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

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Black Bee continued.

It is lovely to see so many bees out and about now and I have returned to the painting of my East Midlands region Black Bee, Bombus ruderatus.

I have rethought the sketch a bit to now include 2 little Pied Shieldbugs (Tritomegas bicolor) which I had photographed inadvertently when I was trying to get a shot of the bees on the white dead nettle at Holme Fen. They are lovely, very design-y black and white. It’s a bit of a theme for this painting. Black Bee, White Dead Nettle, Black and White bugs.


A blurry little Pied Shieldbug from Holme Fen.


Two Shieldbugs, one at the bottom and one peeping over a leaf at the top.

bee 1 bg

Stage 1:  Eyes first. If these are not right I start again.Then a little colour all round.


Stage 2:  More darker colour all round and getting the head and legs right.


A detail of the head at Stage 2. Its about 1/2 “wide.
I am always concerned to get the “pile” right. Different bees have different sort of hair. This bee is a little more tidy than its relation, Bombus hortorum but has longer hair than some others.  They are big bees, not called the Large Garden Bee for nothing.


This is almost done but I will make a few changes when I have the background sorted out a bit more. They say “an artwork is never finished, only abandoned”.. how true. You get to a stage when you don’t really want to see it again… at least not for a while.

I have not quite got as far as that with this bee. It will be finished next week I hope.



The background, bugs and bee roughly put together. 

More soon.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Some More Tree Following

It’s the week to sign in the Lucy’s Tree Following project.

The Chestnut Trees are developing so very quickly now.
There is a light green haze of leaves around them and some of the more advanced trees have a flower here and there.



The flower spikes are lengthening and the individual florets becoming more spaced out.


Florets coming into bloom from the base up.

I made one drawing of a more developed twig with a flower spike still in bud.


My flagging model after a couple of hours


The pencil drawing A3

And a couple of conkers I rescued from the verge mowing.


A loose sketch of the two sprouting conkers.

They only have long tap roots so far. They seem to grow upside down.

To my great surprise the sad looking old black conkers that I optimistically planted in a pot outside are sprouting.


A new leaf is about the emerge. Spring!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Girlie the Berkshire Pig….again

The more I read about the Berkshires and the more I see them, the more I like them. I have an idea for a larger pig drawing/painting/print and have been wondering which pig to choose.
I am rather fond of Girlie who I met at Sylvia’s farm (see “Spotty Dotty and Girlie”) on a very muddy day in Feb and today I made a few more studies of her. The Berkshires are medium sized and have those lovely alert pricked ears and are a smart black/brown with a white blaze, white socks and a white tip to the tail.

For me the sketchbooks are an essential part of working out ideas. When you start drawing, more ideas occur as you work with the shapes, colours and sometimes the personality. This pig has oodles of that. 


“Girlie” sketchbookA4


and a couple more….

I am almost convinced she is the one for my project.
See more about the Berkshires on Chris’ Salute the Pig Blog.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Back to the Bees… and A Book with Me in it..

I said earlier this month that I would be getting back to the bee paintings and the first is going to be the lovely Bombus ruderatus for the Beautiful Beasts blog.

 Bombus ruderatus: the Large Garden (or Ruderal) Bumble bee

This bee has a special significance for me as the only time I have ever seen one, to my knowledge, was in my father’s  garden.  I had seen a big all black “something” flying around the yellow archangel for a couple of days and then luckily one day I had my camera. If it had been the more usual striped  variety I would probably not have noticed it.

You can see more about this bee on my post "A Fenland Bee" here.

It is also the Iconic Bee for the East Midlands so a perfect Fenland “Beautiful Beast” and coincidently I thought I saw one on Sunday at the Holme Fen visitor info stop. There is a wonderful large planting of white and red dead nettle by the notifications boards which is a favourite flower for these long faced, long tongued bees.

So far I am just making some notes, rough ideas and colour sketches.

 b-rud-notes-1-bg b-rud1-bg

The all black version, which is the one I will be painting is officially called Bombus ruderatus var.harrisellus


Habitat sketch from Holme Fen and, yes the unexpected Highland cattle are there  to help manage the grass land.

Thinking about the bees in the white dead nettle.


