The Great Yellow Bumble Bee and the Machair.. (a Bee for Esme)

It’s always nice to have someone in mind when painting things and this bee came about due to a note from my friend Esme who lives way up north on the Isle of Lewis. She wrote to me saying that they had seen quite a few of these big and beautiful endangered Bumble Bees while walking on the “machair”.

I have never seen the machair but judging by the photos, it is a sight to behold! Swathes of flowers starting with yellow hues in May,( is it like that now Esme?) changing to pinks and purples with both the month and the underlying soil composition. It must be very beautiful and has to join my long list of “things still to be seen”

“The principal remaining strongholds for Bombus distinguendus are in the Scottish machair grassland. Photo © D Goulson” from the Natural History Museum, read more here.

What is the Machair?

This is from a short but very informative article by Jennifer Young here

‘Machair’ is a Gaelic word, usually taken to refer to an area of low-lying fertile land. Over the years it has come to be used by ecologists to refer to a specific coastal habitat, related to predominantly west-facing coastal areas backed by sand dunes, which is found only in some areas of northern and western Scotland and western Ireland.

“Most of the plants found on the machair are not rare (there are exceptions, such as orchids and lady’s tresses). It is the extraordinary abundance of flowering plants which makes it special. Lady’s bedstraw, bird’s foot trefoil, harebells, clover, tufted vetches, daisies and many others, benefiting from a traditional absence of chemical herbicides, form a carpet of flowers in spring and summer. The crofters who farm the machair have also traditionally not used pesticides, so that the land supports a strong and varied insect and invertebrate population. SNH identifies the two most notable species to be found here as the great yellow bumble bee, which is threatened by habitat loss, and the belted beauty moth.”

It’s another sobering example of how pesticides do so much harm to those creatures we really need. There is plenty of info about this very special habitat on the internet and more details about the flowers here from

The Great Yellow Bumble Bee Bombus distinguendus

For the painting I contacted the Bumble Bee Conservation trust for some more info re the bee and its flower preference. You can read much more about the BBCT’s work to protect it here and Bob Dawson, who is the conservation officer in charge of the project also has a blog here. Bob’s photo of the GYBB .. the colours are always brighter the younger they are .. this is, in Bob’s words “a fresh worker”

GYB fresh worker







The Great Yellow Bee is just that, very big and very yellow! They have a body length of 12-21mm, and the yellow is a bright lemon rather than the softer orange yellow of other bumble bees. It is a relatively late bee, emerging in May, so takes advantage of the flowers of the machair and likes legumes, yellow rattle, marsh woundwort, knapweeds and thistles and many others and is not a particular specialist.

Its survival in the machair particularly is thought to be partly due to its relatively long tongue which enables it to feed on the long petaled flowers such as the vetches, knapweeds, and clover, many of which have disappeared from other UK habitats. USA readers!!!!

Don’t worry you too have a couple of very similar beautiful bees, the closely related Bombus borealis and Bombus appositus. Bombus borealis by Mardon Erbland from Bugguide






Bombus appositus by
Lynette Schimming also from Bugguide

Black Knapweed Bob suggested that I draw Black Knapweed Centaurea nigra to accompany the bee, which is rather nice because although not quite the magnificent Scotch Thistle Onopordon acanthium, it is a relation and has a Scottish air about it but without the thorns. (I have lots of Scottish blood so a nice thistle makes me feel at home!) Photo by Anita Gould from Tree of Life Web Project here







The knapweeds are a very interesting group of plants in general, with both dye and medicinal uses. The dreaded Spotted Knapweed Centaurea maculosa (branded noxious and invasive in the USA) was thought to have a curious defence mechanism, and that by producing a natural herbicide “catechin”, it could rid the surrounding ground of competing plants.
It’s called ‘plant-plant allelopathy’ and is quite a feat for a plant. It is a defense mechanism used by other plants but not entirely clear if it’s true of knapweed or not .. read more here. It’s fascinating

The Painting

I knew I wanted an indication of the “carpet” of the machair flowers running along the bottom of the image and my initial roughs had a more or less standard side view

sk sm.jpgsketches 2

but after some thought I decided to tip the perspective a bit and have more of the worms eye view of this beautiful big bee, hovering over the black knapweed.

