The Fenland Black Bee, almost done.

The bee is almost done. I have added the foliage, a suggestion of the Holme Fen birch trees and a view of the distant bird hide. I am dithering about adding a Highland Cow.
The hide is known as“Jon’s Hide” an eco friendly straw bale hide created by Jon Smith one of the restoration officers at the Great Fen project. You can see how the building of the hide progressed here.

The Highland Cattle are there to help manage the land. I included them in my first sketches at the beginning of April. They are good grazers for wet lands and will eat tough weedy plants, keep the vegetation down, break up the ground and so encourage more marsh loving wild flowers.

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Pencil and Watercolour on Arches 300 HP, 10 x 11 inches approx.

As I quoted in an earlier post, “artwork is never finished…just abandoned”. At this stage I usually put a picture away for a week or so, out of sight. Then have another look and see if what is bothering me now is still bothering me then.
But for now I am done, especially as I have to get organised for a short break.

London and Amsterdam for 6 days. I am hoping to get a quick conker sketch done before I go……

The Black Bee continued.

It is lovely to see so many bees out and about now and I have returned to the painting of my East Midlands region Black Bee, Bombus ruderatus.
I have rethought the sketch a bit to now include 2 little Pied Shieldbugs (Tritomegas bicolor) which I had photographed inadvertently when I was trying to get a shot of the bees on the white dead nettle at Holme Fen.
They are lovely, very design-y black and white. It’s a bit of a theme for this painting. Black Bee, White Dead Nettle, Black and White bugs.

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A blurry little Pied Shieldbug from Holme Fen.

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Two Shieldbugs, one at the bottom and one peeping over a leaf at the top.

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Stage 1:  Eyes first. If these are not right I start again.Then a little colour all round.

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Stage 2:  More darker colour all round and getting the head and legs right.

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A detail of the head at Stage 2. Its about 1/2 “wide.

I am always concerned to get the “pile” right. Different bees have different sort of hair. This bee is a little more tidy than its relation, Bombus hortorum but has longer hair than some others.  They are big bees, not called the Large Garden Bee for nothing.

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This is almost done but I will make a few changes when I have the background sorted out a bit more. They say “an artwork is never finished, only abandoned”.. how true. You get to a stage when you don’t really want to see it again… at least not for a while. I have not quite got as far as that with this bee. It will be finished next week I hope.

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The background, bugs and bee roughly put together.

More soon.

A Bee for Gardening for the Disabled

It seems to be a year for charity postcards. I was asked by Gardening for the Disabled to submit one for their silent auction in June.  Again I am pleased to do it. I have been rather disabled just recently and the little bit of gardening I have been able to do has been a joy.

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“Our Lovely Leafcutter Bee, Can opener of the Bee World: LOVE YOUR BEES’
4 x 6 inch postcard:  pen and ink sketch.

I am determined that I get the bee conservation message across on these charity postcards. So on the back I write my “Bees need us and we need Bees” slogan which I also have printed on the back of my postcards,

Gardening for the Disabled Trust

The Trust is an entirely voluntary organisation, which gives grants to physically and mentally disabled people all over the UK to help them to continue to garden.  The money raised will go towards grants for individuals at home and also for special gardens in hospitals, community projects and schools.  These grants go towards raised beds, ramps, greenhouses, access, paving and tools which act as a source of motivation and therapy, and though simple, they really change lives.

SILENT AUCTION of ORIGINAL POSTCARDS
Baden-Powell House Conference Centre
65-67 Queen’s Gate, London SW7 5JS on 8th at 6.30-8.30pm and 9th June at 9am-5pm 2013 e :info@gardeningfordisabledtrust.org.ukGardening for disabled

A Bee for “Nature in Art”: Early Bees love Early Willows

One of my very favourite places, Nature in Art in Gloucestershire has asked artists who have been associated with the Gallery to contribute a postcard for their fundraising efforts.
I am delighted both to be asked and to help, because as one of their Artists in Residence over the last two years, I have spent many, very happy, hours there.

