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Wednesday 30 May 2012

“BUZZ” at Easton, “Art Plantae” Guest Artist and at last! ..a Grey Mining Bee.

I am busy getting ready to take my “Buzz” exhibition and 2 days of Workshops to the lovely Easton Walled Gardens next week. We are keeping our fingers crossed for dry weather :).

Easton Walled Gardens Jubilee Meadow Days; June 3rd & 4th

Celebrating the diversity of our traditional countryside and meadows.

 meadow days

I am delighted to be part of their Jubilee Meadow Days Celebration which is running on Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th of June. There will be lots happening with plant stalls, an observation bee hive, moth spotting, an owl display, Morris dancing, and of course the beautiful gardens and the great cafe to enjoy.

I will be taking bee walks a couple of times a day and will be there to chat to people about bees, art and life. For full details check on the Easton Walled Gardens website HERE.


Nature Journal Workshops at Easton Walled Gardens, June 7th and 8th


Come and explore Bugs, Beasts and Botanicals with me from 10.00-4.00 on June 7th and 8th. £20 per day. For more details see HERE.
To book please contact Live and Learn on 01780 720714

Art Plantae Guest Artist for June … (thats me!)


Starting on Friday I am honoured to be the guest artist for June on the excellent website Art Plantae.  I am giving a brief introductory interview on Friday and then later in June, when the USA celebrates National Pollinator Week June 18-24, I will be answering questions about my work, both the paintings and my efforts to try to help people understand and appreciate more about our wild bees and pollinators through my paintings.

The header for the site will feature a detail from my painting of Bombus hortorum and honeysuckle. I chose this one because it illustrates
an interesting aspect of the bee/flower relationship.
This long tongued bee is able to access the nectar of deep flowers, while other short tongued bees must bite a hole in the base of the flower to access the nectar that way. “Nectar robbing” is good for bees but not so good for the flower as it does not get pollinated, but honeysuckle seems to manage to survive.

B hort blog

I have subscribed to Art Plantae since its first days and it is a really fabulous resource for all things botanical, education and artistic and covers a wide range of styles and interpretations. I am so very pleased to be able to contribute and share my enthusiasm and to hopefully get the bee message out to even more people.

I had to stress that I am not a botanical or scientific artist. The “Buzz” paintings and the show have just grown out my fascination with, and concern for our bees. 
But I do know that paintings can engage peoples attention and fascination sometimes more than photographs. A painting can simplify and illuminate and hopefully in the bees case, charm. I also know from all the emails, visitor comments and general enthusiasm at the shows that I am in a small way successful!

I guarantee that after five minutes with me you will share my affection and admiration for our little winged friends and will be rushing back to your garden or window box to plant some more flowers for them!

The Grey Mining Bee

At last!.. on a walk by the reservoir yesterday I spotted some beautiful Andrena cineraria, the glamorous Grey Mining Bees I was feeling bereft as it seemed as though every one, except me, had seen them and I was wondering if they were just not suited to this habitat.

But hurrah!!…a couple were feeding on some marginal rape flowers,

And then further along the waterside path, on a sunny bank much loved by rabbits and other mining bees, I saw one female starting to dig a hole under a sprig of bramble. I watched her for a short time, first scouting around for a suitable spot, then digging, then disappearing, then re-emerging. Such hard labour!.. but such a pretty bee with her ruff of silvery hair. I have painted her twice.

Here she is digging.. you can just see her glossy blue black tail disappearing. In…and…………

out…showing the fine silvery hairs on her face and thorax.


Go to the excellently re-designed BWARS website HERE to learn more about this lovely bee.

Join me at Easton Walled Gardens or on Art Plantae if you can!

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Tuesday 29 May 2012

Wool Carder Sketches 2

The next stage of the wool carder is getting the pose worked out a little more. I know what I want to achieve. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes things changes quite a bit when I start to paint.

woolcarder 2

I am looking at my little model and noticing things like the quite short tarsus, the darkish wings and the slight haze of short ginger hairs on the thorax and the silky longer hairs under the thorax, on the legs and the stiff pollen collecting hairs under the abdomen, the scopa.  
I watched them last year both at Heligan and at Twigworth. I do hope my newly planted Lambs Ears and Motherwort  (…the happiest thing in my garden !) will coax some of these lovely bees here.

