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…..


Leg adjusted, I put in first colour guides.


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.

stage 5 bg

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!

stage 6 bg

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..

stage 7 bg

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!

stage 8 bg      image

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

Easton Workshops and a Painting!

It’s been a VERY busy week. The Empty Garden has been begging for attention, so seeds have been sown and plants lined up for planting and more lists made.
I held one of my “Bugs Beasts and Botanicals” painting workshops at Easton Walled Gardens with Judith, Michael, Sue, Elaine and Lucy. Thanks all for coming and for your fantastic input and enthusiasm. It was so enjoyable.

The workshops are all about looking..looking hard and looking again and appreciating and developing ones own abilities, aptitudes and enthusiasms.  I am going to write a post about them in more detail soon.
I have another full days workshop at Easton this coming week.
I would just like a little more sun if possible… but to be honest just to be up at Easton is so inspirational and such a delight, whatever the weather. And at last I got down to painting the gorgeous Buff Tailed Bumble bee.

She is surveying her prospects from a Mahonia leaf. It’s number one of my rather delayed commissions. I have not had time to scan this one and irritatingly it is too big to scan in one go so it involves lots of faffing about with Photoshop..so for now photos will have to do.

I particularly like the way bees pause on leaves to take a break .. I am also thankful because you can get a good look at them..and of course, them at you.

The garden has been full of solitary bees and the valiant mining bee from my last post was prospecting in the lawn again.

Thanks to my very knowledgeable bee mentor Alan Phillips, I think it is the lovely Andrena nitida, just one of the over 230 other British Bees I have yet to paint…!

So much to do, so little time!

Do Bees Have Characters?

It is something I often wonder when I am painting them. I am not particularly fanciful or overly sentimental but I do like to express something of what I think might be a bee’s character.
“Characteristic” is probably a more acceptable term for the naturalist or scientist. There certainly do seem to be differences between species and within species.. we describe different honey bee strains as “docile” or “aggressive”.
But that’s not really character.

Do bees get depressed or elated, is one Queen more attentive to her brood than another,  one worker a harder worker than another?
I don’t know. I had been reading Sladen’s wonderful “The Humble Bee” again to remind myself of his observations, which were both affectionate and important.
I think he would have voted for character. He raised broods of bees in his garden and study so that he could watch and record them. Here he has found a searching lapidarius queen to take over small orphaned colony.

“I first introduced the queen to the brood. While she was yet an inch away from it she suddenly abandoned her ordinary dull and careless manner and , standing at attention , stretched out her antennae…. Then she advanced cautiously, and when half a minute later she reached the brood she showed great satisfaction and immediately stretched herself over it.”

On another occasion he has taken a queen out of her nest to eradicate some pesky ants. When he puts her back he notes.

She was very pleased to get back to her brood. When I came to fill the honey pot I found the lump of comb had rolled almost off the sacking, so I hollowed the latter in the middle to retain it. The queen seemed to consider the brood to be insufficiently covered and ran about pulling and detaching bits of nest material with her jaws and carding them with her legs. She even tried to bite little pieces off the edges of the sacking. While thus occupied she frequently returned to the brood and always when she reached it emitted little buzzes of pleasure.” from FW Sladen’s The Humble Bee 1912.


Sketches I have been doing some more sketching to get me back into the shape of bumble bees. They pose problems because I like to try to show some part of the eye. Again it’s a human response ..we seek out eyes to engage with, even if they are not “eyes” in our sense. But their hunched shape means that in quite a few views the head is hidden.

bumbles bg      bumbles 2 bg

For the B terrestris and honeysuckle I was wondering if I should tilt the view to look up, more of a worm eye view.
But with this bee it’s important to show the long head, the tongue and the characteristic two yellow stripes on the thorax

hort bg
Eventually I decide on a side view.

So this Bombus hortorum will be “reaching up” with its front legs, approaching a honeysuckle flower.
To be less anthropomorphic perhaps I should just say “raising its front legs” because “reaching up” can signify a very human, emotionally charged, action.
It can be a request for help or for an embrace, an attempt to grasp something just out of reach, or to hold onto something to prevent a fall, or an appeal to be lifted up.

I have watched bees, especially bumble bees, reaching up to grasp the edges of petals.
Sometimes you feel you want to give them a helping hand and very often if you gently offer a finger for them to rest their back legs on they will willingly accept.
This is very non-scientific language I know, but it’s very endearing behaviour.

hort b sm

…and as my aim is to win the affection of kind hearted people and recruit them to the bee cause then my Bombus hortorum, here, will definitely be “reaching up”.

