Joe’s Bees

Yesterday we had the pleasure of a brief visit with Joe who is a local beekeeper and who runs Dansk Farms here in Orlando.

For the last few weeks I have been doing some background research into honey bees and wanted a bee to draw. I returned with 9 honey bees and one beautiful irridescent orchid bee which Joe had found for me, all carefully packed for the short trip in their own neat little crate. It’s actually a queen bee transporter, roomy enough for a diminutive royal and normally well equipped with candy.

My little bees were not, I hasten to add, alive.


I had met Joe a couple of weeks ago at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market, where he sells not only the 100% pure honey, but bees wax, and lovely honey based bath and body products.
It was completely fascinating to see the workings of one of the hives which at 9.00 am was busy. Joe’s particular bees are gentle and goodnatured, a cross between Buckfasts and Carniolans and so a mixture of dark and lighter coloured bees.

Their joint characteristics make them good all round bees, docile, disease resistant, good producers and good housekeepers. (The story of Brother Adam and the Buckfast bee needs another dedicated post). There is so much to know and admire about bees and I am just at the beginning.

joes hives      frame 1

I had not realised that the honey bee was not a native species in the USA. The bees that Joe keeps, as with most of honey bees in the USA, are descended from the European Honey bee, Apis Mellifera.

Bees were probably introduced into Florida by the Spanish but the first documented arrival of bees from Europe is from a letter dated December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia. It was a motley cargo.

Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you…” (Goodwin 1956; Kingsbury 1906:532).

The Discovery (60 tons, Thomas Jones, captain, and twenty persons) left England November 1621 and arrived in Virginia March 1622. from “Honey Bees Across America” By Brenda Kellar

And the name ..

The genus Apis is Latin for “bee”, and mellifera comes from Latin melli- “honey” and ferre “to bear” — hence the scientific name means “honey-bearing bee”. The name was coined in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus who, realizing that the bees do not bear honey, but nectar, tried later to correct it to Apis mellifica (“honey-making bee”) in a subsequent publication. However, according to the rules of synonymy in zoological nomenclature, the older name has precedence. Wikipedia

I have never looked in such detail at a honey bee before. These little bees are a variety of colours and delightfully hairy, even the eyes are hairy. I am sad they are dead but the practicalities of trying to draw live bees in such detail would try the patience of even Joe’s docile bees.

I am hoping to make a good detailed painting but before I do I need to understand a bit more about their anatomy. For now, some studies. My models and sketchpad

.bee sketchessms     sketch blog


Painting for Joy at the Cornell Museum and Jasper Johns and Carol Diehl on Art

Winter Park is lucky to have quite a few museums and most we have visited but one we had never quite got round to was the Cornell Museum of Fine Arts which is on the campus of Rollins College. Yesterday we rectified that. There is an elegant exhibition space on the extensive campus, over looking one of Orlando’s many lakes. They have exhibits old and new, beautifully displayed and with the added attraction of few people……but really this is just an excuse to share this painting with you. It comes from the current exhibition “Painting for Joy” ( what a great title) which showcases the work of nine contemporary Japanese artists.

This big painting ” Dog” 65 x 53 inches by Takanobu Kobayashi is just adorable.

There is also an exhibition “Corps Exquis” exploring images of the body from different periods with an extraordinary film of Vanessa Beecroft’s “VB55” installation of 100 women, naked from the waist up standing in a gallery for 3 hours staged in Berlin in 200. It is a strange and moving film (see a youtube video here ) accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem. (but as the very enlightened lady guide so rightly said.. “you couldn’t show this in Orlando. This is a very conservative state”)
More about Cornell and their exhibitions here and no doubt I will be going back there.

Also today, a quote from Jasper Johns telling it how it is about creativity without, mercifully, the need to fall into appalling contemporary artspeak.

“It’s simple. You just take something, and then you do something to it. Then you do something else to it. And then something else. Keep this up and pretty soon you’ve got something.”
A couple of months ago there was a big commotion when the artist and art writer Carol Diehl dared to draw attention to the ’emperors new clothes’ syndrome of the art “writers” at the Whitney. I just hate that self perpetuating rubbish they write about art. If the art is so bad and banal itself that it has to be propped up with incomprehensible jargon, then it shouldn’t be even on display. The whole argument had me cheering Carol on. The over intellectualising of visual art is such a monster these days. She recently questioned Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth , the crack in the floor of the Tate Modern, which was billed as ” addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world.” “Sometimes” she says “a crack is just a crack.” How true..
To read more about it all go to her blog, the excellent Art Vent One of the problems of course is that our future curators are currently being brainwashed with artspeak at art colleges all over the world. As I know only too well and to my cost, to stand up in a lecture theatre and to question such rubbish even from an extensively researched and informed standpoint will result in some icy cold shouldering of those tutors whose fragile and insecure campus world is precariously fabricated from artspeak alone. You will be regarded from then on as an ungrateful dog biting the hand that was feeding you your passport to a well paid arts funded job in the self perpetuating, self aggrandising world of the fine art academic.