sketchgreat yellow

So here is the brilliant

Great Yellow Bumble Bee Bombus distinguendus .. (thank you Esme.) What a shame it would be if these magnificent creatures died out.

great yellow bumble bee sm

Watercolour and Pencil on Arches HP 8”x 8” approx

Late Summer Bee Flowers

Bees in general emerge at different times of the year and it’s easy to think they are just around in the summer when there are plenty of flowers but many species will need food in early Autumn. In September last year there were many bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees still busy in the garden, so, in planning the bee garden some late flowers are essential. “Late” can depend where you are of course, but here are just a few:

amemone     sea holly copy

Japanese Anemone, the most beautiful and elegant of plants, and Sea Holly.
I think the Eryngiums are particularly beautiful and there is very striking one called Eryngium leavenworthii which is worth seeking out

sunflower     aster copy

Bees love Sunflowers and particularly Michaelmas Daisies. A great plant to watch bees on, as they are too busy foraging to notice you!

ivy copy      fuschia copy

Ivy and Fuschia, Let the ivy bloom for the pretty Ivy bee and the bumblebees seem to love the endlessly flowering shrub fuschia in my Father’s garden.

heathersedum smjpg

Heather and Sedum. Heathers will bloom all season for bees and plant any of the many fascinating Sedums, or “stonecrops” which look so lovely in late summer and are great for green roofs!


I will get around to making the notes on the sketches soon! It’s very hot here this weekend and not conducive to work at all!

Hot Sloth

hot sloth

Mid Season Bee Flowers and Drawing





The sloth of sloth came to stay for a couple of days. He and I just wanted to celebrate it being May.

It’s my very favourite month…. But now back to the bees and flowers with only a short time left… So a few more sketches of favourite bee flowers.
Mid season is not so difficult for bees. I shall be adding the notes when they are all complete, but, as I sketch them, I am aware that they fall into certain families and perhaps, considering useful bee flowers by family, rather than individually, is a very good way to approach them, for example; Thistle family, Daisy family, Rose family, Lamiums etc, and, within those families are both “cultivated” and “uncultivated” varieties.

What is wild and What is not?
The more I consider the whole subject, the less clear I am about the definition of a “wildflower”. Many of the plants below can fall into either category.
I know the dictionary definition but it is strange in some ways that we grow Stachys byzantina “Lambs ears” or “Woolly Betony” in the garden but relegate Stachys sylvatica, “Hedge Woundwort” and the old medicinal herb Stachys officinalis “Betony” to the wildflower meadow, (well we would if we could find one).
Some of the wild varieties are just as beautiful as their cultivated counterparts, but maybe not so showy. When I was a little girl we would grow cornflowers and scabious as annuals in the garden but lovely delicate corn poppies were weeded out immediately.
My father is still not a fan of foxgloves (recent weeding altercation!) but loves wallflowers which are really just pretty mustard plants.
Then mustard then falls into yet another category and becomes a “crop”.
A crop which used to set the local fields ablaze with yellow.

The common yellow Verbascum thrapsus Great Mullein is classified by some as a noxious weed but is also related to the dainty garden snapdragon. Planning my imaginary bee garden is a complete nightmare of indecision and procrastination. But, I will know to plant things in drifts, choose natives and not to go for double flowers.. which I am not very keen on anyway, give me a simple single rose any day. And I will be annoying the neighbours by letting my dandelions frolic and multiply.

stachys     cornflower copy

Stachys Lambs Ears and Cornflower

scabius sm     budd

Scabious family and Buddlias

deadnettle     foxglove

Dead nettles and Foxgloves

wallflower      verb sm

Wallflowers and Verbascum

If nothing else, these quick sketches are really giving me a much greater understanding of the flower families, of their wild and tame relationships and their usefulness to bees, both in the wild and in gardens.

Draw and Understand

As soon as you start to draw something you begin to see the similarities of structures and can understand why a bee will like both field beans and the common vetch. The great botanical art collector Shirley Sherwood said “ the best way to know plants, as every gardener knows is to try to draw one” it is good advice. As you are drawing you can’t help but make connections and see likenesses, much more so than looking at a photograph.