It is quite noticeable that the female carries her head lower than the male. Bees have a limited possible head movement because of the broadness of the rigid exoskeleton where the head and thorax meet.  
The head shape and size relative to the body can vary quite a bit between species. Some remind me a bit of the old fashioned nodding dog models :).  A nodding bee might be rather nice to have on the back shelf of the car.

woolcarder 1

Colour note sketch. Sketchbook, watercolour and pencil

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Sunday 27 May 2012

Dancing Woodland Fairies and a Noon Fly

On Friday afternoon it was hot and still. I walked to the woodland edge behind the reservoir where, in the dappled shade, the wild things were resting. The mining bee colony was quiet. The birds were still.  A huge bumble bee was snoozing on a log and a beautiful noon fly had folded its golden wings to take a break in the sun.  However not everything was sleeping because dancing all around the emerging leaves of the scrubby oaks and sycamores was a shimmering cloud of tiny moths.

“Enchanting” is the only word to describe these exquisite little things. Of all the tiny pretty creatures in the natural world these might just be the ones to persuade you that fairies could exist. When you look closely you see their wings are have a metallic sheen, their tiny bodies are gorgeously adorned with long black spiky hair and their antennae impossibly long and white. They dance and settle, then dance again. Caught by the light and set against the dark woodland interior, their glimmering wings change from gold to pink to blue to green to bronze. Fabulous.

But, reluctantly leaving the realms of the fanciful, this cloud of silvery flying things are the males of little Green Longhorn moths or Adela reaumurella, one of our day flying moths, swarming,  as they like to do on a nice day.
If you want some hard facts and dissected moth photos go to the excellent  British Lepidoptera species page. If you prefer to live in magic land stay here for a while.

At some point I would like to try a painting, but how to capture that delicacy? I made a couple of sketches which seem inadequate but I do think a loose watercolour would be the way to go, to keep their lightness and insubstantial nature.  More sketches to come.

adelabg adela bg

The dancing Adela reamurealls.. (which sounds a bit like a circus troupe!) Watercolours in my sketchbook.

I  took a snap of the handsome noon fly,  it was, just after, noon.. 

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Thursday 24 May 2012

Wool Carder Sketches

I am painting a female Anthidium manicatum, the gorgeous Wool Carder Bee for Simon at Nature in Art. I chose this one in particular because Wallsworth Hall  is where I first watched this wonderful little bee stripping the hairs from the furry leaves of Lambs Ears or Stachys byzantina to use for nest building. She is also extremely pretty!

The males and females are very similar looking except that the males are, unusually for the bee world, much bigger.. also they move in a different way.  The male has an aggressive darting flight and will patrol a patch of flowers, ferociously seeing off any bee or insect intruders, head butting and attacking a perceived competitor with the awesome three spines he has at the base of his abdomen. She on the other hand is a calmer more purposeful little bee intent on gathering fibres and foraging from the flowers of Stachys, and other similar labiates.
Both male and female have various yellow marking on their face, legs and abdomen making them easy to mistake for a wasp at a casual glance.

Notes and Sketches

Firstly, I have to get the female’s markings and characteristics correct so I start with a few notes. Where are the yellow spots? How are they different from the males, especially on the face. I notice that the lower part of the legs of the females seem  very slightly thicker and hairier too. They have quite a rounded body shape and pale silky hairs on their legs.

sketches 1

I have not seen very many Anthidium manicatum here in the UK and the only ones I have seen have a line of yellow spots on the sides of their abdomen. Other Anthidium species have much bolder yellow banded markings. ( I keep thinking they would make a very attractive set of pattern designs! … but not right now as I am too busy.)

Next the design. Even though they do use other plants for both food and nest material I will include the Stachys. It grows in a beautiful big patch on the front border of the Museum at Wallsworth Hall and is obviously much loved by the wool carders.