I remember one dull and wispy fine art graduate came to give us new hopefulls a lecture of her most recent and fragrant work about faeces. I asked one tutors later if ‘faeces’ and ‘facecious’ came from from the same orifice. He was not amused, he also said on one a occasion that he found painting flowers an obscenity. Hey I don’t defend what I am currently doing as ‘fine art’ these days but at least it is honest and does what it says on the tin. But wait!! …. if flower painting ever does become pornography I would at least make some money. Painting for Joy? well why not?

Leaf of the Day: Herbert’s Giant Radish and the Vegetable Police.

Yesterday I heard on the radio that, due to food shortages, it is becoming conceivable that the EU vegetable police who ensure that no deformed or non-conforming items of fruit and veg can disgrace the hallowed counters of the supermarkets, may in fact be relaxing their rules. Regardless of how things actually taste we have been subject to a dreary conformity and a quite horrible dumbing-down of the glorious variety of odd and interesting produce, just another symptom I suppose of a society that seems to value the superficial over the important.

“We ( now) want to have two classes, allowing supermarkets to sell funny shaped vegetables,” said Michael Mann, a spokesman for the European Commission.

Change however may be slow. The rules on bananas are remaining the same but at least cucumbers will be allowed to wriggle a bit.

I quote from the ‘Independent’ article all about knobbly veg here

The rules for bananas will remain unchanged, meaning both overly bendy and straight fruit cannot be labelled class one. EU directive 2257/1994 dictates that top bananas must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers”. Regulation bendiness helps speed packing and prevent damage in transportation. Class two bananas can have full-on “defects of shape”.

Directive 1677/88 stipulates that class one cucumbers may bend by 10mm for every 10cm of length. Class two cucumbers may bend twice as much. This will be relaxed.”

A footnote to the cucumbers is that enthusiasts will no doubt be very interested to know that a new and delightfully considerate variety has been developed to ensure propriety at that elegant afternoon tea party. You will be able to wolf down those dainty crustless cucumber sandwiches without fear once you have ascertained that your hostess has cultivated only the “Burpless Tasty Green” variety. According to the blurb, “the fruits are not giants like most other Japanese varieties – cut them when they are about 9in (23cm) long and enjoy the crisp, juicy flesh from which both bitterness and indigestibility have been eradicated.”

However, in support of the mishapen and the indigestible, I have made a sketch today of a giant of a radish. This I bought, along with a cobra shaped courgette, from Hector at the Winter Park Farmers market. He has some fine fruit and veg and some herbal teas that sound as though they would rival the yaupon holly drink for their purgative qualities. He and I talk about vegetables, be prepared for some more interesting specimens.

This radish is 3″ in diameter and a beautiful pale pink. Inside the same pink colouring radiates out in a starburst from the centre. I have no idea of the variety but it is a radish to be reckoned with.

Herbert’s Radish

Sunday Owl

Some things just go together don’t they? I went for a cycle ride today to get some fresh air after spending all day on my other blog. I decided to go to Kraft Gardens for a look around and on the way back cycled through the cemetery just near the golf course here in Winter Park. They are always tranquil places and it’s interesting seeing little glimpses of other’s histories. It’s a nice place to end your days if the raining of miss-hit golf balls doesn’t disturb your slumber and who could ask for a more appropriate companion there than this lovely owl. Owls and graveyards do seem to go together. I am not a wildlife photographer by any means but it stayed still long enough for this picture. It’s a barred owl.. a big owl, 2ft tall with a 4 ft wingspan. They are common here but a first for me. It flapped slowly by, skimming the headstones in front of me, to then take roost in this tree. A very lovely sight.

Leaf of the Day: Schefflera and the Genius Of Robert Hooke

Today is Saturday, the weather is lovely and we walked to the main centre of Winter Park which is a street lined with cafes and shops and wine bars. It has a distinct European feel, you can still find independently run shops and down a small alley there is .. joy of joys… a delightful small secondhand bookshop run by Evelyn Walters Petit, Brandywine Books.