It’s trying to reconstruct something that makes you look so hard at it. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your drawing is, it’s what you have needed to observe, and the subsequent understanding which is important.
The act of drawing will also help you to remember the thing too. I wish more people would pick up a pencil just for the joy of discovery, but drawing is seldom really promoted like that.

Like many other things it gets bogged down in superficial slickness and the pressure to produce something that looks exactly like the thing, instead of a fascinating tool to understanding the thing.
I have to admit that I get rather wrapped up in the whole process and chat away to myself (only in private, so far) while I am drawing.. its usually something like; ”Hmmm so that’s supposed to join up there” or “ How does that shape work ” or very often..
Oh Christ.. why did I do that!”..

Meanwhile Happy May everyone! I hope your bees are busy and your flowers blooming, better late than never!

The Girdled Mining Bee, Ribwort Plantain and Carl Doddies

The slender and pretty little Girdled Mining Bee, Andrena labiata, is another bee you might easily mistake for some other insect. It has the distinctive red orange girdle and the males have a small white patch on their face.

It was brought to my attention by Jane at Urbanextension Blog who, oddly enough, as I was writing this yesterday posted two new photos on Flickr here  …bee telepathy! In her email to me last night she says this;

“I saw two or three males patrolling the flower bed that I saw them in last year. The males are so lovely with their white faces. I don’t think the females will be around for another week or so (didn’t see them until the 8th May last year – and all the flowers are behind so hope they find something to feed on –we do have some Germander speedwell that is out but the Star of Bethlehem is nowhere near )”

Jane’s photo of the Girdled Mining bee on Star of Bethlehem last year in Dorset 8th May.


It just makes you wonder what impact the late spring flowers may have on  early bees? Her mention of Speedwell is interesting because I have read this is a favoured flower of the A labiata.

From an aesthetic perspective, it chooses a flower which shows it off very well, the orange/red set nicely against complementary blue. I am presuming the colour perception of its predators is not quite the same as ours.

The Painting and Ribwort Plantain

I have drawn the Girdled Mining bee perched on the top of a ribwort plantain head. Plantago lanceolata. Yes, I know, another annoying garden weed, especially in lawns where their relentlessly tough stalks pop up again and again and can cause apoplectic heart failure in mowers who like a perfect green sward.  But it is a good nectar source.
In her book, “A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them” from 1998, American writer Sue Hubbell confirms that bees will forage from plantains, but records this concerned neighbours comment,    ‘“ Your bees must be starvin’,” lamented a friend in town. “ Why, they was workin’ them little bitty stems in the lawn. Poor things. Just stems!”’


Carl Doddies sjpg








I have always been fascinated by the delicate bobbly heads with their quivering  stamens and of course we used to play the silly child’s game of Carl Doddies which I wrote about here, back in Jan 2008.

It was said to have originated from a ” beheading” game played in the Jacobite times, the names derived from Bonnie Prince Charlie, “Carl” and King George, “Doddie”.”

You each have a long plantain stalk and try to knock the head off that of your opponents. It should probably be renamed “mowers revenge” although that would mean nothing to small children except the ones perhaps who have to earn their pocket money by mowing the lawn ( she says, from years of experience).

I am not sure if there is an equivalent game here in the USA, but it gave us a few hours of fun and there were really no shortage of plantains.  So spare the weeder and the weedkiller and let your plantains bloom, feed the bees and of course in the unlikely event of offending a bee you can use the leaves to soothe their sting!


The Girdled Mining Bee..on the lookout for mowers, small children, Jacobites or  possibly even a mate.. 

gmb sm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8” x 8”

A Bee on a Broomstick, the Opportunist Snail Shell Bees.

Yes, you knew all along that yesterday’s snail shells were not just random sketches but really bee related..didn’t you? I first came across these astonishing little bees when reading “Animal Architecture” by Karl Von Frisch.

In his fascinating book he describes how the bee will search for a suitable empty snail shell, provision it with bee bread, lay her egg, then, leaving enough space for the growing bee, seal it with a partition of chewed up leaves, (there are sometimes more than one cell in each shell).