“May 2013 marks the 25th anniversary since Nature in Art opened its doors to the public and to coincide with it we are holding a special fundraising exhibition called ‘Postcard Portraits’ The postcards will be reproduced on a series of specially prepared display panels. A commentary will accompany the panels and the artist of each card identified. The exhibition will be May 7th – June 2nd.
Each card will be allocated a secret number and the numbered tickets will be available for the public to buy for £20 each.”

They hope there will be approximately 300 cards! For my contribution it just had to be a bee. What a surprise. I have not seen one bee yet this year and as I am typing it is snowing again.
But last year, by this time, the bees were out and busy. I remember finding a bumble bee having a rest on a willow twig so I thought, for my card, a sketch of an optimistic early bee would be appropriate. Delicate catkins are springing out all over the willow twigs I brought in. Surely Spring is nearly here?

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My Postcard Portrait for Nature in Art: “Early Bees love Early Willows’
watercolour and pencil. A5

Nature in Art is the world’s first museum dedicated exclusively to fine, decorative and applied art inspired by nature. It has wonderful exhibitions and courses I only wish it was just around the corner! I will be back from 24th to 29th September this year, for another Artist In Residence week. I am so looking forward to it.

———————————————————————————————————————–leonardo foot s

 

Footnote….hopefully the last one. The offending pin is out ..hurrahh…I guess the injection trauma will fade with time.
The Foot is happier and so am I!

A Bee Print and Buzz News

Did you think I had been neglecting my bees? 🙂 ….now would I?
While there has not been much of a buzz on the blog, in the background there is quite a bit going on. I am planning some more bee paintings for next year and will be doing more workshops, another residency at Nature in Art (whooppee!!!) some more exhibitions and talks etc, including a lovely one day workshop at John Clare’s Cottage on June 15th and the wonderful Festival of Bees in Louth, Thursday, 23 May 2013.

One very interesting weekend, first in the diary, will be with the British Beekeepers Association, the BBKA at their annual meeting. I shall be there with my BUZZ paintings and a couple of short drawing/painting workshops.
That will be Sat 13th April.  I will be posting lots more details on the blog as the events are finalised. So for the shows and talks I am preparing a few more prints, booklets, cards etc.

Here is a simple two plate lino print which I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks.  I have just printed the first few which I will then develop a little more, with different backgrounds, papers and colours and other additions. The possibilities are really endless.

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My lino print of “Waving Bee”,  my logo, printed on a background of a beehive and the word “BEE”.. Grey and Ochre on Blue Grey paper. Image 12 x 9.5 inches
One of some new bee images for next year’s shows.

Bees are few and far between now but my bee house is dry and safe and I am still seeing one or two bumble bees and honey bees.
I am hoping for a good, kind, winter for the hibernating bumble bee queens and for the baby woolcarders and masons, who I hope will safely snooze the chilly months away, tucked up in their leafy, woolly nests.

The Common Carder Bee and honeyed Melittis melissophyllum

The pretty and bee-friendly Melittis melissophyllum rejoices in the robust and no nonsense common name of Bastard Balm.
I can only assume it is called this because it is “similar”to the other balms… but not quite the ticket. It shares its Latin “bee” root with another balm, Melissa officinalis the lovely lemon balm which I have grown from seed and  planted in the Empty Garden. They are both part of the huge Lamiaceae mint family, much loved of bees.

I am going to try to grow Bastard balm and have some seed for next year but have also ordered some plants from the excellent Bee Happy Plants. Their seeds have been very slow to germinate this year but I am still hopeful. Not sure it will like my heavy clay soil but it’s worth a go.
The arrival of any flowers here in the Empty Garden has been agonisingly slow, this miserable weather has not helped at all and time to plant and sow has been very limited, but it has been fascinating to observe which bees have used which flowers.. more on that and garden progress soon.

But meanwhile here is the second bee commission for Liz, the gorgeous Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum about to take a sip of nectar from the honey leaved honey flower.. First thumbnail rough..

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I love to watch how bees reach out with their font legs for landing. It’s an unexpectedly human characteristic.
These past windy days have made landing a very hit and miss affair, and they really need those little hooked feet for hanging on.