And as I saw the big black bee in Dad’s garden on the yellow lamium


These small sketches are about 5 x4 inches

In the Garden

I was also so very pleased to see for the first time this year the gorgeous Tawny Mining bee.My photo does not do justice to the prettiness of this little bee with her beautiful foxy two tone colours. I had rescued her from a spider’s web, she is just taking a moment on my hand to regain her composure.

 tawny-m-bee hairy-f-fB-f-bg

And also, I have, at last, seen the Hairy Footed flower bees, both male and female on the pulmonaria.

A Book with Me in It!

It’s a big thank you to lovely, bee friendly, Andrew Tyzak for asking me to contribute to his wonderful book. “Drawing and Painting Insects” Andrew draws and paints and makes exquisite prints of insects and runs the website Bees in Art.

I am honoured to be alongside such high quality artists and at a generous 200 pages, the book is packed with images of insects of all kinds, in painting drawing and prints. There is also lots of info on how to go about painting and drawing these fascinating creatures. I was particularly delighted to see my Great Yellow Bumble Bee on the cover!

 Drawing-insects-bg me-and-bees-2-bg

About me and the bees


Some step by steps of my work….  

The book is available from all good bookshops!

First the book, next the film ….:)

Monday, 31 March 2014

March: in like an Adder’s head..out like a Peacock’s tail.

The adders were my ongoing subject for Beautiful Beasts in March and this old weather proverb can go both ways, but we had a beautiful sunny weekend so maybe it is going out like a beautiful shimmering peacocks tail this year.

Chris and I had a walk around Woodwalton Fen yesterday which was fascinating. More of Woodwalton Fen to come, but in the early chilly morning it was beautiful. Birds, bees, a distant Marsh Harrier and the black water of the meres  reflecting a struggling sun. I thought about my adders again.

 The large adder print


The block and some of the mess, the rest is scattered on the floor and around the house.


2 colours..9.5 x12 inches


3 colours… A proof print

In all I made 8 prints, each quite different, trying a variety of combinations as I cut away. They don’t call this reduction printing “suicide printing” for nothing! Once you have cut you can’t go back. I will post more stages on Print Daily soon.

This is one I liked..

Fenland Adders: Keepers of Peaty Treasures.


Four colour reduction print 9.5 x12 inches

What’s it about?
Well, in my personal, alternative reality, wild things generally have a better time than in real reality.

It’s a grey breezy day with clouds bubbling up in a huge fenland sky. My beautiful adders, keepers of the secrets buried in the peaty darkness of the fenland soils, rise up to survey their domain. One black and one patterned. They watch the distant peat cutters. The sensible mouse keeps a safe distance. What are those things scattered in the soil? Who knows what lost treasures, bodies and bones are buried in the peat? It is a subject of enduring and delightful speculation.

It’s back to bees this week!.. then maybe eels :)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Tree Following: Chestnut Bud Development.

Despite a bitterly cold day today, spring is racing ahead and it’s hard to keep up. Some of the Horse Chestnut trees in the village are getting leafy. Now I am looking more at trees in general it is interesting to note how early this tree has come into leaf. It must be one of the earliest.

The newly opening buds are really beautiful. As the feathery, deeply ridged new leaves open up they reveal a tiny new flower spike, each floret tightly curled.

On the drawing board

This bud is only just opening and the protective scales and the outside surfaces of the leaves are still hairy


Watercolour and pencil 6 x 8” approx

This one has opened up quite a bit more. The small leaflets are breaking free.


This one has opened further: pencil and watercolour approx 6 x 8” approx

This twig below has no flower buds, they are only developing into leaves. It’s hard to believe these tiny delicate furled things will develop into the huge shady parasols of the mature trees. For me it’s always that bucolic scene of dozing cattle, swishing tails and chewing cud, sheltering from the sun under its generous spreading boughs. Such a beautiful parkland tree.


Pencil and watercolour sketch 8 x10

Lucy, who is organising the tree following posed the question. “Is it possible to tell before the buds open up which will have flowers and which won’t.”

I have never really thought about it so had another look at the tree today.

What I noticed is that the buds low down or near the trunk are not opening to flower spikes, just leaves. Buds at the end of the outside branches all seem to have flower spikes. Which makes quite a bit of sense. Flowers need to be up and out there, where the pollinators can find them. 