It is a shop that has a complete mixture of old and newish and Evelyn plays some cool jazz while you browse. But the excitement of a secondhand bookshop is that frisson of anticipation as you step in, an anticipation of finding something unusual, something you didn’t even know you wanted five minutes earlier and something you may never have known existed at all. It has to be a black day in my life that I fail to find something fascinating and desirable in a secondhand bookshop.

I also love the books with those scholarly pencil notes in the margin, with others’ names written on the flyleaf, newspaper clippings, cinema tickets and shopping lists. It’s hard to get those in Borders or Waterstones…so we did come back with a few, including Lisa Jardine’s biography of Robert Hooke.
Hooke was a brilliant irascible man, who argued with Newton, worked with Christoper Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire, was an inventor, architect and engineer, kept himself going with laudanum and cannabis and amongst other things was the author of “Micrographia“, a startling illustrated volume of engravings published in 1665 based on Hooke’s own drawings of natural phenomena seen under a microscope. Here is one of them.

and another based on his drawings of fossils.

It will be an interesting read.

Caught up with all this literature, sun and my first swim in the pool here I haven’t had much time for drawing but after yesterday’s post I have been thinking about simplicity, shape and monochrome. Here is a big, (too big for the A4 scanner) simple pen and ink drawing of a handsome and shapely Schefflera leaf.

Schefflera leaf.

Norman Rockwell and Winter Park Art

On Thursday I went to see the Norman Rockwell Exhibition here at the Orlando Museum.

You would have to be the worst of cynics and have a heart of stone not to be moved by some of his paintings. The beautifully observed scenes of ordinary life are both funny and tender. Rockwell has his critics but he himself was happy to be an illustrator and “a teller of stories”.
This is the first time I have seen the original paintings, their size, their excellence in execution. The sheer virtuosity of some of his brushwork is breathtaking, working sometimes in thick impasto, sometimes in pale glazes where the strong underdrawing can be seen quite plainly and also forms the basic structure of the finished painting.
A large section of the exhibition is devoted to the work “Southern Justice” which depicts the deaths of 3 Civil Rights workers who were killed for their efforts to register African American voters.

We see Rockwell’s methods of working from his own staged photographs but also the original inspiration for the composition, the 1962 Pulitzer-winning photograph by Hector Rondon, “Aid from the Padre” showing a priest holding a soldier during the left wing uprising in Venezuela.

The painting was done for Look magazine in 1963 but interestingly they decided to accompany the article with an earlier possibly more atmospheric rough sketch.

Working for Look gave Rockwell more chance to address the problems that were current in America, particularly civil rights, which also prompted one of his most striking pictures, that of Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by US marshalls.

Follow this link to a short interesting blog posting by DB Dowd “Welcome to the Neighbourhood, Race Rockwell and New Hampshire” which discusses Rockwell and his anti racist stand in the light of the current elections here.

Now, living here in the American South, I view these images with a sharpened perception. I watch from the sidelines what goes on, and what is said, with some deepening dismay. Divides seem as deep and prejudice now finds new fuel in anti Hispanic feeling.

In contrast I also went to the Winter Park Spring art show today. A huge outdoor show of over 200 artists. It seems unfair to have a master of painting showing just down the road and I saw very little which I felt was of any value. Some very good technicians, in both oils and watercolour but predictable traditional images, flowers, palmy swampy Florida landscapes, fruit and still life (and the odd awful nude..) I heard one very nice lady contemplating a nice painting of a nice bowl of flowers on a nice cloth saying. ” ..oh I do like art I can understand”. It was indeed a very nice painting with a nice $7500 price tag.
How far has Kandinsky’s vision of abstraction, now almost 100 years ago, really got us I wonder?.. but if you want to make a living as an artist you have to sell what people want to buy’s a difficult situation. The commercial artist does what he or she is asked for but sometimes can produce exceptional work of great importance and Rockwell is a prime example. If you don’t want to be a “commercial” artist you need a private income.
There was quite a lot of formula painting too, each piece nicely done with some good slick tricks of the trade. Learn a few of these and you can churn the pictures out quicker than a sweat shop in Taiwan. (Top in my pet hates are formula painting and the grotesque semi pornographic nudes masquerading as a “celebration” of the female form. They are beloved of the tacky galleries on the Costa del Sol, destined, no doubt, to adorn the walls of some sleazy expat petty criminal in Marbella.)

However there wasnt too much of that in Winter Park, follow this link to see the work for yourself, 49th Winter Park Sidewalk show. Some of the ceramics are stunning.