Regular readers will know that I take ages to decide on poses and plants. This time the plant is chosen and it’s only the pose I have to consider. For me its about trying to express something of the character of the bee and how it relates to the plant. But it also has to be a good composition and hopefully an engaging painting.

First scribbles are really important for me to work out how I am going to try to achieve all this!  The designer in me likes the simple central stem with the view of the bee from the top. This would show the markings on the back quite well… but very little of the character of the bee. It would be more like a technical  drawing.

Sketches 2

To show the bee actually carding the hairs from the leaf might be interesting but they very often curl right over while accumulating the big ball of fluff under their abdomen and that’s not a particularly good pose for a painting or to show off their beautiful markings. I think I will probably go for the design bottom right.. a front/side view looking over the edge of a furry leaf.

I planted a Stachys in the garden here. It’s struggling through, but at last with the arrival of some sun its beginning to grow, so I made a quick sketch.

stachys in garden bg

At this stage it’s all about “looking”, rather than “drawing”. These rough sketches are visual thoughts, just for me, to try to work things out.
But to draw something, however roughly, is to understand it a little more than you did before!

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Sunday 20 May 2012

Of Snailshell Bees and Where the Wild Bees Live.

On Wednesday, to my great delight I saw the astonishing snail shell bee in action.

Earlier this year Trevor had very kindly emailed to tell me of a probable Osmia bicolour nesting location quite close by and so, on the only hopeful bee spotting day last week, we spent a fascinating couple of hours on a chilly but dry morning scanning a local south facing scrubby bank.

We were looking for the female Osmia bicolour bee who so charmingly finds  ready made homes in empty snail shells. She is quite small and extremely pretty with brilliantly coloured dark ginger hairs on her abdomen and a black head and thorax and not that easy to see in amongst the scrub and leaves. The first one we saw was just resting in a fleeting patch of sun and if she had been the only one I saw I would have been happy but like any good TV reality show the walk just got better.


None of my photos do justice to this lovely bee and her endeavours.. They are very quick and I had great trouble trying to focus but it is a record.

We then saw Bee number two, first examining an empty snail shell and then moving it around .. presumably to get the opening in the right position and sheltered from rain. We could not quite see how she moved it but from what I have read and blogged about before, (see my more extensive  “Bee-on-a-Broomstick” post  from 2010) they pull rather than push, holding onto the ground with their jaws and dragging the shell.  How ever they do it, it’s some feat…its a very large shell for a very small bee!

Along the way we also saw many dainty little grizzled skipper butterflies for which the site is being managed and protected. Trevor explained that this was the perfect time to see them and we must have seen about a dozen making the most of a briefly sunny morning. Their status is “HIGH” on the Butterfly Conservation priority list and they are becoming increasingly rare.

The grizzled skipper

We saw a couple more Osmias as we walked along and hundreds of snail shells.. why there I wonder? And then just as we reached the end of the bank one bee flew down into the grass to an almost completely invisible shell tucked in amongst some tufty leaves and I watched in complete fascination as she flew backwards and forwards with more pieces of dried grass and twigs to cover up her home.
It was transfixing! She was so very quick and so very busy, bringing now a short piece, then a longer piece and on one occasion a grass stem so long that its trailing end caught on all the surrounding tall grasses and had to be abandoned,  but not until she had made several frustrated approaches and landing attempts. The piece of grass must have been at least 8 times longer than the bee and her efforts were valiant, but you could see they were doomed. “No no”we said “get a smaller piece”.. its hard not to get involved!

You can just see the bee, the pale snail shell is just to her left. The long, abandoned, pale twig runs almost the full length of the foreground.

Here she is just over the shell having dropped off another stick.

We had to leave her to her building. She will have laid her eggs, maybe 5, in this shell nest, carefully partitioning off each cell with chewed grass and sealing up the end with more chewed grass and tiny pieces of stone. If all goes well the eggs will develop and the new bees will stay in their exquisitely designed home until the following spring.

I should add that we were very careful where we put our feet that day! I think I will be joining the Jain monks soon and shudder to think how many tiny things perish under a careless footfall.

