An Early and Affectionate A, “Bee”, C.

My sister and I are sorting, clearing, cleaning, and sifting through. Our decisions are agonising, our conclusions, inconclusive. A family home and its contents has to be dismantled and disposed of, somehow, somewhere.
We are opening cupboards and hesitating over their contents. We look at each other for guidance and the pile of “ we don’t know what to do with it, but can’t bear to throw it away” gets bigger.  Some little joys are our old books. Just half a dozen remain from our early childhood.

There is one in particular. Tatty and broken backed, it is our first alphabet book. We both remember it so very well and the fact this little book has survived is surely a testament to its enduring appeal and the affection we all felt for it.
It somehow escaped the jumble sale, the bring and buy and the charity shop and even our early artistic endeavours. It is of course the charming “Ant and Bee”.

and and bee bg      ab3 bg

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We remembered so well the handsome mustachioed Bee and the natty Ant and their surreal adventures with the Kindly Dog, who wears a trilby, just like Dad’s.  It was a lovely, gentle and funny way to learn to read.

Is it just too fanciful to imagine that this early book planted a seed for Buzz? It has also made me remember beloved Ant, my little companion in Florida who liked to join in the drawing.
He ran about my drawing board, in and out of my pencils and up and down my arms for months.

I read that the Ant and Bee series, which date back to the 1950s, are now very collectible. I have told my sister to guard this with her life !

Lasioglossum calceatum, the Slender Mining Bee.. and Rivers of Flowers from Buglife.

This lovely Lasioglossum bee is in the tribe Halictiniae which is a huge family of bees.

These are the old bees, the ancient bees whose descendants were flying around 220 million years ago. I have painted a couple of them, including my first live model, the accommodating Agapostemon splendens which I wrote about here “The Stripy Halicitd Sweat Bee.”

Looking at the UK Lasioglossum bees you can see the family resemblance, but it seems that in the UK we don’t have quite such colourful varieties.
In looking for information about these bees I came across Jeremy Earley’s really excellent site Nature Conservation Imaging.

The site is particularly fascinating because he breaks it down into different UK habitats and what you might find there.
I spent hours reading through the excellent notes, which are illustrated with his wonderful photographs. It is a really informative site on solitary bees so I contacted him for a little help re the species and their favourite flowers.

He kindly sent me back a list of foraging plants taken from David Baldock’s “Bees of Surrey” which was published two years ago. ‘most often found at ragwort. Other flowers used include thistles, buttercups, common fleabane, lesser burdock, sheep’s-bit, red campion, chickweed and rough hawkbit.’
I think in trying to identify bees it really helps to know where you might find them!  I had earmarked Rough Hawkbit for this bee some time ago but felt the humble Dandelion really needed a place in the exhibition especially as it is a star amongst bee flowers.

It is in the same huge Asteraceae family of composites, Hawkweeds, Cat’s Ears, and the Sow Thistles etc, which incidentally seems to be the only thing thriving here at the moment.

Rivers of Flowers in every County.  B LINES from Buglife… I had a blissful morning with the radio and some pencils. Tweet deck was off. Photoshop, Illustrator and their accomplices were dormant. I was listening to the news and heard, one of the charities who will be supporting the exhibition, calling for the UK to be crossed with flower filled corridors for bees. What a lovely idea and beautiful image.

B-lines would be rivers of flowers in every county, one going east west and the other north south. They would be carefully planned to avoid woods, lakes and other unsuitable habitats, but would connect people to wildlife sites to enable better appreciation of British wildlife.”

6 spot burnet (c) Andrew Whitehouse

This photo accompanies the article, the beautiful Six-spot burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae)© Andrew Whitehouse, on Vipers Bugloss I think.

They want the government to step in but I was thinking, if everyone sowed just one packet of wildflower seeds it would make a real difference and I am all for guerilla planting.. think of all those arterial roads, their verges and roundabouts.
It’s an interesting article.
Do read more, Call For More Wildflowers.

I will be donating a small watercolour to them for their annual charity auction next month which I will (hope to) be painting in the next few days and will put on the blog.

The Painting.

I think a lot about how to make an image, where I place things and what I want to say. I am struck by the delicacy of these little bees and was wondering how the world looks from their perspective.