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Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum and Bastard Balm
Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 12” x12”

The Tawny Mining Bee again..and some painterly anxieties.

In between other work I have also been working on two more bee commissions. It has been a chance to paint again the beautiful Tawny Mining bee Andrena fulva and the Common Carder bee Bombus pascuorum.

I often work on several pieces at once and have learnt, the hard way, that it’s good to put things aside for a while.
Unsatisfactory things can be forgotten but glaring inadequacies may be illuminated. So it’s a double edged sword. I put them away, completely out of sight, hidden away in a folder and always get them out again with some trepidation.

Years ago I used to work late into the night, worrying away at some problem detail. I would go to bed in a happy self deluded state, only to realise next morning how completely dreadful it all was.
Now I don’t do that. I put the work away for a while and try to forget about it and then reassess with a fresh eye.

So it’s been about a week since I saw these two paintings and mercifully they seemed just fine.
But of course there is always another half a day of faffing about, primping and adjusting, after which you will be MUCH more satisfied and the casual observer (aka long suffering partner) will see no difference at all..

Well?  How does that look now??”  “Fine , just fine..” “Oh only fine? what about the bit I changed?” “What bit?”  “Well the hairs on the left tibia of course..” “Ahhh.. That bit. Well that looks fine too”. “You think it’s Ok then?” “Yes” “I mean, better than before?” “Yes” “Was it not very good then?” “It was and is just fine “…….

and so it goes on..
But inevitably, at some uncertain point,  even when racked with indecision and doubt, you have to say….”That’s it!..Finished!”

Actually  I do really like these two.. 🙂 So here is my “Foxy Lady of the Bee World” again. I saw her in the spring, taking a break on the clematis which is twining around the trellis on the shed. She was basking in the sun, a little spot of fiery foxy two tone red…just gorgeous! first rough…

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and the (maybe….almost) finished  painting..

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but I still have a day to go before delivery….

Wool Carder Painting step by step….almost there.

I am back to commissions and some commercial work this week but hope to have a little more time for just sketching and drawing.
When teaching my workshops I am a bit of a nag about drawing and practise, everyday if possible, so I really must practise what I preach!!

But it’s back to completing the Wool Carder Bee first. I almost finished it for the Meadow Days show and was able to have it on display and chat about the process of drawing and painting a bee. Here are a few stages of the work:

Referring back to my preliminary sketches I lightly draw the bee on the frighteningly clean and pristine paper. This always makes me very nervous.
Thank goodness it is tough stuff because I still do quite a bit of re-drawing and adjusting on the paper.
i.e. was not quite sure where I wanted that front leg…..

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Leg adjusted, I put in first colour guides.

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Stages 3 and 4 are just building up colour depth and getting the eye right. It’s important to me that I have the eye done fairly soon. “Eye contact” with your painting helps make a bond between you and your work!! It’s a bit of a responsibility creating something!!

and by this stage I have erased up some of the pencil lines!

Stages 5 is more building up and I use quite a bit of lifting out and add white gouache to paint the lovely long silky hairs that this bee has on the underside of her thorax.

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The almost last stage is the wings, sorting out the detail of the abdomen markings and the antennae.. when I pray for a steady hand!
There is nowhere to hide mistakes made here!

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I then leave the bee and get on with the background. I will go back to do further adjustments later on if I see any glaring mistakes. It’s good to leave things alone for a while!
The pencil work takes a long LONG time as, again, I do draw and redraw on the paper and it is forgiving, but only up to a point.
Some times I rough out the leaves and flowers on tracing paper and position them here and there to check the composition.
I didn’t take stage images as that would be very boring..

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Its almost finished now. Just a few adjustments to do and I need to add a small image of Wallsworth Hall, home of Nature in Art gallery. I have sketched it roughly on tracing paper to position it….It might go about here!

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I will be finishing it this week…unless, perchance, we have SUN??? Hope springs eternal …….

Wool Carder Sketches

I am painting a female Anthidium manicatum, the gorgeous Wool Carder Bee for Simon at Nature in Art.

