Bombus pratorum and the Hairiness of Bees

For this six bee commission I  have decided to paint the male of this species. I saw so many of them last year and they are simply enchanting. They were zipping around the tiny flowers of the cotoneaster in the churchyard here.

They are easy to spot because of their bright lemony yellow colour and orangy tail, yellow moustache and long silky hair. They are extremely pretty.

The Hairiness of Bees

Bumble bees differ quite considerably in the quality of their hair. B hortorum for example, has quite long scruffy hair whereas B lapidarius  has closer short dense hair more like velvet. The hair may differ between male and female.
The term used for bumble bee hair is “pile” (which always makes me think of carpet).
The hairs are referred to as “setae” and have a particular quality. Here is the explanation from the excellent which is packed with expert info.

“The other adaptation of the hair is that many are branched or feathery enabling more pollen to stick to them, as can be seen in the scanning electron microscope images (SEM) right, and below.




“When flying a bee builds up an electrostatic charge, the parts of a flower are usually well earthed, the stigma (the bit that leads to the ovary) more so than other flower parts, so as the bee enters the flower the pollen is attracted to the bee’s hairs and even grains of pollen that are not touched by the hairs can jump a few millimetres to the nearest hair. When a pollen covered bee enters a flower, because the stigma is better earthed than the other parts of the flower the charged pollen is preferentially attracted to it. So even if the large, hairy, bumblebee fails to brush against the stigma, the pollen can jump the few millimetres necessary for pollination.”  Text and images from

Below another Scanning Electron Microscope photo of the hairs of US species B fraternus from Duke University.

Bumblebee_Bombus_fraternus_sem1_hair duke uni

A photo submitted to Springwatch in 2010 demonstrates the attraction of pollen to bees!


Little bee © Mark Johnson from the 2010 Springwatch Flickr group!

Bombus Pratorum and Cotoneaster

The cotoneaster, where I watched the bees last May, has almost overtaken a particularly nice old grave in a part of the churchyard where wildflower spotting signs are displayed in the summer.
I am assuming it’s a Cotoneaster horizontalis, one I particularly like with its spreading, low growing habit, the tiny dainty flowers and leaves contrasting with the lichen covered gnarly branches. There are a couple of small ones in the garden here. I hope there will be bees!

A little B pratorum male.

Working out the pose and composition.

b prat 2 bg

Mr Fluffy :)…. Painting the hair slightly ruffled hair will be a challenge.

Buzz updates & B Hortorum and Honeysuckle, early stages.

As I said in a recent post my Dad was not one to mope about 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

Two Lovely Bees for Liz; The Early Bumble Bee and the Grey Mining Bee.

The last few weeks have been very busy and, with hardly any internet connection, very frustrating blogwise.
However in my makeshift studio at my father’s house, (rickety picnic table with clip light fixed to hoe handle) I could at least work on my two bee commissions.

It gives me great pleasure to work on commissions because they are a chance to make paintings which are very personal to your clients. We will discuss the whys and wherefores at some length and this collaborative approach means they will have a painting which is just for them and has a resonance and meaning beyond just the image.

So Liz and I had discussed which bee and why and decided on the Grey Mining Bee which is such a favourite with its beautiful black and white silky coat and secondly the lovely Early Bumble Bee with her smart red rump. There were several things which made these choices special to Liz.

She particularly wanted the ginkgo leaves to be included as she has a magnificent old ginkgo tree growing in her garden. So the leaves I drew are from her tree.
The hawthorn leaves were from the local hedgerow and the two little bees had been found near Lincoln, which was a strange coincidence because Liz once lived near there many years ago. I had written about the Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria  before (see “The Glamorous Grey Mining Bee”)

Here is Liz’ bee hovering above a sprig of hawthorn, a favourite flower with this and many other early bees.

final cineraria 2

The Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria and Hawthorn.

Watercolour and pencil 9 x 9” I drew and wrote about handsome the Early Bumble Bee here Bombus pratorum …and Mr. Sladen” and included Sladen’s poignant piece about the death of the queen. It’s a lovely piece of writing as is all the writing in his wonderful book about bumble bees, The Humble Bee’ It’s Life History and How To Domesticate It.

I now have the reprinted copy which also contains the facsimile of his first handmade bee book. It’s completely charming.