A low leaf to us is high to them. So I deliberately kept the space below him clear and uncluttered just to give a sense of the airiness and lightness. It is, after all, irrelevant how far the drop is to the ground if you can fly!  These little things make me feel like some lumpen, clumsy Gulliver. Jainism is looking more attractive by the day!

I suppose the rot set in when Ant came to stay. Dear Ant! I do miss him. Paper Wasps are just not the same, far too serious. No cavorting around the drawing board for them, just baleful glaring.

sketches sm

Grubby sketches but useful to me, they just help me sort out ideas quickly. Then the final picture. Yes, I did include the dandelion flower, but not quite all :).


Lasioglossum calcaetum with Dandelion

Lasioglossum cal

Watercolour and Graphite on  Arches HP approx 8”x8” ****

And a big thank you to all, for your kind comments and emails, re my battles with the hard grey stuff.
Lord knows, I have troubles enough with the soft grey stuff.
Some degree of calm returned today and it does help to know I am not the only one, but serene gliding is still some way off..

Leaf of the Day: 80% Crown Flower and the Optimistic Gap

I am almost finished but have also run out of time. Tomorrow I leave to go home to the UK for almost a month, to do some very tedious things including renewing visa and passport all of which require a mountain of absolutely 100% correct paperwork, undamaged fingertips (it’s a good job I am not gardening at the moment) and enormous patience.

The crown flower has been very slow, particularly this time because it had to be correctly detailed for identification purposes rather than artistic ones, so everything I did had to be measured and very careful. I don’t really enjoy the measuring but can see its importance, and at times like this, a microscope would have come in handy.
I have also had some more ant problems, not of course from “Ant” who remains my faithful companion, but from an army of tiny ants who career about the drawing and smudge themselves into the surface of the paper. They appear from nowhere, love the milkweeds and lodge in every nook and cranny of my desk. At the slightest movement they employ scatter tactics and fan out across everything. Fatalities have occurred, mainly it seems on pristine parts of my white paper. My greatest aim, so far on the course, is to finish a submission with unmarked paper… some hope…

Super photo of the pod ( do I really need my own real, live one??) by Ram Thakur from Trek Nature here

The pods are typical of the other milkweeds and, to me, are one of the more interesting parts of this curious plant.

I am beginning to understand a little more about the paint handling for this very exacting style of work and am very keen to get onto some subjects of my own choosing and design. I hope to get to Kew while I am in the UK as there is an exhibition of botanical work referencing plants that have an economic value.. that’s my kind of plant! Beautiful and useful.
I have had to leave this unfinished as, despite having returned to the plant 5 times over two weeks there are still no seed pods.. and so there remains an “optimistic gap” for the pod.

“Optimistic gaps” are very useful things generally in life and some of my very favourite things. They hold the promise of perfection and are generally much better left as gaps than filled.
The next 3 weeks are definitely an Optimistic Gap, as I am still not quite sure what I will be doing or exactly where. After working so hard this year for the exhibition, freelance work and assignments I do feel in need of some input time. Time to just look at the world that exists beyond the 4 corners of my drawing board to which I feel I have been somewhat unwillingly chained recently.

I am optimistically taking my sketch book which I hope won’t remain an empty gap.


Crown Flower 80%

Leaf of the Day: The Identification of Ant and his Probable Home

Ant has been very busy today, running about the drawing board and up and down the two desk lamps and while looking through the Myakka photographs yesterday I was reminded that I have now discovered his identity. Pinned to the canopy walkway tower at Myakka are information boards about the wildlife including this..

I recognised my little drawing companion at once who, it seems, rejoices in a name that is several times longer than himself. He is definitely one of the Skinny Dark Elongate Twig Ants, the Pseudomyrmex.
He might be P. ferruginea because they are some of the ants who live in the Bull’s Horn Acacia and I am now even more sure that he arrived with the Bull’s Horn Acacia thorns. He could be P. gracilis or even P.mexicanus Roger :)… The descriptions fit in every way, particularly the colouring. Reading more about these delicate little arboreal ants it seems they are often solitary and live on tiny insects and ( ignorance was bliss) they have quite a bite, but only when provoked or defending their tree. They inhabit twigs and thorns and hollow stems and make only small colonies.