She then fills the remaining whorls with a fortifying layer of tiny stones finishing off with a final partition and some moss. She then carefully covers the shell with a tent of twigs and grass and chewed up leaves for extra camouflage.

from bees of the world







This photo from “Bees of the World” by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw, shows an Osmia bee finishing off her nest with a sliver of reinforcing snail shell.

There are some very nice accounts of people observing these industrious little bees, both past and present. Here is an extract from Frisch’s book accompanied by a really nice drawing which illustrates his observation.

“Once when I was out hunting insects, I made a swipe at an oddly flying, bizarre-looking creature. To my surprise all I found nothing in my net apart from a mason bee and a dry stalk. Having read about the tent building habits of of these bees I was intrigued. I released the bee and settled down to watch. After a while I was rewarded by seeing her return, riding on another piece of stalk like a witch on a broomstick.The heavy load slowed her down to such an extent that I just managed to keep her in sight as I ran and she herself guided me to her nest.

Another time I watched the same species nest building on a cow track in a mountain pasture. Here the stalks and twigs were all arranged toward the toe end of the cows footprints, a beautiful adaptation to local conditions. The speed of the building was amazing. One of the bees I watched was just making a partition for which she had collected bits of leaves from a nearby strawberry patch. She kept flying back and forth in a straight line between the plants and the nest”

snail shell bee Frisch

Jean Henri Fabre experimented with giving bees a choice of shell or hollow reed for nesting and concluded that they would only take the shell if the reed was not available possibly because it is more difficult to build a nest in a tapering spiral than in a tube of more or less constant dimensions.
The bees has to calculate that the size of the aperture will accommodate her developing offspring!

“Why, when I offer them simultaneously Snail-shells and reeds of a suitable size, do the old frequenters of the shells prefer the reeds, which in all probability have never before been utilized by their race? Most of them scorn the ancestral dwelling and enthusiastically accept my reeds. Some, it is true, take up their quarters in the Snail-shell; but even among these a goodly number refuse my new shells and return to their birth-place, the old Snail-shell, in order to utilize the family property, without much labour, at the cost of a few repairs. Whence, I ask, comes this general preference for the cylinder, never used hitherto? The answer can be only this: of two lodgings at her disposal the Osmia selects the one that provides a comfortable home at a minimum outlay. She economizes her strength when restoring an old nest; she economizes it when replacing the Snail-shell by the reed.”

There are lots of lovely observations about the snail shell bees in his writings..He describes the different Osmia and which shells they seem to prefer. Go to… search, read, and share his delight. Walter Linsenmaier’s “Insects of the World” details how some bees move the shells to hiding places.

Taking firm hold of the ground with repeated bites they grasp the shell with their legs and haul it after them. Some apply plant paste to parts of the slippery shell enabling their feet to get a firm grip. A few species bury the shell in sandy soil, others protect it with a cover of interwoven pine needles… It is ever a new experience to observe how objectively and with what careful testing such bees work and how penetratingly thorough is their interest in their productions.”

(It is interesting that his illustration predated that of Frisch’s and is very similar and I would imaging that Turid Holldobler who drew the text illustrations for Frisch based her drawings on Linsenmaier’s.)

Whose Shell is This?
For a current, and wonderfully entertaining view of a snail shell bee investigating a shell go to Nico Vereecken’s short film here. Initially it seems that a bee arrives to find the shell already occupied by another but a bee comes back again and again, goes in and out of the shell and turns it over and over.

Watch for the uneasy encounter between the bee and the jumping spider, who is playing king of the castle, and the passing enormous elegant ant!
Nick has built an incredible photographic bee resource which you can find on Flickr here.
Thanks so much to Alan at Norwegica’s Aculeate Blog for first linking to this film!!

The Painting
There are several UK Osmia bees which use snail shells Osmia bicolor, Osmia aurulenta and the little Osmia spinulosa (10mm) which is the one I chose to paint.
Jeremy Early at “Nature Conservation Imaging” refers to them in his excellent Downland Bees” page.

