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Wednesday 30 November 2011 the Ugly Bungalow.

We have just moved into the new house. House sounds too grand because in reality it is a small bungalow and a pretty ugly one at that. But we did need a home. This is our 10th move in 8 years, 8 years of rentals in 3 different countries.. so we really did need home, even if it's just for a year or two. We were sad to leave the tiny humming cottage which was full of mason bees but who knows what I will find here.

I had driven past this “for sale” bungalow many times thinking how ugly it was, but eventually, in desperation to find something in our price range I came to see it. It’s the best I can do and I will try to learn to love it, but “silk purse/sow’s ear” keeps creeping into my mind.

I remember someone writing to me in my early blogging days thinking I lived in a picturesque cottage in the country with a glorious garden and having to tell them we lived in a city in a tiny, hot, 2nd floor concrete box of an apartment with paper thin walls and nightmare neighbours. I often wondered if they were disappointed, if that somehow I was less of a real artist because my location did not quite fit the romantic ideal.
I found a book once in a shop. It was called “Artists Studios”. Photographs of impossibly dreamy rooms in impossibly dreamy settings. I picked it up and looked through it, wondering where I had gone wrong? I returned to the hot box and drew the beautiful leaf of an exotic plant whose origins lay in distant lands and whose story of discovery was incredible and the hot box became a irrelevant.

The one thing that stuffy apartment had going for it was that it was within cycling distance of my much loved Leu Gardens and the Ugly Bungalow is 5 minutes walk from the shimmering water of the reservoir, so despite its dreary looks I count myself extremely lucky. I will breathe some life and soul into its plain walls, fill its empty garden with bee flowers and line its rooms with books. And surely, if my observations of life have taught me anything, it is that external appearances should not matter….. (but a pretty cottage would still be quite nice.. maybe next time :)….)

So here we are. The internet is up, we have a bed and two kitchen chairs. It’s a start. And the poor Ugly Bungalow does have a garden and I am ridiculously excited about its possibilities. It too is a blank canvas, mostly grass, with heavy clay soil and a few shrubs. I know there is a little apple tree and, joy of joys, a dilapidated shed! Today I took my father's heavy spade and dug my first flower bed.. a mere 2ft x4.. I had forgotten how hard it is to dig! ..but slowly slowly I will get there.. there are plans for a pond, and some veg... and many other things. and a few drawings in between ... :)

A Start…… a tiny 4” square sketch, my spade and boots and the fledgling flower bed..

first flower bed

Monday 14 November 2011

Pretty Peponapis pruinosa: A Squash Bee for Joanna.

This is going to be my last bee painting for a week or so. We are about to move (yet again)and things will be a bit upside down,  but this was one request  I could not resist.

Joanna emailed me recently from Canada. She is fond of Squash bees.. how could you not be! I had written about them briefly when I first learnt about the wonderful Long horned Eucerini bees back in 2009. The Peponapis bees are in the same family and they are very--yes I am going to say it-- they are very cute. Sadly we don’t have them here in the UK and although I saw the beautiful black Mellisodes bees on the squash flowers in Leu gardens in Orlando I did not see these little stripy charmers. 

This photo is from an article in Science Daily, here about how good these bees are as pollinators. They apparently come out earlier in the day than honey bees, get on with lots of energetic pollination then sleep in the afternoon.

Squash bee flying onto a squash flower. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Holly Prendeville, University of Nebraska)

Towards the end of her University degree in Agriculture Joanna published a paper commissioned by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign about the decline of native pollinators.

She writes: “Peponapis pruinosa, the Squash Bee holds a special place in my heart and I've been waiting for some time now with fingers crossed that you might paint this bee, but it recently occurred to me that I could easily contact you directly and make a request.

This Squash bee is a solitary bee and the females make ground nests.  The males spend their time in and about squash flowers - and they sleep there after the flowers close in the afternoon.  I spent an interesting few weeks with a professor once spending late afternoons on a squash farm going from flower to flower, opening them up to count the resting bees.  There is a mathematic correlation between the number of male bees in squash flowers in a given area to the number of females in the ground nests.  By counting the bees, the professor was able to determine how many females were in the area.”