We saw other wonderful things.. the tiny pretty field pansy, a huge female cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris, a brilliant Small Copper butterfly…


A beautiful lesser 3 bar moth…

an elegant green sawfly, beeflies and many more unidentifiable small mining bees,  but the snail shell bee was treat of the day for me.

Where do the Wild Bees live?

At the shows I am often asked “where do bees live” and there is no one easy answer, their nest choices are many and varied and I am learning more and more about their ingenuity and resourcefulness all the time.

Here in the Empty Garden I do, now, at last, have some Mason bees taking up residence in my bee house. 

A little black Hairy Footed Flower Bee has spent days excavating the roots of the struggling strawberry plants in the strawberry pot. She has left spoil heaps of soil on the paving stones and is constantly whizzing back and forth on a sunny day. Her high pitched zizzzz is quite distinctive.

There are big mining bees constantly trying to dig holes in the lawn and my friend Matthew gave me the remains of a Bombus pascuorum nest which had been found in a compost heap.

Many people have told me of Bumble Bee nests in birdboxes, often now the Tree Bumble Bee Bombus hypnorum and I have had several accounts of Leafcutter bees nesting in flower pots. Bombus lapidarius might be under your shed or in amongst tree roots.. and silly mining bees love to nest on well trodden paths with some predicable results.

On Friday I walked up behind the reservoir and found two sunny rape field margins where the pale dried surface of the earth was spotted with dark mounds of newly excavated damp soil. It looked like a little outbreak of measles.


A mining bee colony, Grafham, 18th May

Tiny mining bees were constantly coming and going, accompanied by what I think was a sand wasp who ran in and out of everything, both the bee nests and the newly formed cracks.


A pollen laden bee pauses over its nest hole before diving down

Sand wasp (??) emerging.

The mining bees are very funny and tend to sit just inside the nest.. in this field of pimples you know you are being watched by many tiny eyes.

A big Andrena bee was also investigating the holes but was far too large to get in. I was not really sure what it was doing.. whether it was lost perhaps or looking for a start.. why not use an existing burrow and save work, but these would have been a very tight fit. I do know that different species nest alongside each other but this seemed to be the only one of its kind here.  I wonder what the outcome was?


The Andrena bee investigating a hole..for size??

and taking a break, looking rather disconsolate after trying many holes.

The more I watch and learn, the more questions I have.. and biggest question of all is how can I possibly have enough time in one short life to answer even a few of them??  :)….
eg: Just why are there so many damp loving snails on a sunny dry bank in Cambridgeshire and why are the starlings stealing chunks of my newly planted lavender and chamomile. I read that they use it to fumigate their nests.. clever things!

Thursday 17 May 2012

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 …

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Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Early Bumble bee, Bombus pratorum

In my box of bee “models”, which have proved to be so surprisingly popular at my Buzz shows, I have a little family. It’s a Bombus pratorum trio; the queen,  little fluffy male and a tiny neat worker. If anyone is frightened of bees, learning about this endearing family usually does the trick.

The males are particularly attractive and they were all over the cotoneaster in the churchyard here last year, so I chose the male for this set of paintings. They are also delightfully hairy, with long silky hair which sticks up here and there. There’s a bit of a rakish air about them, quite different from the short haired B lapidarius who looks like a piece of velvet. They are also a  lemony yellow, not the orange yellow of Bombus terrestris.

Laura at (just the nicest bumblebee site on the net) says this:

“Once a male has left the nest he does not return. His sole aim is to mate, and he will patrol a circuit laying down a scent at strategic spots in order to attract a newly emerged queen who will find the scent so irresistible that she will allow him to mate with her.

The only other thing he does is drink nectar. So he will stay outside all night, usually clinging to the underside of a flower for some protection from rain etc. Often he will choose the same flower night after night. Then once the morning sun comes out he has just enough strength to climb - in the UK they are often too cold to fly - up to the flower entrance to drink some nectar and warm up ready for more scent patrolling.”


pratorum bg

The tiny, fluffy, Bombus pratorum on cotoneaster,
Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP.

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