Here then is Liz’ Early Bumble Bee flying up through the ginkgo leaves which are catching a light spring breeze. Bees do not forage from ginkgo trees but Liz’ garden looked to be a haven for wild bees and I just know she will be seeing these pretty bees in the spring next year.

ginkgo and bee

The Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum and Ginkgo leaves.

Watercolour and pencil 9 x 9”. I am so delighted when people commission a bee. It’s not perhaps the most usual request but gives me hope that bees are getting a higher profile and winning a well deserved place in people’s hearts.
I am really looking forward to the day when bees outsell fluffy kittens…OK, I know… I may have to wait a while :).

There is more work to be done to popularise bees, their undoubted charm and tireless good works and I will be continuing that next year both in the UK and in the USA… But, for the next few weeks I will be somewhere completely different.

I will be seeing what is happening in New Orleans for a while! Bees ? I hope so. What else? Who knows. It will just be a voyage of discovery!

The Common Carder Bee and Lavender

Back in September while I was home in Lincolnshire I was beginning to take a bit more notice of the bees that were still around in the garden. There were the big bumbles and honey bees, but also lots of these pretty dainty gingery bees which I now know are Bombus pascuorum (L. Pascuum: of the meadow) the Common Carder Bee. They don’t look like the archetypal bumble bee because they are not so obviously striped and, like yesterdays B pratorum, are small and dainty.


pasc indentity sm

B Pascuorum: male 13 –14mm, left,  and Queen 16-18mm /worker 10-15mm right I watched them, one sun drenched afternoon, picking their way through the last of the lavender flowers which I had been sent to trim. (you can see the dead heads on the right.)

There were just a few remaining blossoms which I could not bring myself to cut down, much to my father’s bemusement and slight irritation! I left them, untidy stragglers that they were, for the bees.

my pasc lincs sept sm

What I now know is Bombus pascuorum on the remaining lavender in Lincs in September.

The bee above is, I am pretty sure, a male, due to the long antennae and I can’t see a pollen basket either.  They are called “carder bees” because of their habit of using “combed “ bits of vegetation and moss to cover over their nests which they will make in tussocky grass or in old deserted animal burrows.

They are very hairy little bees, never losing the thick tufty gingery hair on their thorax. Some bumble bees develop  a definite bald spot here, as did my bombus hortorum,  see my post “A Forlorn and Balding Bee”.

Again my source for nearly all my bumblebee info is from the excellent I sat and watched them for some time buzzing round the lavender and saw how they have a very endearing way of  swinging their little front legs forward when approaching a flower, preparing to land or grasp the flower.. so here is my carder bee approaching the last of the lavender.
carder sketch 2 carder bee sketch3

The Common Carder Bee, Bombus Pascuorum and Lavender 

bombus pascuorum sml

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP.  6 x 8 inches.

I realise that this is the last of the Bumble Bees I intended to paint for the exhibition, but of course there are others, and some very interesting ones, that we could see in the UK.
So I just might try to fit in a “Shrill Carder Bee” or the recently arrived “Tree Bumble Bee” or even the Short Haired Bumblebee who is coming back to us from New Zealand.. you can read all about these at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Bombus pratorum: the Early Bumble Bee, Questing Queens, Nests and the wonderful Mr.Sladen.

Bombus pratorum ( L Pratum meadowland). Although known as the “ Early Nesting Bumble Bee” this pretty little Bumble Bee is not the earliest to be seen in the UK but usually one of the first.
Also confusingly, there are considerable colour variations but a rough guide is that queens, workers and males all have orangey red tails, and the male has more yellow hair on the thorax and of course the wonderful yellow moustache.

They are small, short tongued bees who cannot easily access the nectar from vetches, preferring the shallower flowers of the daisy family, dandelions and in the spring, willow flowers. They are described as having a characteristically rounded dumpy shape.

pratorum id sm

Left Male 11-13 mm: Right: Queen 15-17mm and similarly coloured workers 10-12mm

Queens and Nests Normally active from March the big handsome Queen bees will be seen cruising for suitable nesting spots. She will not be too fussy about where she makes her nest and like many other bumble bees will take advantage of abandoned mouse nests, tangles of dead grass, empty bird boxes or old nests.
I have seen big bumble bees meandering around in the spring in that seemingly aimless way, I realise now they they were just queens looking for good nest sites. Again, from the excellent (from whom I have learnt so much!)