They seem to use a variety of shells so I went out snail shell hunting some time ago only to discover that there are not many land snails to be found here. I eventually found one I thought suitable and made some sketches and then built a little set complete with a tiny bee. (apologies to the very sensitive amongst you, but it’s one that was kindly sent to me).

sketch book sm    

sketch 2     sketch 1

Why did I choose this bee? For the very non scientific reason that it has beautiful blue eyes!

hoplitis 2


The Blue Eyed Osmia Spinulosa, considering the possibility of a new home…

snail shellsm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP approx 8” x 8”

BLOG UPDATE .. May 19th 2010.
Great blog post on Osmia bicolour making her nest in a snailshell.. here: at Antje Schulte’s blog “Four Feet and More

Mr Frederick William Sladen and His Humble Bees

I have been reading “The Humble-Bee” by F.W.L. Sladen. I have the 1912 edition borrowed from my local library, on loan from some other distant library in the USA and it has to go back tomorrow.
I am reluctant to let it go, very reluctant. It’s a piece of Bumble Bee history being the first in-depth study of Bumble Bees and their behaviour to be published in English.
Written in a similar style to Fabre where observation and affection are given equal billing it is a delightful, informative and engaging read.

 title page

Sladen published this book in 1912 at the age of 26 which seems young enough but it was preceded by a 40 page pamphlet which he wrote and published at the tender age of 16.

“The title, scheme, and some of the contents of this book are borrowed from a little treatise printed on a stencil copying apparatus in August 1892.”

What Frederick Sladen calls his “little treatise” was in fact an already knowledgeable study of bumble bees and their behaviour.

I wonder if any sixteen year old these days could produce anything so wise and careful. He was fortunate to be born into a wealthy family with the encouragement of private tutors, but it is still an outstanding achievement.
One of eleven children he lived on the family estate at Ripple Court, near Dover in the UK (which is curiously only a few miles from my last UK home. If only I had known !).

Here he would find bumble bee nests and move them to a place in the garden where he could not only observe them, but care for them with the concern of a fond parent, protecting his bees from parasites, predators and inclement weather.
The book is full of scientific information, species descriptions and  lovely anecdotal observations.
He keeps a nest of B lapidarius in his study and watches them as they fly in and out of the window while he works, he cares for a crippled B terrestris Queen, finds foster mothers for abandoned broods and tirelessly removes earwigs, millipedes and ants from the nests.

There is of course the scientific collector about him and he describes how to make a collection of pinned specimens, which still makes me feel queasy.
Although I have been grateful for specimens from others I just can’t be the one to deliberately end their little lives.

A Two Hour Photo.. Photographing bees in 1912

It’s so easy just to run out with the digital camera now, take a millions shots, hope that one of them will be OK and casually delete the rest.   But if Mr. Sladen was not so fortunate in his technology the excitement and possibilities of photography back then must have made every effort to photograph a living bee worthwhile, and a leap of faith.
On June 17th, 1911 he is endeavouring to take a photograph of a B terrestris Queen on her nest and even gives her a bit of film star touch-up before the shot.

I carried the nest to a suitable spot for taking the picture. To make a satisfactory exposure it was necessary for the queen to sit still for about half-a-minute, and several attempts were a failure; but a successful one was finally made, and the result is shown in the frontis-piece.

During the long ordeal, which lasted two hours, the queen took wing and flew back to her domicile four times. Each time I caught her in my net, and on the last two occasions she was quite pleased to find herself confined therein, having quickly learnt that this was the prelude to coming back to her nest, and she showed great eagerness to find her brood when she was placed on the photographing table, knowing perfectly well that it was there.
Her coat was a little dusty, and she allowed me to brush it clean with a camel’s hair brush as she sat on the brood, just before her picture was taken. This nest eventually developed into a very populous colony.

photo queen

Frederic Sladen’s photo of B terrestris on her nest 1911

The book also has very good colour plates from photographs of his own collection, which makes it seem quite modern. Sadly it seems the original photos were lost and modern editions only have scans of the old printed pages.

sladen bombus prtorum

If like me you can’t afford the 229.00 UK pounds for 1912 edition you can buy a print-on-demand edition via Amazon.
A better option, but still expensive, is the Logaston Press edition from 1989 which has a facsimile of the original 1892 “little treatise” in the appendix.
However you can read and download the whole book here at the outstanding resource that is the Biodiversity Library,’s just not quite the same as the original though, is it?