New “Big Six”: First Roughs

It’s back to work now and I have started the new “Big Six Bumble Bees” commission and have moved on from scribbled notes to thumbnail roughs. This is where I sort out what I am doing and why, and where I check that they will work, not only as individual paintings, but as a set. I think they will be hung in a line rather than in a block and I know they will all be framed the same. So my initial considerations are these:

  • Which bee with which flower
  • A variety of poses
  • A variety of flower shapes
  • A variety of designs… i.e. left to right, central, bottom or top heavy.

The paintings are for a bee enthusiast who has a very beautiful old house in Lincolnshire, the flowers need to reflect the garden and of course be compatible with the bee. ie tongue length etc.

Scruffy notes….

rough 1

First Designs

big six set bg

Things may well change but for now the Bee/Plant combinations are these:

Bombus pratorum:. The Early Bumble Bee with Cotoneaster. This is a small bee with a short tongue. I saw many of them at Grafham last year on Cotoneaster in the churchyard… and it’s a little compact flower with an arching design to the branch.

Bombus terrestris: The Buff tailed Bumble Bee with Mahonia. Mahonia is, year after year one of the very best winter plants for early bumblebees. I have just planted one here and saw terrestris queens on Dad’s Mahonia last year.

Bombus hortorum: The Garden Bumble Bee with Honeysuckle. The long tongued bumble bee who can access the nectar from the long tubular flowers of honeysuckles. It’s again such a favourite country garden flower.

Bombus lapidarius: The Red Tailed Bumble Bee on cosmos/daisy type flower. I love to see bees running around the top of flowers.. it may change into a thistle, but I wanted one central flower head for the set.

Bombus pascuorum: The Common Carder Bee with a foxglove. I saw so many of both at Heligan. A different shaped flower as well.

Bombus lucorum
: The White tailed Bumble Bee on lavender. I had to include lavender, not only is it a true favourite with all bees but it is also a later flower.


Reassessing When I added a bit of colour I realised all the yellow and black bees were facing the same way and both of the redtailed bees were facing the same way. This wont do…


So I flipped the terrestris /mahonia, which looks fine, and then the lapidarius, which doesn’t alter the design at all. That’s better. It’s just a small thing but keeps the variety of pose, direction, and design that I want.


comp bg 1

That’s all for today!….

The Garden Bumble Bee and Honeysuckle..

I have almost finished this commission.. and I really do like this one. It’s been a real pleasure to paint this Bombus hortorum, the Garden Bumble Bee.  I am very fond of these bees and loved watching them clamber around Dad’s honeysuckle in the summer.
I have said before how fascinating it is to watch how they move,  how they alight on the flowers, how they unfurl their extra long tongues and how they hold onto the sides of flowers with their feet.

I had been undecided about including that long tongue, but it is such a characteristic of this bee and after all she is approaching some delicious nectar filled flowers and this is very much how you would see her!!
This is quite a big painting.. well big for me.. Its about 14×15 inches. I just got rather carried away with the honeysuckle and I forgot to take more step by step photos…but, never mind, maybe next time.

For framing I would crop in, something more like this:

B hort blog

I tend to like off centre things and to have some nice white space. I work so hard to keep that space clean that I think I need to celebrate it :).

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

67 bg      89bg

10 bg

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 !

Buzz updates & B Hortorum and Honeysuckle, early stages.

As I said in a recent post my Dad was not one to mope about ..so its back to work, back to bees, commissions and design work.  In between all the ups and downs of the last couple of weeks there have some good things happening on the bee front. Excitingly I will be teaming up with the Bee Guardians next year for some projects.

Also for next year more exhibitions are planned at Easton Walled Gardens and  Nature in Art, both a week long this time and with painting workshops attached. There are some talks, some one day exhibitions and painting classes planned. On the products front there may be some ceramics, some jewelry and more prints and cards.

And I have a million other ideas. Waiting in the wings there may be a house and a garden, with….joy of joys….a workshop.   Busy is good. And on Monday 10th Oct I will be at the London Honey Show, 6 –9 pm with prints, books and cards .. will be fun.  More details tomorrow.