“It is at this time that you most commonly find bumblebees straying into your house and behaving strangely. They will investigate any dark corner, flying slowly and sometimes even disappearing down holes, or even into pockets. They seem oblivious to their surroundings, and not at all interested in flowers.”

bee house sm

I found this charming little illustration from a version of the equally charming Anna Botsford Comstock’s “Handbook of Nature”. She writes;

“In early May one of the most delightful of spring visitations is one of these great buzzing queens flying low over the freshening meadows”

Bumble bee nests are not as regimented and conformist as those of the honey bee. They look like a jumble of bubbles, rather like the inside of a giant Aero, but are still beautifully and ingeniously crafted. Karl von Frisch in Animal Architecture” describes two of his collection of nests;

I have in my possession a wagtails’s nest from a sheltered spot under the eaves of a boathouse. In its soft padded hollow I found not eggs but the nest of a bumble bee. An even more cozy abode was chosen by a colony of early bumble bees ( bombus pratorum) that made their nest in a basket of chicken feathers. when I opened it I found the feathers immediately surrounding the hollow place that contained the the comb, were stuck together to form a thick crust, which made an excellent insulating layer between the nest cavity proper and the fluffy mass of the feathers.. … I assumed that the material was wax or resin collected from trees…but wondered how the bees had managed to work such hard substances into the loose mass of feathers”

But thirty years later when Frisch had a chemical analysis made he was surprised to find this crust was made of sugar!

“The bumble bees had obviously used either nectar or thickened honey from their storage jars to moisten the feather so that the whole dried to a dense solid crust “ Clever clever bees!

There are many illustrations of bumble bee nests but this is a particular favourite of mine. The nest of Bombus pratorum from the beautifully illustrated 1923 Die Europäischen Bienen by H Friese from excellent German wild bee site here

bombus pratorum

I have also been reading Frederick W L Sladen’s ‘The Humble Bee’ It’s Life History and How To Domesticate It.

People who read my blog will know how much I love the lyrical writing of naturalists from earlier days, just for the affection and gentleness which I find lacking in much modern writing. This beautiful piece about the quiet end of the Bombus pratorum queen had me in tears !

The End of the Old Queen “In the case of B. pratorum, and probably of other species whose colonies end their existence in the height of summer, the aged queen often spends the evening of her life very pleasantly with her little band of worn-out workers. They sit together on two or three cells on the top of the ruined edifice, and make no attempt to rear any more brood. The exhausting work of bearing done, the queen’s body shrinks to its original size, and she becomes quite active and youthful-looking again. This well-earned rest lasts for about a week, and death, when at last it comes, brings with it no discomfort. One night, a little cooler than usual, finding her food supply exhausted, the queen grows torpid, as she has done many a time in the early part of her career; but on this occasion, her life-work finished, there is no awakening.

Thank you Gloria from Pollinators Welcome and Square Metre for posting this.

More lovely writing from Mr Sladen soon.

The Painting

My Queen Bee however is alive and well .. I have not quite finished the background yet but again I have run out of time today. I am painting her contemplating a suitable nest site, her busy life all ahead of her..


pratorum sketch sm


Bombus pratorum the Early Bumble Bee.

bombus pratorum sm

Watercolour and pencil .. not quite finished.. I blame it on Twitter!

The White Tailed Bumble Bee and the Short but Merry Life of the Male Bumble Bee.

This is another of the Natural History Museum’s “Big Six” common UK Bumble Bees and very similar to B hortorum.  (I think some of these bees are very hard to distinguish from each other).
Bombus lucorum has an all white tail (mostly)and the yellow stripes are a clearer more lemony yellow, than those of B terrestris.


lucorum ident

Bombus lucorum: male left and queen/worker right

The males may have varying amounts of yellow on their thorax too! Its all quite difficult for a beginner. I have chosen to paint the male. He has the most charming moustache and it gives me the opportunity to write a little about the male of the species.

Males are much smaller than females and have no pollen baskets on the hind legs, which is fine as they don’t really have much fetching and carrying to do!


White tailed bumble bee by Steve McWilliam from

The Life of the Male Bumble Bee

“Short” really sums it up, but by turns frantic, in his search for a lovely mate, and lazy, in that he does no work to help with the colony. But then it’s hard to blame him as he really has little chance to contribute much.
One of the last bees to emerge from the nest, the males are not even a twinkle in the Queen’s eye until after she and her workers have established the colony. As explains, the arrival of the males signifies the decline of the colony.

