"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Monday, 3 March 2014

Adders: What’s not to love?

My Beautiful Beast for this week is the English Adder or Common Viper Vipera berus, and indeed it is very beautiful.  

It seems unforgivable that these fascinating, timid and endangered creatures have over the centuries been treated with such hatred, fear and persecution. While it is understandable to have an innate fear of dangerous, possibly life threatening animals, ignorance and religion have a lot to answer for in the ridiculous demonisation of various creatures, but of snakes in particular.

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Photo by Alan Hyde from  Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK.

Yes, it is classed as venomous but you would be very very unlucky to be bitten and even more unlucky to die. I have only seen one adder and that was when I was a child in Scotland. My father saw it basking in the sun on a woodland path. There was no panic or alarm and we were told just to be quiet and respectful and to leave it be. I remember watching it slide away slowly into the bracken.

But adders do have a long and fascinating history in folklore and superstition. The Amphibian and Reptile  Conservation Trust ( ARC)  have a page of collected stories:  http://adder.narrs.org.uk/folklore.php.

They are also inviting you to record adder sightings and to spread a bit of adder appreciation…even if you can’t quite stretch to adder love.

I watched again the lovely interview on Springwatch from a couple of years ago with Sylvia Sheldon, about her work recording adders and her fabulous book of unique adder ID photos.

sylvia sheldons book BBC

I challenge you to watch this and not be charmed. Watch it here.

But what to draw? How to tackle an image? What do I want to do? To win you you with cartoony cuteness, to instil more fear by emphasising their fangs, those steady, always open red eyes and threatening poses, or to try to show you something of their beauty, their grace, their patterns and fascinating life cycle. 

As always my sketchbook is my starting point.

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The beautiful red eye and a thought about camouflage

And two small watercolour sketches following the same thought.

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I really like these. 

It’s a very busy week ahead so I may just spend the Beautiful Beasts time learning more about adders, sketching and thinking about developing my adder woodcut a bit more.

There is also some pressing bee gardening to be done, a trip to Holme Fen weather permitting, our first Easton Walled Gardens Workshop on Friday, keeping up with the Horse Chestnut and I am getting the oils out. :)

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