It has been a delight and a privilege to hold this lovely, tatty, well thumbed old book in my hands. I wonder where it has been in the last 100 years?
Who else has pored over its wonderful contents? And who else after reading it, felt that need to rush out into the garden to look with new eyes at what is going on around them?
Yes, I am extremely reluctant to return this book.

A Bee for Buglife.. go to their show in April!

I promised Buglife something for their annual raffle, so today I have sent them a print of a little watercolour which I painted yesterday. This time I was quite happy with the quality and colour (yes I am very fussy) so I will also be having some for sale at “BUZZ”. I do like people to have a quality product so I now have some good quality watercolour paper and also some professional  finishing spray which protects the print.

single bee sm

This was my first sketch which I am rather fond of and then the watercolour with the cornflower added.

bee2 sm

I have been reading more and more about the plight of bees, the awful effects of pesticides and the loss of habitats, so I really want to do a bit more to help. I am not sure if the originals will sell at the exhibition, whose point is really just to spread the word about the “other” bees”, but I think prints might.

So I will be reviving my dormant Etsy account soon, and if I sell anything I will be able make a donation or two to bee/insect/wildlife charities. Thinking about what Buglife are doing I may well raffle these two original paintings at my exhibition.
The lucky winner of my signed print at the Buglife open day will also get a card of  Bombus pascuorum and an extra gift of a bookmarky thing which will encourage them not only to come to the exhibition but to support bees as well.

print and bkmk
Bookmarks, badges, cards, prints .. well why not !

BUGLIFE. org If you don’t know about Buglife they really are a great organisation, dedicated to

“Conserving the small things that run the world” Buglife is the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates, and we are passionately committed to saving Britain’s rarest little animals, everything from bees to beetles, and spiders to snails.”

I wrote about them a couple of days ago when I heard their wonderful proposal for “rivers of flowers” across the UK, to provide wildlife corridors for bugs. Amongst bee related things on their site you can find:

They are involved in many many projects and they have an open day in April which non members can attend for just £5 for adults and £2.50 for children which includes a light buffet lunch.

Buglife Members Day and Open Day 2010

Saturday 17 April, from 10:45am to 3pm at The Engine Group, 60 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 7RT. There will be talks and workshops, including these,  all of which I would like to hear.

  • Life without chocolate, strawberries and coffee – a world without bugs’
  • ‘Little nippers – Meet the freshwater crabs of Sri Lanka’
  • ‘Dead wood is good wood for the Golden hoverfly’
  • ‘Up on the Downs – chalk grassland butterflies and their conservation’

We will have live bugs, interesting displays, and activities for children. The Buglife team will be there to talk to you about our conservation work, wildlife gardening and how you can get involved.”

It sounds like a fascinating day, I am sorry I can’t be there and of course, if you enter the raffle you might win my little print… but, a life without chocolate?  Unthinkable!

Buzz.. The Bee Exhibition is all set for June, Lumen Centre, London

An Little Oasis of Bee Tranquility.. right in the middle of London!

There are lots of wonderful “Bee” events going on in London this year and of course mine will be one of them ( shameless trumpet blowing and self promotion!)
I am proud to announce “BUZZ …. a Celebration of British Bees and their Flowers” will be held in June from the 1st to the 26th at LUMEN.

bee banner 3

And the venue is just BEAUTIFUL! .. I really couldn’t be more delighted. It‘s the about-to-be-opened gallery of LUMEN the newly opened multi-faith centre in Bloomsbury.