“The production of males usually signals the beginning of the end of the co-operation and organisation of the nest. The males drink the stores of honey, but do not forage to replace it. “

Once he has left the nest he is not, generally, allowed to return so must resign himself to a hedonistic life of chasing queen bees, drinking nectar and sleeping in flowers.  His sole purpose is to mate. (Although its seems that some more enlightened American bumble bee males,  a breed of “new bee” I guess, do lend a hand in incubating the young.)

After the males have left the new young virgin queens will begin to emerge and the game is on. Courtship rituals depend on the species but all the males will spend a considerable time on the look-out for a mate.
Sometimes they will perch on some high vantage point and adopt a “knock ‘um dead” approach, zooming in and literally knocking the female to the ground, some lay sweetly smelling pheromone trails to attract a mate and some, abandoning all semblance of romance just hang around the nest entrance and pounce.. something like a night club I suppose.

Some people, noticing a sudden increase in bumble bee activity in the summer, become nervous and think the bees may have suddenly become more aggressive, but stinging you is the very last thing on the male bees mind!
It’s interesting that different species of bees will patrol for mates at specific heights. Bombus lapidarius, terrestris and this little lucorum male will conduct tree top high romance while sylvestris and hortorum hang out nearer the ground.

This patrolling behaviour was noticed by Darwin .. here is a passage from “Bees of the World” by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw:

“He observed that several male bumble bees flew along well-defined routes in his son’s garden. He enlisted the help of his grand children in following them and it transpired that the bees flew along circuitous routes. Darwin’s notebooks show that he speculated correctly as to the nature of these circuit flights. He notes how several males of Bombus hortorum patrolled the same circuit and landed repeatedly  at the same spots, which he suspected were scented by the bees. He wondered of the bees at their landing places “Is it like dogs at a corner stone?”” ….

Nice to be Darwin’s grandchildren..if a bit dizzying..

The Painting

I decided to have a front  view of this little bee to show off moustache, perching on some leaves.  I was researching about how important willow trees were to bees, especially as they are an early nectar source for spring bees, and happened upon James’ blog Musings of a Surrey Beekeeper.

He was feeling guilty about cutting back his willow.  Being a new bee keeper as I am a new bee artist, he was not aware of how important willows are either. But they didn’t make it easy for him:

”Willow has this uncanny knack of reminding you that it is a very efficient whip.You turn your face towards it and out of nowhere this little slither of willow just whacks you across the face and it stings – especially in the cold weather. It is almost like it is getting you back for something!” Read

It was the bees James.. the bees…. Anyway I included some willow leaves for James, and to appease his bees!

luc sk 2sm


The Delightful Little Bombus lucorum male.. on the lookout for a girlfriend.~

bombus lucorum sm

The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee and Clover

I had to include clover in one of the bumble bee paintings because the bees  are such crucial  pollinators for this important crop.
Bombus terrestris, the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee must be one of the most common bumble bees we see in the UK, recognisable (as you might expect), by the Buff coloured section of the tail and its two yellow stripes which are a deeper yellow that those of the B hortorum.

 terrestris ident

I still have the small disintegrating sample which I brought back from the UK last year, which has been useful.

I sketched and wrote about it before, in regard to “nectar stealing” here.   I won’t repeat myself but will shamelessly re-quote this delightful extract about bumble bee behaviour from the wonderful, which seems quite apt, given the date and may well strike a chord with some.

“I get a huge number of emails from people asking me why their bees are sick, when in fact they are just males who have spent the day chasing queens and drinking nectar and then stayed out all night. Sometimes it rains and they get soaking wet, but they will recover once they drink or get warmed up by the sun. Sleeping inside a disk or bowl shaped flower is a good strategy for these bumblebees as research has shown that the temperature at the base of the bowl, near the source of nectar, can be as much as 10 °C higher than the surrounding air temperature.

Happy Valentine’s day all! I hope the sun shines on you. It’s damn cold here I can tell you and not the weather for either man or beast to be sleeping off a hangover in a flower..

Good news for Bumble Bees in the UK .