Bombus Hortorum and Honeysuckle But right now I am working on B hortorum and Honeysuckle a commission for Peter and Di. In preparation for teaching people about painting insects and bees next year I decided to record a step by step for this one.  Here are the first few stages of the bee. Sketches for pose and ideas for flowers, positions etc… but all may change:

horto sketch sm      sketch1

Positioning on the paper:

col bee 1

First Colours: built up with directional strokes and refining as I go

bee1      bee 2

bee 3

I had roughed in the shapes of the flowers with a few faint lines to be able to position the bee. I use a soft pencil and very light strokes so that I can erase what I don’t want.
Now I start to think about how they will really work with the bee. It’s best to experiment on tracing paper first. The paper underneath really must be kept clean for this sort of work!!   aggghhh…..


So close after my father’s death there is an extra poignancy to painting this bee, because I based the design on my observations of Bombus hortorum, the Garden Bumble Bee, which I watched for hours on Dad’s honeysuckle last year.

I had seen how they hold onto the sides of the flower and sometimes rest their back legs on the lower petal. So I decided to show this one on its approach flight, front feet outstretched to grasp the sides of the upper petal.

Tongue, I think, will be outstretched. The long tongue is such a feature of these bees and allows them to access nectar from these long tubular flowers. But I am not quite sure yet. I do change things as I go quite a bit!.. paper permitting :). Sometimes it’s such a struggle to keep that pristine white paper clean!

hortorum dads garden

Bombus hortorum, Dad’s garden, 2010

What Do I Do All Day ?

I sometimes worry that I am not working hard enough or, I should really say, I am not achieving enough.

Sometimes the day slips away and I have achieved very little, but I have been very busy.

At the moment I seem to spend a large amount of time on the computer, answering emails, fulfilling book and print orders, reading about art/bees/interesting people/looking for opportunities and thinking about commissions and planning new projects.

This is all fine but the one thing I should be doing…painting and drawing, seems to be done in the last hour of the day when I am far from my best.

So I thought I would record a typical day and see where it all goes wrong! Yesterday I recorded my day, I knew today would be mostly spent in the car.

It turned out to be quite productive, I think because as I had committed to writing it down. It’s quite hard to admit to an hour in the day where you  “did nothing but stare out of the window”.

My Day
5.30.. UP …I LOVE the early mornings. Cup of tea answer 2 emails.
Out for walk at 6, thought about where I might sketch later. Optimistic about my decision to record the day.

Back at 6.45. Tea, read emails and discover 2 fascinating articles**** one about taxidermy and the other about the perils of doing a PHD… (always on my mind). Shared these observations with a couple of friends who might be interested.  **** terrible danger here of being sidetracked into lots of internet browsing on fascinating subjects,

7.45 Decide to make a list of things to do. The list is long and includes shouting at the Post Office, roughing out 3 more paintings, parceling up 3 books to send out, sorting out paintings and blurb for Nature in Art ,worrying about what to do about Dad, try to make appointments to see doc, lawyer, dentist(hopeless)… go for cycle, do some sketching, remember to feed guinea pig (easy)…do more sketching.

8 to 8 30 Guinea Pig time. He likes cucumber.

8.30 to 9 Email gallery re prints. Put on washing. Take irritating dead light bulbs out of ceiling fitting. Have put this off because involves having to stand on chair. Make another cup of tea.
Reluctantly turned on Tweetdeck.
Wrestle with Tweetdeck

9-9.15  Speak to lawyer re Dad.

9.15 to 9.30 try to process what lawyer had said… Fail and worry.

9.30 –10.30 Read, reply to and initiate emails, some re Nature in Art residency, trying to make the most of being over the other side of the country and meet up with some bee people… logistically tricky. Put washing out… damn pegs keep breaking … sigh.

10.30 Radio on to calm down as have been up for ages but seem to be doing nothing! Start research and roughs.

11.00 Call from nurse re Dad 20 mins. Now worry about not being up there. Back to roughs but have lost thread.

12.00 Call from Nathan re wine/bee festival. Great, but needs some thought and more emails. Involves measuring things and getting prices.. do I do that now or later?  Hmmm .. no, must do roughs.

12.30 Made soup and more tea, glanced quickly at emails.

1 to 4.15 Work on roughs and ideas. GOOD!

4.15 Tea and looked at emails ( fatal, as I feel I should answer them)

4.45  Prise self away from unanswered emails to go out to walk and sketch.

6.00  Back … cold, grey and spooky out there tonight. Start to write blog post. Try not to look at emails… but do. Answer a couple of really nice ones.