It’s a tucked away, very beautiful space, in my very favourite part of London not far from the British Museum. Leafy squares, book shops, hospitals, Universities, the British Library. Home once to Dickens, Darwin, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolfe, and Yeats.  Memories of the old publishing houses, Faber and Faber, and of course Beatrix Potter’s publisher,  Frederick Warne.
I remember seeing their office by chance, years ago. Bloomsbury is wonderful, such history, such learning, such literature. LUMEN CENTRE from an article in e.architect:

..An exquisitely designed new multi-faith centre for worship and contemplation by Theis and Khan Architects
Lumen Centre Lumen Centre London Lumen Centre multi-faith centre
Lumen URC and Community Centre Photos : Nick Kane

Created within the shell of an existing 1960s United Reformed church, lumen will be used regularly for Christian services as well as offering an open invitation to people of all faiths to use the spaces. The site has a rich history. The 1960s church replaced an older church, which was bombed during the Second World War, and backs on to an ancient burial ground for the people of Bloomsbury, now called St. George’s Gardens.
The new sacred space, known as the Shaft of Light is central to the design. A large-scale intervention, rendered in white, is a spectacular conical, shell-like space, which reaches through the full 11-metre height of the building to a single roof-light. The Shaft of Light offers people from any faith or belief a secluded area for worship or for private gatherings. The quality of the light inside the space subtly changes, depending on the weather and time of year, adding to the sense of peace and separation from the bustle of the outside world.
In addition, a tranquil garden at the rear of the building  offers a contemporary interpretation of a cloister, with slender brushed stainless steel columns supporting an arcade around a central courtyard planted with herbs and silver birch trees. The cloister will be open for people to enjoy a quiet moment of reflection or simply stop for a lunchtime sandwich.

Commissioned by the United Reformed Church, lumen has continued the ancient tradition of commissioning artists and craftspeople. Working with Modus Operandi art consultants, the church has commissioned two artists to create new three dimensional art works, which are carefully integrated within the building.
Internationally acclaimed artist Alison Wilding has created a trio of artworks: a new font, a drinking fountain and a garden fountain,a shallow bronze dish with the inscription “A spring of water, welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The strong architectural form of the Shaft of Light, designed by Theis and Khan Architects is the key point of reference for both the drinking fountain and font.
Lumen Centre London multi-faith centre London multi-faith centre Lumen Centre interior
Lumen URC and Community Centre Photos : Nick Kane

The north window on the street front, features a spiralling, geometric sculptural screen, entitled North Elevation, by rising artist Rona Smith. Made of bronze, the sculpture is suspended within the alcove of the window, and arcs gently
into the main space. The design evokes the traditional imagery of many religions, including Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist. The artwork explores how geometry unites diverse systems of symbolism and representation and reflects lumen’s ethos of inclusive worship for people of all faiths.
The art works which have been commissioned aim to signify universal values, yet each are open to the interpretation of the individual viewer. We hope that they will encourage a sense of contemplation, and a further means of engagement with the centre, bringing together people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds.
Maggie Hindley, (former) minister Minister, lumen comments: “What impressed me about our architects and artists was that they listened, and asked questions, and brainstormed with us and really got to understand our vision before coming up with any proposals; and then they listened some more as the plans evolved. So we got a physical expression of our own goals, but more beautifully and imaginatively than we could have dreamed of.”

Read the whole article here.. although I have not left much out! Also read all about LUMEN, their history and wonderful facilities on their website here. I will be telling you more as the weeks go by.

Browse, Read and Relax The gallery will be sharing a space in part with the newly opened cafe, which we are hoping will be serving honey cake to have with a cup of tea… and maybe other honey themed foods! ..more on that to come…


part of lumen cafe and gallery. And while you are having a refreshing snack you can do some reading as well!

I am delighted to say we are getting support so far from: “the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates,  …passionately committed to saving Britain’s rarest little animals”.  

The Herb Society who are having a “BEE AWARE” year and whose conference this year is all about bees.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust two of whose bees, the Shrill Carder and the Great Yellow I will be painting  for the exhibition.
They will all  be providing  literature on bees, herbs, flowers and gardening  for bees….

And  Brigit from the wonderful “The Big Green Idea” the charity dedicated to showing people how sustainable living can be easy, healthy, inexpensive and fun, will hopefully be having an input too. ….all this and I have only just started asking, so lots more info to come and it will be on the blog and even, maybe, on Twitter..