I don’t yet have a good photo of my ant but this is P. gracilis from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center here

The role of caretaker ants for various trees is fascinating. I wrote about this before here in relation to the Bull’s Horn Acacia and the wonderful Thomas Belt who observed the ant’s behaviour in 1868. They will attack any threat to their chosen tree ferociously and even clear the ground of vegetation to allow their favourite tree the best possible growing conditions, in return they get food and lodgings.
Perhaps Ant’s loyalties have now been transferred to me, although he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of clearing the room of mosquitoes. He seems remarkably fit, healthy and happy with lots of small insects to feed on and the occasion drop of honey and an endless supply of new and exciting bits of twig, flowers, fruit and seedpods to play with. However I feel I should to take him back to Leu to his tree as he evaded the earlier repatriation. But there are moral complications. What if he would now be regarded as an outsider and attacked and killed.. How would I feel? But does he enjoy his solitary existence? Maybe are there really two of them and they are perfectly happy here. I shall have to attend to this dilemma soon.

The drawing is of one of the major thorns of the acacia in which Ant and his friends and relations would keep house. The entrance to this particular thorny residence is through the black hole in the part which looks like a bird’s head. The thorns are all hollow and this one is big, some 4 inches across. It’s shape is fabulous, looking like some modernist piece of sculpture, nature’s architecture at its Frank Gehry best and very fitting for my little skinny ant friend.
Oh, that I could have such an inspiring home.


Ant’s Home, The Bull’s Horn Acacia Thorn.

Leaf of the Day: Bananas, Jazz and Cockroaches

I have prised myself out of bed and back to the drawing board today and was looking around for fruit to draw. There is a lone banana in the kitchen.
There are lots of banana plants at Leu but due to my horrible cold I am housebound so this is a supermarket one from Honduras, it says on the label. Bananas must be one of the great comfort foods, mashed, eaten on the run, fried, baked, curried and the 100% divine Bananas Foster which I was lucky enough to first encounter many many years ago as breakfast at Brennans in New Orleans. After a heavy night of jazz, blues and just a few drinks, it was a perfect pick me up.
Here from Brennans site is a photo and their recipe.
“Thirty-five thousand pounds of bananas are flamed each year at Brennan’s in the preparation of its world-famous dessert. “

Bananas Foster
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved
¼ cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

Ohmygod …. …Just reading the recipe is making me feel better already. It is easy to make at home but the flambe can get out of hand. How much better to sit on the terrace at Brennans and have the experts prepare your flaming bananas before your very, widening, eyes. If you do happen to go to New Orleans, Bananas Foster and Beignets from Cafe du Monde are a must. Your waistline will never forgive you but your endorphines will flow.

It was also my first encounter with a cockroach..not in the restaurant, I hasten to add but in an old hotel in the French Quarter. I had no idea they were THAT big! My only knowledge of cockroaches came from reading “Archy and Mehitabel” by Don Marquis. Archy seemed quite an endearing character,writing his avant garde blank verse by jumping on the typewriter keys and unable to operate the shift key. But try as I might, I could not imagine that the huge cockroach that marched across the bedroom floor, with such an attitude, could ever be the reincarnation of a sensitive poet. We do have the odd cockroach here but the ones I saw in New Orleans have never been outsized!

George Herriman’s drawing gives Archy a tiny type writer, not really like the description on the book..but I am such a fan of Herriman and Krazy Kat he can do no wrong.

Seeing this reminded me to tell you that Ant is still my faithful companion, out and about today patrolling the borders of the drawing board, waving an antennae now and then and cheering me up. I must get round to a sketch soon.
I still have another week or so of fruit drawings to do but hopefully will feel well enough to go to the Gardens tomorrow and see what has been happening. It’s a good ten days since my last visit. Today then just a few a banana skins.(I can’t even raise enough energy to think of puns about slip ups today) I wouldn’t rush to draw a banana normally and wasn’t much inspired but liked the floppy banana skin. Have eaten it now and am going back to bed..


Leaf of the Day: Crucillo Sprig and Seedling Update

Today I am having a studio and balcony sort-out day. In my “studio” which is the other bedroom I have the small nature table which is now covered with bit of pods and twigs and leaves. They are all getting out of hand and occasionally a seed pod explodes and seeds ricochet around the room. It is Ant’s perfect adventure playground of course. Yes, Ant is still here. Why? The balcony door is open day and night. He must just prefer to be inside I suppose, yesterday he was mountaineering in my jar of brushes.