7.15 Almost finished blog post…they take me ages as my typing skills are non existent and scanner is cheap and takes ages.

8.00 Eat. Thank God Chris can cook! Press “go” button on blog and I am finished.

Conclusions .. well I am not sure.. the emails are definitely a problem.  Writing it all down does make you face up to what you do or don’t do all day!  However I think that a couple of hours staring out of the window every day is a very valid creative activity!

My next bit of self examination is into how long I really spend on each commission and how many real billable hours a week I do. Not enough I know.

It’s just one of the many pitfalls of being a freelancer! Today though I did manage a lovely hour at Easton Walled Gardens. The Gardens are looking beautiful, full of bees. No chance to sketch but a quick gallop round with camera..

Nectar Robbing Bee on Honeysuckle

nectar robbing

Megachile on sweet pea.

megachile on sweet pea

Tomorrow, back to the drawing board. 🙂

A Week of Walks: Day 1

A path, bees and (killer) teasels. Yesterday I met with my artist friend Jean after visiting the Aged P. The Aged P is not doing too well and is a profound worry.
We are doing the best we can for him and life must go on, but it is a situation which weighs heavily on the not-so-broad shoulders of myself and my sister… so, to mull it all over, I go for a walk.

I have been walking for days now. Jean and I were talking about how good it is for body and mind to sketch out of doors. Its something I have not done much of recently. So today for my mind clearing walk I also took along the sketchbook. It has to be simple for me so a pen, a pencil and a sketchbook.
Sketchbook work is always so good for looking and seeing, and recording thoughts if you have a mind to do that.
Today then, the path, which follows the reservoir shore. It is lined on one side with a very tall unidentified crop which looks almost like sugar cane.

walk one bg

As I stood sketching,a gusty wind started at the far end of the field and slowly worked its way towards me, thrashing the tops of the tall crop, rustling and advancing in an unnerving way.

You would surely think there was a tiger in there somewhere. Willows line the path on the other side, with the occasional conifer and birch.

walk 2 bg

Then there were the wonderful teasels. They are widespread here and I have been watching them develop from little green prickly rosettes into the tall and beautiful flower heads, beloved of bees of course.

I watched the bees carefully work their way systematically round each ring of flowers. I also now realise that teasels start flowering from one central ring , then as those flowers die and fall away the flowers develop both up and down making two ring of purple.

Fascinating and geometrically stunning.

Bees on Teasels

walk3 bg

I sketched them in pencil while I was out and added a bit of colour on my return. The bees today (cold windy and occasionally wet), were mostly pretty gingery B pascuorum. I wrote about teasels before here, beautiful and useful!

However they do have a dark side where insects are concerned … read two fascinating posts from two excellent natural history blogs, first Killer Teasels post over on Cabinet of Curiosities blog and again on Wasp and Teasel Water Cup on A Bug Blog.

It seems that teasels thrive on drowned insects!


While I was at Heligan I was asked many questions to which I had no answer. I was told things I wasn’t sure about. A lady said she had seen bumblebees flying at night. Had she?..I don’t know.
Certainly I have seen them out and about late into these warm, light, summer evenings. Yesterday at 9.00 pm I saw one flying high over the brambles. But midnight perhaps not?
Scientifically they are unlikely to, because they need a certain temperature to fly and be active, but  poetically why not? I thought about Hardy’s lovely poem. Some may argue that “dumbledore” is in fact a beetle, it is debatable,  but bee or beetle it is beautiful and evocative.

Perhaps I should have saved this for an August post but there are things here that resonate with me very much right now. As I learn more, my affection, wonder and awe of our “winged, horned and spined” companions grows and grows. Maybe as my knowledge increases I too will be granted access to those, oh, so beguiling, “Earth-secrets”.

An August Midnight by Thomas Hardy

A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter–winged, horned, and spined –
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While ‘mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands . . .

Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
– My guests parade my new-penned ink,
Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.
“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

My fly-bee-night image is my first, my one and only woodcut. The result of the most delightful workshop day at Rufford. An A3 woodcut, of 3 fat, night flying bees.. defying science. It’s hand cut and hand printed on Japanese kozo paper. I loved every minute of doing this, every cut and every press of the baren and each peeling away of each reduced plate. It wasn’t really meant to be night, but somehow that’s just how it turned out…that’s just what happened and anyway, who knows what this night’s waxing gibbous moon may reveal?


fly bee night bg

2 Colour Woodcut 12 x16 inches