Don’t squash the squash bees.

I can’t think of a nicer afternoons’ occupation than opening up squash flowers to count these sweet little bees. The males will overnight in the flowers and should you wish to see if you have any of them sheltering in your squash flowers you can give the closed flowers A VERY GENTLE squeeze. A sleepy buzzing may be your reward … but don’t squash the squash bees. Remember they are super pollinators for your curcubita crops.

I was of course delighted to draw a squash bee. Here is the stripy male poised on the edge of a squash flower (from a photograph of a Leu Gardens squash flower ) on the lookout, as ever, for a female. 
A quick sketch to get the feel for the composition:

the squash bee sm

 Peponapis pruniosa, The Squash Bee

squash bee bg
Pencil and watercolour on Arches HP,   9 x 9 inches

If you would like a print of this pretty bee drop me an email!

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Saturday 12 November 2011

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!

annas card

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

tiny bee studs bg

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

bumble bees bg,

My photos do not do them justice They are lovely quality, hallmarked and made with great care. 
Nice Christmas pressies for bee lovers!

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Tuesday 8 November 2011

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.

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Sunday 6 November 2011

Snail Shell Bees: Step 3, Some Background

Day three is starting the pencil background.  I sketch it out a little bit more on tracing paper, to get a feel for what I am doing and how it will look. I don’t normally use trace-down unless something has to be very accurate, it’s slow going enough, without drawing things over and over again.


2 bees

My first encounter with snail shell bees was when I read Animal Architecture by Karl Von Frisch. He describes the laborious covering  of the nest with twigs. Here is Turid Holldobler’s Illustration of the bee carrying a twig to her nest.

snail shell bee Frisch

But then here is Walter Linsenmaier’s illustration from “Insects of the World”. In my previous blog post A Bee on a Broomstick I seemed to think that the Linsenmaier’s drawing was first. On the left, on the cutaway diagram of the shell showing the cell cavaties, he has included the male and an opportunist predatory jewel wasp. 

l bee

He draws the shell covered with pine needles and I particularly liked the idea of including them, because, the additional details for the background will include “The Needles” the famous rocks on the Isle of Wight and there are pine trees on the island too.
(It’s just these little connections that make things more interesting for me.. even if no one else ever knows.)
Linsenmaier writes:

“Some species drag the shell into a hiding place before or after constructing a nest in it. Taking firm hold of the ground with repeated bites they grasp the shell with their legs and haul it after them. Some apply plant paste to parts of the slippery shell enabling their feet to get a firm grip. A few species bury the shell in sandy soil others protect it with a cover of interwoven pine needles or straws fetched individually in flight and some disguise it with moss and other things. It is ever a new experience to observe how objectively and with what careful testing such bees work and how penetratingly thorough is their interest in their productions.”

So I decided to give the female a pine needle to carry and, in the middle distance, I added a little shell with its pine needle camouflage. I based the foliage and twigs on a photo I took in the summer and I have some shells and some pine needles to work from, again collected locally.

day 3

Pine needle and the Needles :)


 pine needle shell

This was a hard working 9-10 hour day. There were many decisions, much hesitation and lots of pencil sharpening.

Friday 4 November 2011

Snail Shell Bees Step 2: Ginger and Black

The second stage of the Snail Shell Bees was the female. Female Osmia bicolours are very striking bees. I saw one in the summer at Heligan. Her ginger and black colouring is very beautiful.

The first sketch

osmia bicolour female s 

Then I curved her over more for a more dynamic pose and inclined her head a little, to look more at us.


Slowly building up…


She like most bees is larger than the male and he is not so colourful.

I take the protective coverings away to see where I am with them both and  begin to roughly and lightly sketch in the foliage. It’s fine to do this as long as it’s lightly and with a soft pencil. It can all be erased later.  I know the photos are not brilliant but I can’t use a flash because it bleaches everything out.

m and f

Still fairly clean.. end of day two.