I chose this one in particular because Wallsworth Hall is where I first watched this wonderful little bee stripping the hairs from the furry leaves of Lambs Ears or Stachys byzantina to use for nest building.
She is also extremely pretty!
The males and females are very similar looking except that the males are, unusually for the bee world, much bigger.. also they move in a different way.  The male has an aggressive darting flight and will patrol a patch of flowers, ferociously seeing off any bee or insect intruders, head butting and attacking a perceived competitor with the awesome three spines he has at the base of his abdomen.
She on the other hand is a calmer more purposeful little bee intent on gathering fibres and foraging from the flowers of Stachys, and other similar labiates.

Both male and female have various yellow marking on their face, legs and abdomen making them easy to mistake for a wasp at a casual glance.

Notes and Sketches

Firstly, I have to get the female’s markings and characteristics correct so I start with a few notes. Where are the yellow spots? How are they different from the males, especially on the face. I notice that the lower part of the legs of the females seem  very slightly thicker and hairier too. They have quite a rounded body shape and pale silky hairs on their legs.

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I have not seen very many Anthidium manicatum here in the UK and the only ones I have seen have a line of yellow spots on the sides of their abdomen.
Other Anthidium species have much bolder yellow banded markings. ( I keep thinking they would make a very attractive set of pattern designs! … but not right now as I am too busy.)

Next the design. Even though they do use other plants for both food and nest material I will include the Stachys. It grows in a beautiful big patch on the front border of the Museum at Wallsworth Hall and is obviously much loved by the wool carders. Regular readers will know that I take ages to decide on poses and plants.
This time the plant is chosen and it’s only the pose I have to consider.
For me its about trying to express something of the character of the bee and how it relates to the plant. But it also has to be a good composition and hopefully an engaging painting.

First scribbles are really important for me to work out how I am going to try to achieve all this!  The designer in me likes the simple central stem with the view of the bee from the top.
This would show the markings on the back quite well… but very little of the character of the bee. It would be more like a technical  drawing.

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To show the bee actually carding the hairs from the leaf might be interesting but they very often curl right over while accumulating the big ball of fluff under their abdomen and that’s not a particularly good pose for a painting or to show off their beautiful markings.

I think I will probably go for the design bottom right.. a front/side view looking over the edge of a furry leaf.
I planted a Stachys in the garden here. It’s struggling through, but at last with the arrival of some sun its beginning to grow, so I made a quick sketch.

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At this stage it’s all about “looking”, rather than “drawing”.
These rough sketches are visual thoughts, just for me, to try to work things out.
But to draw something, however roughly, is to understand it a little more than you did before!

Four More of the Big Six bees…

If the recent wet and cold weather has done one good thing it has kept me indoors at the drawing board and able to complete the Big 6 commission. No time to blog about them individually but here are some rather basic scans of the last four paintings.

Bombus hortorum The Garden Bumble Bee

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Bombus lucorum the White Tailed Bumble bee

 

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Bombus pascuorum The Common Carder Bee

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And the gorgeous big Bombus lapidarius, The Redtailed Bumble Bee..almost everyone’s favourite bumble bee.

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All painted on Fabriano HP in watercolour approx 9 x 9 inches.

I think I have mentioned before that I use Graham paints which are just fab for what I need for the bees. I work with quite thick paint and like to be able to push it around quite a bit and of course they use honey as a humectant which is not only very apt but also keeps them moist.

I did a little more work on some of them after these scans but didn’t update the images.

It’s such a nuisance as they don’t fit on the scanner in one go and after spending so many hours on each one I am always worried about carelessly damaging them so I keep scanning to a minimum.

My very cheap all singing all dancing multifunction scanner/printer/fax/copier etc is a crude tool and loses all the subtlety of the originals but at least it’s a record of a month’s hard work.
These bees have been with me now for so long that it’s very hard to see them go. I do get ridiculously attached to each one, probably because I have worked so hard trying to bring them to life.. but I do have 3 more commissions to come!

Also I have some very exciting bee sighting news! I have seen my first snail shell bee in action…! More of that later …