Bees and Flowers, A Week at Twigworth

I am in the middle of a fantastic week here at Nature in Art at Twigworth Glos. Eight lovely artists joined me at the weekend for 2 days of drawing, painting and talking about all things art and nature.

We drew bugs, beasts, twigs, flowers and plants,  found ground nesting bees, watched huge bumble bees in the willows and mahonias, spotted hairy footed flower bees on the pulmonaria, saw little mason bees peeping out of holes in the walls, watched bee flies and hover flies and more.

We exchanged ideas, knowledge, stories and painting tips and, as always, I learn as much about painting, drawing and life from the company of such interesting and accomplished people as I hope they learn from me.
Thank you Lyn, Sally, Margaret, Owen, Hazel, Lyn, Sarah and Penny for making it such an really enjoyable weekend.

Now I am Artist in Residence for a week and sharing a room with the Bees Abroad Charity. They have a fantastic stand and the observation hive is riveting! I am learning so much about honey bees both here and abroad.



Brian also has a small piece of a stingless bee’s nest from Ghana on show along with some of the microscopic bees.. ( black specs on the right!)

In the next room there is a display of excellent work from Gloucestershire Botanical Art Society. A few bees and bugs have crept in there too.

I have a selection of “Buzz” paintings and sketchbooks and of course my well travelled models who are doing a great job in promoting the understanding of our wild bees. Even timid children who think they are frightened of bees cannot resist a close encounter with a little mason bee. Out in the grounds there are Bumble bees all over a big yellow Mahonia.

Kevin has put up his bee boxes.

and… delight! delight!… the hairy footed flower bees are whizzing around the pulmonaria.


We are all here until Easter Monday. Do come along and have a chat if you can.
I can tell you the home made quiches and cakes are wonderful!

Bees for Real and Bees in Art. “Winged Saviours” at Nature in Art Gallery, Gloucester..Oh, and me too!

I am just getting prepared for 10 days at the wonderful Nature in Art Gallery at Twigworth, Gloucestershire where I am teaching a two day drawing and painting course on Saturday and Sunday, and am Artist in Residence  for a week.
At the same time to celebrate all things bee there is a small exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculptures. “Winged Saviours” runs from March 27th – April 29th It will be fascinating and I am so delighted to be included in the exhibition.

“A small exhibition focusing on bees, a subject matter that has provided inspiration to artists, not just because of the intricate beauty of the bee, but because, in a sense, we should see them as ‘winged saviours’. We have gathered together a selection of work from public and private collections, and had a number of pieces produced especially for this exhibition to help put a focus on the bee through art. Four prints from Graham Sutherland’s famous ‘Bee Series’ will be shown amongst prints by other printmakers like Louise Bird, Greg Poole and Robert Gillmor. Russian artist Vadim Gorbatov and painters like Val Littlewood, Mark Rowney, Janet Melrose, Gary Woodley, Clifford and Rosemary Elliis and Jane Tudge help provide a great diversity of approach.”


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Graham Sutherland… from his bee series

Read more about the exhibition HERE

I am so looking forward to my time there. The workshop I am teaching will be about drawing, painting and looking harder at the smaller things in the natural world.  I am hoping it will be fine weather so we can make the most of the lovely wild grounds there. Live bees! At the same time there will be a stand from the charity Bees Abroad (  together with an observation hive. How wonderful! I am not sure I will be able to drag myself away from it to do any work. Bees Abroad are a small charity who work to support beekeeping in small communities abroad.

“They use their expertise, working in the local community group to develop a viable project which will become self-sustainable. Using indigenous bees and techniques appropriate for each location, Bees Abroad offers training and support in beekeeping including making hives and protective clothing from local materials, managing honeybees, collecting honey safely and handling and storing it hygenically.”

It will be a fascinating 10 days. Do come along if you can and say hello.  Nature in Art Gallery is rather a hidden gem!

Spring Bees on the Buckthorn

On Tuesday, the first day of Spring, the bees were out and about, even in the Empty Garden. I have three things in bloom now, a pretty magnolia just starting, a wild plum of some sort and the biggest hit with the bees, the vicious purging buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica, which has won itself a reprieve of at least one more season by being such a brilliant early bee attractor.


Its thorny, whippy branches are smothered with sweet smelling white blossom. Tiny simple flowers came long before the leaves which are now just beginning to emerge and the bees love it. It hums with honey bees and the occasional huge bumble bee.

