A Box of Bees and more…

It’s been quite busy in the Garden this last two weeks. At last some Bumble bees are out and about. Busiest have been the tiny Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) workers. They have been everywhere on every flower they can manage.  A patch of phacelia has just come into flower and because they are so small they find it very difficult to navigate the spiky stamens and have to adopt a head first, dive in strategy. Bigger bees have no problems.

A tiny Early Bumblebee worker contemplating a tricky landing through the long stamens of the phacelia. It is so attractive to them that they don’t give up easily


Head first, in-between the spikes.

This bigger heavier Carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) easily accessing the nectar of this lovely green manure plant which seeded down from last year.

And there are other bumble bees too:

A Garden Bumblebee (B hortorum) worker on the hardy geraniums


A Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) on the cotoneaster

A Box of Red Tailed Bumblebees

Just over a week ago now my very kind friend Matthew arrived at the door with a large buzzing plastic bag containing a tiny new Bombus lapidarius nest complete with about 10 cells 6 little workers and the magnificent Queen.
Matthew had been asked to move the nest and not wanting to destroy it asked if I could look after it. You bet!

red tailed nest

The nest in the new box with some extra dried grass.  You can see the large beautiful Queen at the top. They were very busy attending to the cells and so not too concerned about me and the camera. I think things might be different now!

So the nest and its few occupants have been (rather gingerly) transferred to a box which I hope will allow for a reasonable size colony and added to the bee house. It’s above the ground and hopefully out of the reach of mice.
I am very glad to report that there seems to be quite a bit of coming and going and at last the chive flowers which have been out for ages are getting some attention.

redtailed bg

Little red tailed worker on the chives, The flame red colour of these new bees in simply stunning.

Anyway I have given them the best chance I can. They have flowers, shelter and someone looking out for them.

And not forgetting the solitary bees…. The mason bees have been filling up holes in the bee house and everywhere else. The Hairy Footed flower bees are, I think all done. Their strawberry pot home now filled up for the second year. Here is a lovely little solitary mining bee which my bee guru Andrew thinks may be Andrena chrysosceles.


You can see how tiny it is by my thumb to the left. She stayed put very obligingly for a couple of photos.

And, joy of joys, at Easton last week, the so very chic female Grey Mining bee, Andrena cineraria with elegant black and white hairs on her thorax and glossy black abdomen. A little film star of the wild bee world.

From a sunny day last week at Easton, not the best photo in the world but lovely to see her.

I hope all your bees are buzzing and things warming up for summer and, yes,  I have been working as well as bee watching…honestly…more of that soon…

Four More of the Big Six bees…

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

Bombus hortorum The Garden Bumble Bee

Hortorum bg

Bombus lucorum the White Tailed Bumble bee


 white tailed bg

Bombus pascuorum The Common Carder Bee

pasc bg

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

lap bg

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Garden Bumble Bee and Honeysuckle..

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

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

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

B hort blog

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

Buzz updates & B Hortorum and Honeysuckle, early stages.

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

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

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

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

horto sketch sm      sketch1

Positioning on the paper:

col bee 1

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

bee1      bee 2

bee 3

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


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

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

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

hortorum dads garden

Bombus hortorum, Dad’s garden, 2010

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 Shutterstock.com

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 Bumblebee.org, 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 :)..

Bee No 1: The Garden Bumble Bee, Bombus hortorum.

More about my bee from the UK and the first of my 16 subjects, which travelled back in my pencil case and survived almost intact. These are the much loved, archetypal stripy bees which we see in the UK , the ones which usually spring to mind when thinking about a picture book idea of a Bumble Bee.

There are 3 very similar bumble bees, the B. hortorum, B. lucorum the white tailed Bumble Bee and B. terrestris the buff tailed Bumble Bee.

3 bees

From the British Beekeepers’ Association site, is part of Gillian Lye’s nice explanatory guide, from a UK bumble bee nest survey.
See more
here The facts:

CLASS: Insecta or Hexapoda. Insects, as the name hexapoda suggests, animals that have six legs
ORDER: Hymenoptera, Bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
SUPERFAMILY: Apoidea. Bees and some wasps.
FAMILY: Apidae. Bees.
GENUS: Bombus. Bumblebees
SPECIES: Bombus hortorum

The Garden Bee, sometimes delightfully classified as “Megabombus” is a European bee and described as “rather scruffy” with quite long hair. It has a long head and the longest tongue of all European Bumble Bees allowing it to reach those parts of flowers which other bees cannot reach.
It likes red clover, cowslips, foxglove, vetches and lavender.
My information comes from the really excellent and readable BumbleBee.org. http://www.bumblebee.org/hort.htm which I quoted from in an earlier post.

Here is another snippet

(Bombus Hortorum).. “have a reputation for nesting in “unsuitable” places such as coat pockets, buckets and inside lawnmowers, their preferred nest sites are usually on or just below ground. They are fairly placid bees and do not have large nests, so if it is possible, it is best to leave them where they are. If you must move the nest, for example, if it is inside a lawnmower, then do so late in the evening when all the bees have returned. Get as much of the nest material as you can into a small box with an entrance hole of about 1 cm and leave it inside as close to the original spot as possible. If it is inside a shed or building then any kind of container will do. If it has to be moved outdoors then the container must be weatherproof and placed in a south-facing sheltered spot.”


Bee number 1. The Garden Bee Bombus hortorum Some final sketches for the pose,

bee sketches final hortorus sm