One lovely quote from the Rockwell exhibition is very relevant here. He once said to his son.
Do you know why Breugel was able to paint such beautiful trees? Because he painted each one as an individual.”

We artists should all take note of that.

The Harvesters

Leaf of the Day: Bald Cypress Knees and Lizards at Kraft Gardens

Eerily beautiful and tranquil, the huge primeval, moss draped, pines of Kraft Gardens dominate this narrow strip of land on the banks of Lake Maitland here in Winter Park. It’s a strange place situated in a very wealthy suburb where great mansions and estates, many built in the 1920s, jostle for prime waterfront locations and moorings, so it is one of the few places that the lake shore is accessible to us mere mortals. There is a strange austere exedra too, built by the shore, where you can sit and while away an hour or two with a book. It has the lovely inscription “Pause Friend And Let Beauty Refresh The Spirit” carved in fine Roman capitals .

Nobody much will bother you but remember you are not alone here. Far from it. Should you feel a prickling of the hairs on the back of your neck it is because you are being closely watched by the many many creatures who live or pass through this little haven. Squirrels, hundreds of lizards, anhingas, ducks, herons, egrets, woodpeckers and ospreys will have seen you and be monitoring your every move. Initially you see nothing but gradually you become aware of rustlings, chatterings and dartings and, sensing something approaching, look out of the corner of your eye to catch a glimpse of a white egret or two strolling amongst the trees or squirrels playing. Every footfall scatters lizards by the dozen.
Yesterday, because it is nesting season, the great trees were alive with building activity, affectionate chirpings, squabbles and flappings. There must have been 20 egrets, some flying backwards and forwards with huge twigs, 12 very noisy anhginas, and 2 great grey herons. An osprey glided in from the lake with a big fish in its talons and perched high on a pine tree eating its prey. On the lake a pair of gorgeous mandarin ducks, so handsome and glossy, pottered about in the reeds making plaintive cheeps. They very conveniently perched on a raised nest box for a while so I was able to sketch them.

So today I am posting some photos and sketches from Kraft Gardens. I was fascinated by the “knees “of the Bald Cypress (taxodium distichum) which grow along the water line, they are the most extraordinary shapes. The Bald Cypress is a characteristic tree of southern swamplands growing in stagnant pools, and forming wide buttressed trunks, together with these strange woody “knees” which project from the water. The knees are outgrowths from the tree’s roots and it seems that they provide extra aeration for the root system. Clinging onto the knees are the wandering roots and leaves of the adventurous syngonium podophyllum the Arrowhead vine.

My favourites are the sketch of the anhihga in the tree and the waterlily leaves, both have potential to be developed futher. They are done with a Pilot pen the V5 which is soluble so to add a bit of shadow just wet with a brush. It’s a very useful and quick sketching aid.
My sketch book is 6 x 8 inches.


Bald Cypress Knees

Leaf of the Day: Elephant’s Ears

I bought this beautiful elephant’s ear plant a week ago and this is probably the smallest leaf on the whole plant. It’s very handsome, dark green with pronounced white veins. I think this is alocasia amazonia but there are many different varieties and sizes. It is native to the swampy tropical areas of South-East Asia and in a favourable spot can grow huge leaves on 3 meter long stems. I am hoping this one will survive in our flat long enough at least for me to make some good drawings.
I spent most of the day out and about and have joined Winter Park Library, an excellent library, which is within cycling distance for me. They have a good section of reference books so, at last, I can identify some of the trees and flowers I see around me. I have had a seed pod now for 3 weeks, unidenfitied and therefore undrawn. I carefully went though every book on trees and plants in the bookshop across the road and spent hours trawling the internet to no avail. Thank goodness I have found out what it is… it tomorrow’s drawing.

Alocadia or Elephant’s Ear

First Leaf of the Day: The Live Oak

My very first leaf of the day and it had to be the leaf of the splendid live oak tree. At the moment we are living in Winter Park a suburb of Orlando and there are live oaks in abundance. Huge and beautiful trees cast a dappled shade on the sidewalks and some star in the elegant gardens in this district . Why “live”? …because they stay green for almost all of the year. They are so different from the English oak. The leaves are tougher and some are almost like holly. It is a really magnificent tree and my first sight of Spanish moss hanging from its branches in the leafy side streets of Winter Park will always remain with me. Some interesting facts about the live oak are here from the Winter Park Live Oak Fund. There are two small live oaks outside our apartment where squirrels chase and chatter and generally squirrel about.
The leaves are very small,the longest only 2.5 inches. One would not have seemed enough! This also shows that some have prickles and some are very smooth.
The Live Oak