I have seen 2 very dark B terrestris, a white tailed of some sort, B pratorum and what looked like a B lapidarius. Then there are the little bees whose identity I am much less certain about.
Most are flying too high for me to get a decent photograph but below are just a few. Standing for a while and watching them all makes me realise how quiet some of the solitary bees are. You have to look hard for them.

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One of the many honey bees..

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..and a hover fly.


Some bees come to rest nearer the ground. This gorgeous gingery bee with gingery hairs on its hind legs I think might be Andrena clarkella (*** please note Alan’s comment below so I am revising this to A bicolor… Will I ever get to grips with these mining bees!! )

This one, who I am not sure about, was sunning itself on a magnolia flower. (**for ID see Alan’s comment below..possibly A flavipes)


It’s so lovely to see the magnolia in bloom. Evolving before bees, magnolias don’t rely on flying pollinators but the big smooth petals provide a handy sunbathing spot. I have seen several insects taking a break there.
Our tree is very small, nothing like the magnificent grandifloras of Florida, but it is a poignant reminder of Leu Gardens and all my friends there, both legged and leafy.

Big Bee Value at B&Q

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The DIY store B&Q sometimes have some very good plant bargains, (US readers think “Home Depot”)  Yesterday in Huntingdon a stand of marked down heathers were basking in the early afternoon sun and were covered with bees!

I counted 12 x B terrestris, 2 x B lucorum, 1 x B pratorum, 3 x honey bees and had my first sighting of a solitary bee this year. (Hopefully ID to come.) Some were busy feeding and some tucked in between the flowers, sleeping. For once I happened to have my camera with me so took a few quick snaps.

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2 Buff Tailed Bumble Bees, B terrestris

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B pratorum, The Early Bumble Bee

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A rather blurry B lucorum, The White Tailed Bumble bee.

Also enjoying the heather were quite a few flies including two hover flies, which, after my one day course I can now hopefully ID. One was Scaeva pyrastri, the little black and white striped one ( no photo sadly) and this one,

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which I guess is an Eristalis, a Drone Fly.

Heather is brilliant for bees and there were reports on BWARS, of bees on the heather in Windsor Great Park all through the winter. See Winter Bumble Bees thread on the Forum.

On a neighboring stand, high up, were some small narcissi being visited by both B terrestris and this gorgeous B Hypnorum.

B hypnorum, Tree Bumble Bee.

I had not really thought of daffs as a particularly good bee plant but I guess these early bees will just find nectar and pollen where they can. They were also visiting primroses, and big flowered pansies.

It is quite a small plant department at Huntingdon but does demonstrate the advantage of having lots of flowering plants all together, making it a worth while stop off for the bees. My three crocuses are not quite doing the job!

Bees in your Bonnet

The bees were delightful to watch and I stayed for about 20 minutes, the staff mercifully just ignored me and although I am not too fond of heathers I did buy a box, (how could I not!) to help fill the Empty Garden along with a great bargain sedum, pretty little “Rose Carpet” which will, I hope, thrive in a sunny spot and be enjoyed by many insects.

I had to gently shake the heathers so as not to inadvertently take home a sleeping bee and I also had to shake my hair because, as well as the heathers, the large drowsy bees are also partial to my hair, which is, to put it mildly rather fluffy and unruly.

Although I seem unable to fight off the inevitable slide into 3rd age eccentricity, I am just not ready to arrive at a shop counter, albeit to buy plants, with bees in my hair .. no, really, not yet.
Perhaps I should take it as a compliment that these lovely creatures find me a reassuring resting point.
I remember years ago waking up one spring morning having slept with the window open, to find a large bumble bee next to me on the pillow. It was snuggled up in my hair, buzzing softly and was rather grumpy when asked to move.

Bees in your hair. It is the stuff of limericks.. where is Edward Lear when you need him?

Easton Bees, my first 2012 bee photos

My first 2012 bee photos! Hurrah.  After a great drawing workshop at Stamford Arts centre with my lovely students I went up to Easton Walled Gardens to catch their Snowdrop event.

