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.

final bg

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.

graham paints

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!

bees bg

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!

drawn out

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!

two sm    Three sm

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!

four sm

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.

five sm

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.

eight sm

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.

ten sm

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