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has just been voted the most worthy eco-project 2010, from the ‘Live For the Outdoors’ website  and its  Pembrokeshire path project, will now be funded with EUR30,000.
Pippa Raynor, the Conservation Officer who will be working on the project explains what they will be doing:

“We will be creating a wildflower-rich habitat to support rare bumblebees along a new 10km path in the Pembrokeshire National Park. By connecting key sites, this attractive route through spectacular scenery will help prevent the national extinction of the shrill carder bee.

The project will benefit lots of other wildlife too; Wales, like the rest of the UK, has lost most of its wildflower grasslands, so creating and restoring these habitats will benefit the plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other beasties that depend on them.
It will also create a lovely place to walk, with flowers and bumblebees along the path that takes walkers, horseriders
and cyclists through areas that were previously inaccessible, thanks to the new route provided by the MOD.”

Sounds wonderful…Lucky  Pembrokeshire! I am looking forward to the possibility of seeing and painting a Shrill Carder bee, they are really pretty! Meanwhile back to Bombus terrestris, 2 early sketches: In the second one I bent the clover head over a little more than the first.

bomb terr sketchsmterrest sk 2 sm

And in the end I tilted it over a bit more still… these are fairly substantial bees after all. I may add the leaves later when I look at the set as a whole. No more time left today!


Bombus terrestris: The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee and Clover

bombus terrestris sm

Watercolour on Arches HP 6 x 7 inches

Red Tailed Bumble Bee and Chives.

The beautiful and very handsome queen Bombus lapidarius, the Red Tailed Bumble Bee or “Stone” Bumble Bee, from its habit of nesting under stones or in walls.

I sketched this one in November. This is the bee that Thomas Belt back in 1896 felt would be the preferred pollinator over B terrestris for the New Zealand clover crop, mostly because of B terrestris’ naughty nectar robbing habit.
Belt also has a nice account of  B lapidarius’ bad temper.
Read more in my previous posts The Beautiful but Grumpy Bombus Lapidarius and Floral Larceny and Nectar Robbing.

The queen is large and a glossy black with the flame red tail. The workers are much smaller with similar colouring and the males still have the red tail but have 2 yellow stripes on the thorax.

lap ident sm

male, left and female/worker right, from my ID sketches.

Because of its rather short temper it might not be the hot choice as an aid to pollination unless perhaps you intend to grow fields of onions, because although these are relatively short tongued bees they do like chives and the allium family in general.

They will spend time clambering around the flower head, which is comprised of many small florets, gathering a sip of nectar at each stop.

Chives Allium schoenoprasum

Surely every garden must have chives?  When I was home in the summer they were very alive with bees and hover flies. But even without any interest in bees they are so pretty, easy to grow and wonderful to cook with.
I would lift a few potatoes, simply boil them and serve them tossed with butter and fresh chives… delicious..


Image by V. J. Matthew from Shutterstock.

Good companions

Chives are also very good companion plants, sow them amongst your carrots, tomatoes and brassicas, to help not only to repel bad bugs, but improve both flavour and growth. I wonder how?

I was also interested to read that they seem to help prevent scab in apple trees. The ancient unnamed apple trees at home are full of scab so I will have to send my father some seeds.

Just like cornflowers in my last post, you can add the florets to salads, for both prettiness and flavour, and of course if you happen to be plagued by evil spirits, hanging up a bunch of chives will do the trick.

The Wing Problem.

Deciding the position of the wings is always a problem. Sometimes they can cover too much of the body and therefore the pattern and colours of the bees.

I don’t put too much detail in because they can look much too solid if you paint every vein.  As you can see I still had not decided, even when I started painting.

There had been some of those nasty “bad painting” spirits around yesterday morning,  the ones that make your hand shake when you are poised over that tiny detailed bit, but after I hung up the chives everything went just fine, (I wish).

lap sk sm lapidarius sk sm 1

Finally, I settled for the forward wing position

. _________________________________________________________

Red Tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius,  and Chive  Allium schoenoprasum

B lapidarius, sm

watercolour and pencil on Arches HP, 6 x 8 inches

Bombus hortorum and the Cornflower

We are back from an unexpectedly eventful break, mainly because we, the non sports aware Brits had managed to arrange a night in Miami on Friday, not realising it was Super Bowl weekend.