I am so very fond of this beautiful tranquil place and the gleaming snowdrops were everywhere,  and so many  different varieties, some tall and stately and other low growing and shallow cupped.
Their beauty for me lies in their delicate little nodding heads and  that pure whiteness set against the dark background of winter trees. I may get down to a sketch or two next week. In the class today we were looking at working with pen and ink and this would be a perfect subject.


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And then I saw just two big fat glossy Buff Tailed Bumble bee queens, Bombus terrestis, both on the crocus flowers.

Here’s a short sequence of one bee as she moves from one flower to another, almost disappearing before backing out again.

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Crocus are a very important early food source for all early bees and so are snowdrops.. but in all those acres of snowdrops I saw only one bee, yet two bees on the relatively few crocus.

I am wondering if, when a choice is available, they prefer a crocus? It seems particularly appropriate and auspicious that I should photograph my first bees at Easton where, in June, I will be showing my hopefully expanded “Buzz” show, as part of their Meadow Days Celebrations,  and this time with a two day workshop. It is a week I am looking forward to immensely.

First Bees… at last, a Butterfly and Arums

I am so delighted to report my first bee sightings of this year.

Not in the empty garden of the Ugly Bungalow where as yet there are only 3 crocuses in bloom but in nearby Brampton Wood where, this morning, in glorious sunshine, a huge and very loud Buff tailed Bumble Bee queen zoomed past my ear.

She came so close I had to duck. She flew off into the wood and I wondered what she will find to forage on? Then further along, glowing such a brilliant yellow against the browns and greys of the leafless wood, a gorgeous brimstone butterfly flew past. It seemed quite magical to see this little piece of fluttering summer colour in the dark wood. It lifted my spirits even more.
I was in the wood to find some bits and pieces for my first drawing workshop on Saturday morning but also just to get out and enjoy the sun. It has seemed a long and dreary month.
I am still unable to work but finding beautiful lichen-covered twigs, little acorn cups, old seed pods and new catkins cheered me up immensely.
The birds were singing their little hearts out and pushing up through the mossy banks were tiny flat rosettes of primroses and everywhere, unfurling their elegant leaves were wild arums, some spotted and some plain.

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These curious plants, always viewed with some suspicion due to their phallic shape, their insect trapping mechanisms and poisonous berries, have many wonderfully descriptive names, Cuckoo Pint, Lords and Ladies, Adam and Eve, Jack in the Pulpit, Wake Robin, Snake Meat, Deadman’s Fingers and more.

Some appear quite innocent until you look further into their derivation .. ie “pint” is from the Anglo Saxon, “pintle” meaning penis.
I don’t think my mother ever enlightened me of this true meaning.

There is a website compiled by Lynden Swift where you will find a list of regional names and more fascinating info.

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Two woodcuts of this snaky little plant (interestingly almost reversed, by copying?) from Leonhard Fuchs herbals, the coloured one from 1542 from the Smithsonian collection of Renaissance Herbals here and the other from 1545 from Yale Library here.

Fuchs was an advocate of the use of naturalistic images based on real observation which together with text gave double proof of identity. In the past when plants were mainly for medicinal purposes, the constant copying and re-copying of over simplified images led to some disastrous mistaken identities.

I thought I just might find some more bees in the local garden centre which has many more flowers than I do.. but all I could find were just two honey bees. Both had full pollen baskets one bright yellow and the other almost white.

I would guess the first had been visiting the crocuses and the other, where I found them both, foraging from the Christmas roses.

In 1538‘ in The Names of Herbes’, William Turner writes of the Arum that it “groweth in euery hedge almost in Englande aboute townes in the sprynge of the yere.” It think sprynge might well be sprynging 🙂

A Very Merry Christmas to you All.

At last, the year is on the turn and I am feeling optimistic about 2012.

I am hoping for a mild Christmas so that I can continue painting the shed, but if it’s cold and wet I shall be inside reading my Christmas book “Creating a Forest Garden” by Martin Crawford.

True, it is slightly ambitious for my mud patch but I am optimistic about that too.
I have just finished Marty’s honey bee for her site Beezations,
Her bees, she tells me, are shivering upstate! I sympathise. Marty, I wish you and the girls well for 2012.

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And so, bee friends, bee converts and even those still not quite sure; while you are browsing the garden catalogues please add a few seeds for bees to your basket, order an early willow, some late Michelmas daisies, or plan where to put that bee house.

Your reward will be an exuberant, productive and buzzing garden.. and what could be nicer.

