm instead of 170gsm. The shop told me that W & N still made the heavier weight books but that they had changed the colour of the covers from blue to black, and that they could order some for me, which they did. I collected my new books expecting them to be the same quality as the blue covered ones I have used for years, so was sadly disappointed to find that they were not. The paper did not respond well to wet in wet watercolour or heavy washes, the surface breaking up and going fluffy.

Since then I have experimented with different sketchbooks - a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and a Fabriano Venezia sketchbook.

Meanwhile I wrote to Winsor & Newton to ask if they had changed the paper, and if so, why? This is the reply I received last week.

Dear Sue,

Thank you for your email to Winsor & Newton and apologies for the delay in responding to your complaint. I’m sorry that you have been disappointed with your recent purchase of our sketchbook and I would like to try and explain some of the recent changes that have affected this product.

The paper industry has been struggling for some time and we are aware of an increase in the number of paper mills going out of business. It’s likely that the increase in digital media and technology is partly to blame but also we notice that mills are closing down because it’s very hard to compete in this acutely price sensitive market.

This has had a knock on effect for us as we need a supplier who can help us produce a competitively priced, good quality sketch book. In 2007, our original paper supplier increased their prices making the books no longer viable from this source. As a result we searched the world for an alternative supplier who could offer a similar paper at more competitive prices. However, because the paper is from a different mill some of its characteristics were slightly altered which may be more obvious when painting with heavy washes and I think this is what you have noticed.

I’m sorry for your disappointment with our current product but as a gesture of goodwill I would like to send you some replacement Luxury Water Colour Hard Back Sketch Books (265 x 210mm) which have 200lbs NOT surface paper. Please email me your postal address and I will arrange for these to be sent out.

Kind regards,

Tom Groundes-Peace

I am very impressed by Winsor & Newton's response. I did not request replacements or a refund, merely an explanation and information, both of which were sent. The offer of new sketchbooks was entirely their idea and very generous on their part. I have received two of the new luxury hardback books containing 200lb watercolour paper (far too good for sketching!).

I am still on the lookout for the old style blue sketchbooks, they were such good value. I think it's still possible to find them online.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Open Gardens

Cawcutts, pen and wash, watercolour pencil

On Sunday our villages held an Open Gardens Day in aid of Histon Feast, Emmaus UK and Voluntary Service Overseas. In all there were 14 gardens open to the public, and I managed to visit five of them. Cawcutts was my first port of call. This house was originally the home of the Chivers family. Below is an extract from the programme.
...entering the garden to the left of the house, you see set amidst grey stone slabs, some Gertrude Jekyll type planting backed by a shrub and woodland area. Turning towards the main part of the garden there is a glorious rose trellis, and a patio area behind the house designed for dining outIt was a beautifully sunny and warm day and I was lucky enough to find a vacant bench to sit on while I did the sketch above.

TL4462 : Impington windmill, Cambs by Rodney Burton

Impington windmill, Cambs

© Copyright Rodney Burton
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
A short walk brought me to The Windmill, taken over eight years ago by Pippa and Steve Temple, who are gradually restoring the windmill to full working order and taming...
...a gloriously "romantic" garden decaying through neglect. Gradually replacing the dead trees by new, brambles by roses, clematis and honeysuckles we have created a path through the wilder areas. Maintaining the romance there are beds for different seasons, a wisteria archway, a herb bank, a rose and clematis pergola and underway a bed of grasses, bog gardens and a wild flower bank
Tours of the windmill were also on offer and I rashly bought a ticket. All was well while we were guided around the exterior and even up to the first floor, but one look at the ladder up to the next level was enough to convince me that there was no way I was going any further (I am not good at heights) so I chickened out and went and had a nice sit down and a peice of cake!

Next stop was a relatively new house on an estate at the far end of the village, not all that promising you might think, but this estate was built on the site of Impington Hall (home of Samuel Pepys' uncle) and the beautiful garden contains what was once the ornamental lake, and is flanked by a London Plane tree that was planted by Capability Brown.

Heading out of the estate and across the road brought me to Burgoynes House

The garden comprises three distinct areas, a small parkland area in front of the house, with several magnificent trees set in wide lawns including chestnut, beech and whitebeam. On one side leading off the terrace is an enclosed garden, which is walled down on side, crating a beautiful secluded space.

In this space was an intriguing piece of sculpture which was just asking to be sketched. It is made out of a whole trunk of a willow which had to be felled as it was growing too close to the house. Each twisting branch represents a member of the family and is carved to represent something important to them eg binary code to represent computing.

I just had time to visit one more garden. This was a complete contrast to the stately home type gardens I had seen so far, it was much smaller, and full of quirky ornaments and odd pieces of furniture! The owners say it is a haven for wildlife, but the presence of two cats made me wonder about that!

By now it was 6 o'clock and the gardens were closing, so time to head home. My newly purchased pedometer says I have done 13,478 steps 0r 5.9 miles!

This was the second event of this kind and it is hoped to be repeated biennially. The garden owners and organisers have put in a tremendous amount of effort and hopefully raised a substantial amount of money for the supported charities. I look forward to the next one when hopefully I can get to the gardens I missed yesterday!

Finally, here is the kit I took with me.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Cambridge Botanic Gardens

I've been too busy lately to do much sketching, so I thought I'd post some more of the photos I took last time I went to the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge