'Bright Fires'

Did you know that when a hare spots a fox he will stand up on his rear legs, flashing his white underbelly as if to say "I've seen you - give up!" - and most of the time the fox will walk away; she can only catch the hare by chance, as hare is 50% faster! However, the fox is still the biggest predator of hares as they kill the leverets in large numbers.
Here is my poem for 'Bright Fires', followed by a sequence of photos showing how I created the painting, step-by-step:

Bright Fires


Round and round they go,


A Beltane celebration

Gone dizzy around the May pole.

The children become whirling marionettes;

Words like long ribbons streaming out from the centre.


Tooth and claw blur

With whiskers and fur.


A crow laughs in the distance,



He has no cause for fear,

With ink wings to carry him high

Where he can watch in safety,

Jeering from the gods.


Fox, red as fire,

Has intention set solid in her eye;

Her pupil is a death’s head icon

Like graphic shorthand for murder.


Hare is speedy,

His are beads of sunset amber,

Ears laid low;

A streamline force,

Leaping over embers.


It is a dance,

A ritual long practised,

Passed down throughout the years.


This vixen is no match for wily hare;

He weaves from left to right,

Dazzling her senses,

Twisting and spinning across the sun drenched field,

Until he disappears beneath the undergrowth.


Fox stops stiffly,

Sniffing the air as if distracted;

Then stalks off to find a slower prey.


And Crow flaps homewards

Now the fires have settled.


The May pole stands deserted in the village square,

Ribbons swaying in the breeze.

Children sleep

With images of the First of Summer;

Giddy circles turning in their dreams

With ribbons and flower crowns,

Awaiting the morning dew

And the promise of the sun.



this is ideas phase. I’ve had this idea for a couple of years, but I spent a some time playing around with composition to try to get the fox and hare in the right positions. Then I did some reference drawing, on this page are just a couple. I also composed a poem, as I wanted to use that in the painting; from that it prompted me to combine a Beltane theme and to add may flowers . . . .


Stage 2 - the oil pastel layer. I’ve roughly drawn out the key elements in the painting, then filled up every area with some simple colour. I always call my illustrations ‘paintings’, but I don’t actually use any paint, just oil pastel and various inks. I use thick paper, as it needs to cope with the scratching phase.


Stage 3 - This is the scary part! I cover the entire thing with (in this case) brown ink, leaving gaps so I can see where to scratch. I use water based Lino ink; I mostly use black ink, but with yellow/orange pastels it will stain - brown is fine. I’ve mixed my own colour as I wanted a dark brown with a hint of chestnut. Later I can add some black where necessary (eg eyes, nose).


Stage 4 - the scratching begins! I always start with the eyes while the ink is still wet.


Stage 5 - some basic scratchwork on the animals. I’ll get on with the background before I add any more details to these.


Stage 6 - very basic may flowers- I’ll develop these later


Stage 7 - writing the poem! It’s not very long, so I’ve written it out several times in the pic; that actually works quite well as you can’t read it as a poem in the painting and I like the fact that different words appear at random.  


Stage 8 - adding a bit more detail using black ink and some white on the flowers and whiskers.


Stage 9 - more details and gold/white ink sprinkles

The final piece