I wish you all Season Greetings and thank you for all your support, on the blog, through your kind comments and emails, for buying prints, postcards, originals and BUZZ books.
You have all helped keep me and the bees going and make the ups and downs of 2011 end on a high note.


A Buzz in your Ears……some Bee Earrings

I have, for the last year or so worn some very sweet little bee stud earrings given to me by my friend Brenda in the USA. I am very fond of them and I am always looking out for other bee jewellery.
In the summer I went to the wonderful Birdfair at Rutland Water. It’s a fabulous event.
Representatives from almost every country in the world offer holidays, safaris and birding trips to die for. There are cameras and binoculars bigger than anything I have ever seen  before, demos, book stalls, info on birds and wildlife and of course some fabulous artists.

Jewellery designer Anna De Ville from Birmingham was there and her silver, nature inspired pieces are just gorgeous!

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Her website is

I was admiring her earrings and brooches and as we were chatting, I asked her if she had ever made any bees… “No”,  she said… “Well”,  I said, “They’re rather nice and lots of people are very fond of them”
A few weeks later Anna emailed me .. she had got the BUZZ! and was working on two bee designs. Here they are: If you are looking for some pretty silver bee earrings just drop her a line.

The tiny bee studs…. which retail at £25.00 per pair

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And the Bumble Bees, Bombus terrestris, which look rather like little flowers as well, they retail at £55.00 per pair.

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My photos do not do them justice They are lovely quality, hallmarked and made with great care.

Nice Christmas pressies for bee lovers!

Snail Shell Bees: Days 4 and 5. Finishing stages and a word about my paints.

The last stages of a painting can be the most nerve racking and the most rewarding.
Will I overwork it? Will I drop paint, tea or coffee on it. Will it look anything at all as I had hoped?

I had decided right at the start to add some colour to the main snail shell and the pine needles.
I wanted a little more colour in this painting to help unite everything,  but without cluttering the image with too much detail.

Unfortunately I did forget to take step by step photos of this stage. ( just when my friend John had congratulated me on remembering!!). When I work, I put the radio on and listen to plays, discussions, poetry, book reviews and news etc etc and tend to get engrossed in both the work and what I am listening to and forget to get the camera out.


It took me two more days to finish the painting.
I worked over many areas of the pencil  to iron out any wobbles and keep the tones balanced. I painted the shell lightly, worked on the twigs and leaves and added the little boat sailing by the Needles.



Then strengthened the shell colour again and some more of the pencil work.


Here it is about finished. It all looks rather too dark and contrasty  compared with the original, in reality it is softer, but this gives you an idea. Pencil work is very hard to either photograph or scan.

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The Snail Shell Bees, Osmia bicocolour and the Needles.
Watercolour and Pencil on Fabriano Artistico HP. 12.5 inches x 14.5 inches

Was I pleased?… Yes, thankfully,I was. It’s no fun to work on something for a week and then hate it!
But, believe me, sometimes it does happen.
But I have become very involved with these two bees and their little world and will be sad to see them go. I always put a piece away for a few days before sending it off to its new home.
Niggles will disappear and glaring errors may become more apparent but there does come a point at which you have to stop! As I write this the painting is in the post!

Seeing the Snail Shell Bees in real life

I would so like to see these wonderful little bees in real life. I have of course watched the wonderful films on the Internet which I spoke about in my previous posts.
I know they are not common or perhaps are under recorded but to my delight I recently found a couple of reports of sightings not too far away from here.
One further north near Peterborough from April this year on Mollyblobs blog here  and another one in Bedfordshire by Keith Balmer on Bedfords Fauna and Flora Blog here with a wonderful photo of the female bee flying with a twig.

Thanks to you both for posting about them. This gives me hope and next year I may be lucky!


A quick word about my Graham Paints.

I am about to write a small piece about my bee paintings for the good people at Graham Paints in America. I started using their gorgeous rich and creamy watercolours when I was in the USA.  I painted my first set of bees for Deborah with them and  all my “Buzz” bees for the exhibition.