So South Beach was one big party and our visit to Jungle Island was completely fascinating as we had Jeff with us, who designed the whole ecosystem there. But it’s back to bees now, and number one for the proposed show.

The Garden Bumble Bee, Bombus hortorum.

I have written about this bee before, when I first started the bee project back in October. This is the Bumble Bee with the long face and the longest tongue.

Their tongues may be 12 mm long, almost the length of their entire body, but can reach just over 2 cm when at full  stretch.  These long tongues help them to access the nectar from flowers with long tubular structures as in red clover, cowslips, foxglove, vetches and lavender. If you can watch these  bees you will see them unfurling their tongues as they approach the flower

Here from Shutterstock is a wonderful photograph by Niels van Gijn which shows what I am sure must be B hortorum about to make contact with a tall delphinium.

bee delphiniums

This passage below explains a little about how they achieve pollination of such tall flower spikes and comes from Val Bourne’s excellent UK Gardening, site here.

“If you watch bumble bees visiting a foxglove, or any other flower spike, they always start at the bottom and work upwards. These lower flowers are rich in nectar and as the bumble bee diligently works up the spike, it eventually reaches flowers without any but which are pollen rich. Liberally dusted the bee goes in search of more nectar – so transferring pollen from the upper flowers of the first spike to the lower petals of the next it visits. Thus cross pollination takes place and seed is set.”

She has more information about bumble bees and bumble bee plants too which I shall be returning to in a future post.

The Cornflower

All bumble bees like flowers from the Knapweed family (Centaurea), which includes one of my very favourite “wild” flowers, the Cornflower, Centaurea cyanus.

In its truly wild form it is a rare thing and I can’t remember when I  last saw it actually growing wild.
At Plantlife, the UK charity working to protect Britain’s wild plants, you can adopt one and help prevent them from becoming extinct, however I am not sure how the wild species differ from the garden variety, which I would always include in annual sowings.


Image by David Koloechter from

it’s a fascinating flower with its beautiful blue colour, anthocyanin, a pigment which is  responsible for the red, purple, and blue colors of many plants.

The  blue dye  obtained from the petals is edible, as are the flowers, which you can use to pretty-up a salad.  And, surprising to me, they are included in Twinning’s Lady Grey tea which is favourite of mine… especially with toast and honey:)

The Painting

The main focus for this set of paintings is, again, on the bees.
But this time I planned them to contain more than the studies I made for Deborah. So most will have a simple pencil addition of some sort.  I dithered for almost a day about this, how big, how small, how much, what position?

I am not fulfilling a strictly scientific brief here and never really could or would want to. My aim is rather to portray something of the essence and character of the bees and add something that relates to them.

In the end I made a bigger gap between the flower and the bee than I had originally planned on my tiny thumbnail sketch. I prefer the separation and therefore, (following in my hero Mark Catesby’s footsteps) don’t have to worry too much about relative scale.

I may add more later but will live with this for now. This is really a development of the first hortorum I painted but a slightly altered pose and more refined (and correct) detail.

The Garden Bumble Bee, Bombus hortorum, with Cornflower, Centaurea cyanus.


Bombus hortorum with cornflower sm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP.  6 x 7 inches

Bumble Bee ID sketches

I have braved my freezing work room today and made some sketches of the BIG SIX British Bumble bees.

The lazy artist, that I often am, usually wants to miss out this stage of the work.
There are very nice examples of Bumble bee patterns on the internet which I could just print out.  But, when I do take the trouble, I am always glad because sketching them will help me remember the differences.

Queens,Workers and Males.  I have said before that I am not a scientific illustrator but I do like to try to get things right and one problem of drawing Bumble bees is that they vary, male, to female, to worker, sometimes in colour, size and pattern.

And then there are some variations within each species.

So a reference colour chart of males and queens/workers to refer to will be a help, along with a few notes of flowers etc.

Most of this information comes from the Natural History Museum’s site and the very excellent, which I have quoted from before.

bbbees 2     bbbees1

The welcome sun glancing across my sketchbook gets to my work room at 4 pm, before that it is icy, but they have promised a change tomorrow…hurrah ..

and, should I forget these temperatures when I am struggling to keep cool in the summer, I took this photo of our icy apartment block roof this morning…

I know, it’s nothing compared with some parts of both the USA and the UK but it’s still hellish cold..if that’s possible :)..