Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Things with Wings

So begins my little foray into 'things with wings', (oh, and by the way, that little phrase comes from one of 'Husband's favourite books, 'The Barbecue Bible'). Now, I was going to have a go at a little butterfly, but as the iridescent paint that I ordered hasn't arrived yet, (or to be honest, I haven't ordered it yet) I can't start it. So, I thought that I might have a go at a little bumbly bee instead.

Bumblebee, having a good rummage for the best bits
I love this picture 

Although I love the big, buzzy garden Bumblebees that we get in the garden in summer, I thought I would have a go at one of the rarer species that we have in Britain. Bees are having a really hard time at the moment, as there are a number of factors that are affecting their numbers considerably. First up is the nasty little mite that weakens and confuses the worker bees, preventing them from foraging. Nasty little buggers. 

Unfortunately, loss of habitat is also one of the major factors affecting bee numbers in Britain. Wildflower meadows have all but disappeared, which makes it difficult for bees to locate an adequate source of food. Recent drives by the RHS, BBCT and Buglife, (see links below) to raise awareness to introduce wildflower and nectar rich flowers to domestic gardens have helped, and some city centres have become greener and a little 'wilder'. So there is plenty of hope, (especially in our garden). According to a report on the radio just this morning, urban bee numbers are actually quite healthy, and are higher than rural bee colonies.

“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. Its so fuckin' heroic  

George Carlin

I couldn't agree more, (excuse George's French there, so to speak, but a quote is a quote after all)

Fast and fuzzy
Collecting lots of pollen

The Rolls Royce of insect hotels and a dream home for any bug about town
Somewhere for solitary bees and Bumblebee queens to hibernate

I really want one of these

Myths, Legends & Folklore

Now, you know how I love a bit of folklore, especially those about our natural world. Delving into the myths and legends surrounding bees, I turned up a few interesting snippets.  

Bees have long been a fixture in mythology and folklore for many cultures and beliefs since ancient times. Bees are a symbol of divine immortality, resurrection, knowledge, purity, sexuality, industry and hard work, (gosh, busy little things aren't they). The Egyptian sun god Re was believed to have created bees and humans from his tears, (I like that one). And with this in mind, burying the nobility in honey was a common practise in Egypt as a form of embalming the dead. The Egyptians also placed bees and honey in tombs as offerings to spirits of the dead.

In ancient Greece, The Oracle of Delphi was known as “The Bee”. In fact the ancient Greek “dbr” means both “bee” and “word”, indicating the bee’s mission was to give the Divine Word or Truth. This since has associated bees with prophecy, truth and news.

In some customs, it is important to share news with the bees
Artwork by Rima Staines

'Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!'

Northern Europeans have a custom that when a beekeeper died, the survivors must go and tell the bees of their master’s death, persuading them to stay rather than take wing and follow the master to heaven. Also marriages, births, and other important events are, in tradition shared (whispered gently and politely) with the bees, and hives have been decorated accordingly during these events. These traditions were brought to the Americas with the honey bee and are mentioned in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and a poem by New England's John Greenleaf Whittier, 'Telling of the Bees' (1858) among many other popular American pieces of literature.

So, onto the paintings. I have chosen to have a go at a couple of rarities, the Shrill Carder Bee and the Brown-Banded Carder Bee, not just because they are rare, but because one of their last bastions of stronghold habitats is actually, and quite amazingly, near London. That really is heroic George Carlin. Who knew.

Shrill Carder Bee

Image care of BioLib

Brown Banded Carder Bee

Image care of BioLib

Now, I don't actually have a real bee. For one thing these little darlings aren't about at this time of year, (like sensible creatures, the new queens are still hibernating), and for another, I am hardly going to voluntarily end the life of something so beautiful and rare, and alive! So, it's either picture library time or visit a museum where they have some specimens to paint from. For a first go, the former will do nicely. In early traditions bees were believed to have originated in paradise and were known as "little servants of Gods". It was considered bad luck to kill one.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here we go then. As bees are mostly hairy fuzz and fluff, the only washes are going to be those that support all the detail on top. Getting a convincing level of detail will also test the old skills here, so I will be utilising modern tech to help me to, 'get right in there' for a good look at the hairs and colours. Lots of flicking and careful strokes built up in layers will hopefully create the dense, hairy look that I am after.

Getting the mixes right is always the starting point.
So, what colour is a bee?

My favourite colours of Perylene Maroon, Indanthrene Blue, French Ultramarine Light, Lemon Yellow,
Sennelier Yellow Light and Raw Sienna and Cerulean made up the mixes.

Light blue / greys, neutrals, blacks and golden tones will be used to build up the colours for the bees

Lots of research materials and resources really help.

Bee charts, images, (care of Chris Shields)  

The high res on my tablet really highlights the detail I need

Every hook and hair looks enormous 

My painting is only twice life size, so actually quite small

Making a start on the wings.

Hmm, although this will be an initial sketch, I'm quite pleased with my first attempt.

The wings have golden highlights here and there and a bluish tone towards the edges.

Like tissue paper

Next up will be all those little hairs

Further info

Bumblebee Conservation Trust - A great charity that works hard to raise awareness and conserve our bees.

Buglife - In their own words, 'saving the small things that run the planet'

RHS - Wildlife and Biodiversity in the Garden




Claire said...

Great post Jarnie, love the quote! :D Here's to bee love!

Janene said...

What a delight to read about bees, see the glorious close-ups then see your painting in progress! I can't wait to see the finished painting.

valerie greeley said...

Hello from a fellow bee enthusiast. The "telling the bees painting" is by Rima Staines I think? In case yo don't know Rima you will find her in The Hermitage.
I love the detail in your work.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thanks Valerie, I hadn't spotted that I hadn't included the link there. You're right, Rima does great work, and I have now included the link to her own website.

shevaun said...

Wonderful project Jarnie. I'll be watching with interest and cheering you on. xx

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thanks Shevaun, that means a lot. It's that mix of fear and excitement just now xx