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Not only are they rich but they have a slight sheen to them when they are applied thickly. I do use quite thick paint and like to push it around quite a bit even on a small scale and I like the sheen. About half way through Deborah’s commission I was reading a bit more about them and discovered this:….
from M Graham’s Website:

“Our watercolor is created with exceptional amounts of pigment in a time honored binding medium of pure gum arabic and natural blackberry honey
Why Honey?
As an essential ingredient in our binding medium, honey contributes to moistness for smooth, easily controlled applications, increased pigment concentrations and freedom from reliance on preservatives. Because of the honey medium, our color resists hardening on the palette, or in the tube. It dilutes easily, often after months of disuse.!

… and it’s all true. It seems a poetic coincidence that I am painting bees with blackberry honey paints! …  🙂 They are wonderful paints… more on this in a separate post.

Snail Shell Bees: Step 1

I have nearly finished this painting and it has been fascinating to work on.

Although I had roughed it out I wasn’t really sure how it would turn out at all and I had been quite anxious about starting it. But as it developed, it took on a life of its own and that’s just how I like it.

The atmosphere and the “feel”of a piece is much more important to me than technical perfection, which is why I could never be a scientific illustrator. I sometimes think it must be like writing a novel or perhaps a short story. You become drawn in this other world that you are creating, sometimes more involved in this imaginary world, rather than in the one you are really living in.

My two bees became characters with a purpose and I have drawn them as well as I could. The bees this time are Osmia bicolour bees, both male and female. Today the male who will be sitting on a snail shell.

The first steps, ideas and roughs and research.

Some people ask me how long I need to do a painting and I guess I need at least a week of thinking and research time before I do anything. I really need to get to know my subject, understand how it lives, where it lives and a bit about its character.

This is sometimes  the slowest and most agonising part of the work,  because all you have is a piece of white paper and you have to start make all the decisions.
It could be anything, any size, any colour, any composition but you have to bring something to life, create something from the  simple 2 dimensions of that  piece of white paper.
You have to work a bit of magic. I sit and doodle I read and I make little thumbnails until I get something which seems to work. That’s what  I usually send to a client and I have to tell them  that the sketch is just a guide, because things will change and more importantly need to be able to change. It has to be my decision.
I would now rather make a painting that pleases me and have it rejected by a client than make something I am not happy with to please someone else.
So to recap, this was the thumbnail I sent to Carol and Peter.
The two Osmia bees, she is carrying a twig of some kind to cover her shell nest with. The male  hanging about .. as male bees tend to, waiting for a mate.


This thumbnail was very small about A6 I guess, and done some time ago.

Looking at it again I re-draw and re-think it a bit. I am going to include something personal for Carol and Peter, just as I did for the B hypnorum commission.

It’s more meaningful for them and is an interesting addition to the painting. It’s bigger than any of my other bee paintings and it has two bees this time.
The image area is 12.5 x 14 .5 inches approx painted on a bigger size 19 x 22 inch size sheet of Fabriano Artistico HP 300.
It was originally going to be slightly larger still, but there is a “comfortable” size for these bees and I had to reduce it a bit. It depends what your aim is of course, but large bees can sometimes look a little unnerving!

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This is now sketched out at the size I want to paint. I have changed the position of the male as I want him to look more at us.
The gaze and the engagement with the viewer is important. I have always felt that to walk out in the countryside is to be observed by many tiny creatures. I like that feeling and I am happy to slide away from strict scientific constraints to create an image I want. After all, this is my painting.

Starting to paint

My current set up is not ideal. We live in two rooms in total, a big bedsit I guess, so everything is rather cramped  and the light is not good. But I have a lamp and a laptop stand to angle the board. It has to do for now and could be worse!

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I am always nervous about the first layers of colour, worried about keeping the surface clean and worried that I will not be able to give the bee character and life.
But I need to get some colour down quickly, to get rid of some of the accusatory white paper!

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I have put some pieces of paper round the image to try to keep the Fabriano clean.
I am not really a precise worker and do push the paint around quite a bit…splashes are frequent :).
I guess it is a bit of a cliché but I need to paint the eyes early on. I have to establish a rapport!

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I build up with brush strokes that follow the shape of the hair or whatever it is I am painting. It seems to help to give it an underlying structure, even if it is obliterated later on.

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I am jumping a couple of steps for fear this should be like “watching paint dry” .. on with the wings. I don’t put too much detail in.

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and then a tidy up. It’s mostly watercolour with some white gouache for the fine hairs. The hair on a bee has different qualities on different parts of its body. Slightly silkier under the thorax and slightly bristlier on the top.

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This is the end of day one. So far so clean!