The big candelabra flowers spikes will be a challenge to draw! 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Cormorant Sketches

There are quite a few cormorants on the reservoir here. Sometimes I see them skimming the surface of the water, soaring up high into the air, sitting on the outlet towers or, at Perry, perched on the breakwater by the boats.

This is where I found them this week. I am hoping to make a drawing/print/painting of a cormorant or two for Beautiful Beasts and wanted to get to know the shapes a bit better.

There were about 6, two young ones and two wing drying adults and a couple swimming around.
You can’t get very close to them, they are very shy, so it’s really a case of watching and making rough sketches.
They do, however, stay quite still on the breakwater drying their wings or snoozing.


A4 Sketchbook: First sketches of cormorants on the breakwater (with a couple of bouncing jackdaws at the bottom of the page).


A4 Sketchbook: More very quick sketches of the wing drying while they were still on the breakwater.

Some of them were still there when I left.  Others took to the water before flying off. They make quite a bit of noise when they take off and I love the big flapping wings and the big trailing feet


The quickest and probably the best sketch A5 sketchbook


A5 sketchbook colour note. The breakwater is orangy red. which makes an interesting contrast.

More cormorants to come.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Catching Up: More British Museum Sketches and more adders

Last Saturday I returned to the British Museum for a couple of hours to do a bit more research and sketching.  

Working on the Beautiful Beasts blog has made me wonder why we so like to make images of animals. Of course, the use of animal imagery in art, design and utilitarian objects warrants a lifetime of study, each culture having its own different beliefs, magic and symbolic systems and there is a wealth of info in the Museum.

I go to the Museum  to read, as much as to look and draw and on Saturday I particularly wanted to read about the Egyptian mummified animals and then get a quick visit to the fabulous Beyond El Dorado Power and gold in ancient Colombia” exhibition of exquisite golden and ceramic artefacts.

The animal mummies in Egypt were prepared for various reasons; a favourite pet to accompany you, an offering to the appropriate animal god or as food in the afterlife. In the main animal mummy case are cats, small crocodiles, falcons, a baboon, bronze relic boxes for a snake and an eel, a beautiful ibis case and fish “coffins”. There is nowhere to sit, so it’s a matter of drawing on the move while dodging the crowds .. the lines are a bit wobbly!


Everyone is fascinated by the cats. One in particular has a smile. One apprehensive little girl wanted reassurance that they were really dead.The linen wrappings are very beautifully executed with contrasting coloured cloths in a geometric pattern.

In another case were two forlorn bulls which don’t attract much attention, so I could wedge myself in a corner by the case to draw.

“Bulls were sacred to several gods. The famous Apis bull at Memphis was considered the earthly manifestation of Ptah, through which he issued oracles” from the British Museum Website


The wisdom of the bull..

Beyond El Dorado

On to the El Dorado exhibition which was packed. It was impossible to stand and draw without getting in the way of the tide of people, so I just made a few notes

. Bird_staff decoration

This is an exquisite little gold staff decoration. From the British Museum Website.

“The exhibition will explore the complex network of societies in ancient Colombia – a hidden world of distinct and vibrant cultures spanning 1600 BC to AD 1600 ….The remarkable objects displayed across the exhibition reveal glimpses of these cultures’ spiritual lives including engagement with animal spirits though the use of gold objects, music, dancing, sunlight and hallucinogenic substances that all lead to a physical and spiritual transformation enabling communication with the supernatural.”

There were some interesting snake related items. I was particularly pleased to read that snakes were revered for their ability to move easily between the elements of earth, water and sky (through jumping) and through the shedding of their skins were linked with concepts of renewal…..Go snakes!



A few notes of the lovely little ceramic figures from Lake Guatavita. A5 sketchbook.

There is so much material to work with and so many ideas to pursue. If you are ever in need of inspiration, a trip to the British Museum is the answer, but take a sketchbook not a camera. You will see much more.


Adder Progress…is slow…

But steady and I am back to the adders for Beautiful Beasts this week. The two 2 lino prints in preparation are going to be an opportunity for more experimentation.

It’s the end of March very soon and so I am concentrating on getting previous idea resolved and a few things finished.

One quarter of the year already gone..how did that happen!