I also have a few pots on the balcony where I optimistically plant things, sometimes bits of stem that I have drawn, sometimes small cuttings and the occasional seed. Many are doing well. I am particularly delighted that the “leaf” of the beautiful Red Rhipsalis here is growing, my Soapberry seedling is a now a tiny tree, the Crown of Thorns and Stapelia which Pedro gave me are thriving and all the leaves of the various Sansevierias are sprouting roots and the piece of Devil’s Backbone here is beginning to zig zag its way to heaven.

My seedlings are doing well too. The tiny Desert Rose seedlings look like little plants already. There were 6 but I managed to knock the head off one of them.

And to my amazement the Silky Hakea here seeds have sprouted. On one of my visits a few weeks ago I noticed that the Hakea I like so much is dying. All the beautiful pods had opened up and almost all the seeds had gone. This may be a natural part of its life cycle as it has to be damaged in some way for the pods to open, but I did manage to find three intact seeds and wondered if they might germinate for me. My methods are haphazard to say the least and because I like to see how things grow I just use damp kitchen towel in an old upside down plastic fruit container. After only a week they had sprouted and here they are just shrugging off their seed coats, looking happy and relatively healthy I think.

But my favourites for the moment are the two spindly and comical Gout plant seedlings. They sprang out of their pots within a few days of planting and I am entranced by their elegance and vigour.

Bill and Ben… not quite twins, but related.

I´m afraid I have called them Bill and Ben .. well, a little silliness has to creep in every now and then. My American readers were probably spared the much loved UK 1950’s children’s TV programme with the two flower pot men puppets and the very annoying Little Weed..

Image from Whirligig TV here

I need some more time and a better sample to continue the cotton drawings so today I drew the little crucillo sprig that has been waiting for a couple of days now . It seemed happy enough in some wet oasis but the leaves are just beginning to droop.

It is labelled as “Randia laetevirens” Crucillo Bush, the name meaning “little cross” for obvious reasons. It was the cross formation of the white stems that caught my eye and the leaves are dainty but there are some very sharp spikes on the ends of the twigs. I have not been able to find out very much about this particular variety but Austin and Honychurch writing about the Randia aculeata (White Indigoberry) in “Florida Ethnobotany” say it is described as the “little cross” in South American countries and the branches sold as small Christmas trees in the winter.. so this must be a close relative. I will amend this post if I find out.


Leaf of the Day: Ants, and Water Plantain, Day 6

Some time ago I wrote about repatriating some ants to Leu gardens which, I know, had arrived here in the Bulls Horn Acacia thorns. (reason here) Since then, Pedro gave me another beautiful thorn with, of course, a couple more of the caretaker ants. These I have re-homed in remote parts of the apartment complex but I seem to be stuck with one that won’t leave. I have put it outside now many many times but the next day it is back, so I give in and now seem to have a pet. I am not particularly fond of ants but my Buddhist leanings stop me just squashing it. There only seems to be this one at the moment so for now we have a truce. If the extended family arrive for a prolonged stay I may have to reconsider my largess.
It is a slender delicate little thing, extremely adventurous and fearless and spends a large part of the day running around my drawing table. I felt sorry for it the other day and gave it some honey which it spent all day eating. I didn’t see it the next day so presumed it was sleeping off a massive honey hangover, but today it was back.. it’s name is…Ant. It will feature in a painting soon and it’s quite nice to have this diminutive little companion for a while. Painting is a solitary business.
It has been scampering about all day today and has been a welcome distraction from watching paint dry. However it’s day 6 and I hope only one more day to go. I think it would be wise to stop anyway and get on with something else. I have made some mistakes and some progress but I always say that if you are happy with just one square inch of a painting it has been worthwhile.
I plodded on with the leaves but by lunch time I just had to get rid of the masking fluid. This may be a mistake, but I was just fed up with seeing the blue stuff and its sticks to your hand too.

Accidents?.. well 4 so far, one aphid which fell off my model and left a green smeary mark and 3 colour spots, one where I had paint on my hand. another where I dropped the brush, and the inevitable mystery one. All are on the parts of the paper which have to stay white .. but hey!..there is no point in worrying.
After another trip to find another flower head I started the stem. The green seed heads are quite a different green from the leaves.. really bright emerald but for this painting and in view of the comment the colours of my last submission I am keeping them subdued.
As I am writing this I have just noticed my other delightful studio companion, the house gecko. They are amazing aren’t they? Just like moving fridge magnets.. Hmmm …how compatible exactly are geckos and ants?


Water Plantain, Stage 3