Monday, 16 February 2015

Launching Plan Bee

Okay, so here's the plan. Remember I said that I have some important projects under way for 2015/16? Well I can now reveal at least some of the topic for one of them. It's a year long project that will see me painting a series of paintings containing bees as well as flowers, to raise awareness of the loss of habitat for some of our most important pollinating insects. For some time I have been studying the habitats, lives and food sources of two of the rarest bees that we have here in the UK. The Shrill Carder Bee (bombus sylvarum) and the Brown-Banded Carder Bee, (Bombus humilis).

There are a few more surprises yet to be revealed on this project, but you can have too much of a good thing. So, as we go along, there will be more insights to come.

Some of my favourite colours have come in handy to paint the bees

And there are lots of lovely new brushes to ensure a nice, crisp finish

Bring on the Bees! Let me re-introduce you to the fluffballs that will be the centre of my world for the next year.  

Gosh, can I get mine looking as good as the real thing?
Bombus humilis
The Brown-Banded Carder Bee

Getting the soft, fluffy appearance of the hairs and delicate colouring will be a tough challenge.
And as for the luminescent transparency of the wings? Crikey, that will be a task.
Reference photo
Image C/O touch arts data banken

Bombus sylvarum
Shrill Carder Bee
Image c/o wikipedia

As mentioned, the bees form the fundamental starting point for a project that will focus on just one of their preferred food sources, and where this can be found. As I am a Londoner born and bred, and this also happens to be the location of one of the last strongholds of these bees, I felt this would be the perfect back story. More so as one of the hot spots for one of the bees is in the borough where I was born, within a small, protected marshland reserve. Well, I say hotspot. This is all relative as these bees are so rare, sightings of them are few and far between and some of the data is sporadic and sketchy. But they are there and hanging on.

Making a start on sketches for a Worker of Brown-Banded Carder Bee species
Colour mixes in rich browns, neutrals and reds.

Shading on the wings
Greys, neutrals and blue tones, with some golden highlights

Getting the details on those very hairy legs
Mixed blacks and greys are used for this,
with touches of golden highlights.

It's also really exciting to have had some assistance from some really great organisations, and it's so heart warming to know that our fragile natural world has so many crusaders fighting their cause. The City of London Corporation is a special and unique organisation that controls many functions within the City of London, but also privately owns and manages some of the most important pieces of Green Belt land in and around London, (I am passionate about Epping Forest, one of these special places). They have been extremely generous, and patient, and have given me so much of my early research through their extensive wildflower data records.

In fact, the idea for the project that I am working on came from my work on 'The Green Belt' piece from last year, along with my ISBA painting and the 'Working in the Field' piece from my SBA course. Also, the study of sustainable development and the environmental impact on habitats of urban sprawl were topics I really got my teeth into at University. So really some years in the planning.

The Green Belt
Inspired by Epping Forest
The starting point for the project
Also offering their support and unparalleled knowledge on bees is The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and I can't thank them enough for all of their assistance and access to their database information. They have also very kindly, given me access to their picture library. As I said, getting good images of these elusive little creatures is extremely difficult. Lastly for the bees is the London Wildlife Trust. Again, they have been really generous with their help and information on the habitat and recorded locations of both the bees, and my chosen flora subject. It really is all about the team you have around you.

Just for fun, here's Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. Enjoy!

As you will know, I started painting the bees this week, see Things With Wings and gave a little indication as to where this was heading. Well, now you know, and I am really looking forward to sharing more of the project with you as the year progresses. As to the flower species I will be painting? Ah well, I'll let you think on that one for a little while longer, but no, it's not a bramble.

Even painting the bee at twice life-size is still a very fiddly business 

It's going to be a full on year, with challenges left, right and centre. So, if I ever feel it's too damn difficult, and that I am just going to throw in the towel, give up and do something else. I will sit down, have a cup of tea, put on some Beethoven, (everything feels better with Beethoven. Trust me) and turn to Tennyson.

...but strong in will.To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

'Ulysses' - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Nearly there
'Her Gingerness' has some decidedly red tones

Study pages like this are invaluable to get the anatomy right and to get a feel for how to achieve the
'character' of the little beast.

Well, here she is.
Really quite pleased with this for a first go, but I can see where I can improve on things.
So I will have to paint a few more.

Going for the look of a Victorian specimen collection,
where insects are carefully 'laid out'.
This can make them look rather flat in a painting and I want my bees to look nice and fat and round

Looking at this lay out, I may change it to give the bee a more 'alive' look.
So, the wing direction may change a bit and I might rearrange those legs.
Excuse me! 

Painting the floral subject in-situ would of course be the ideal, but this would cause all sorts of issues for a project of this type. And, with the subject being a wild species, it is illegal to remove the plants from their location. So, to help make sure I have the very best blooms for as long a period as possible, I can thank Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants. A bit more about the plant later, it's asleep just now. So, I hope you will join me as I delve further into the lives of these bees, the plants they rely on and the project to highlight their rarity and need for our help.

Other useful links

Daniel Smith Watercolours in the UK

M.Graham Watercolours in the UK

Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The Natural Year Blog  Natural history paintings by Sarah Morrish All about Bees

da Vinci Maestro watercolour brushes


Sarah Morrish said...

It sounds such a worthwhile and exciting project ! Thank you for the mention too Jarnie :)

E.M. Corsa said...

Absolutely stunning work. We are having our own issues with honeybees. Good for you for taking on this project.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thanks Sarah. It was my pleasure to give you a mention, your natural history and insect paintings are so beautiful. So inspiring.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thank you E.M Corsa. I really hope to raise awareness, even if it's only in a small way.

vi said...

you will take breaks in between bees right? for a bit of flowers or something?

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Oh yes Vi, the flower subject I've chosen is a vital part of this project and will be the main feature. The two bee species are in partnership with it :)

Shelley Whiting said...

Your bee is realistic and spot on and fantastic. Incredible work.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thank you Shelley. I am so pleased you enjoyed your visit. The bees are something new for me, but I am enjoying the challenge.