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Winterbourne Exhibition

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The exhibition of my Leafcutter Bee Drawings is now up at the Coach House Gallery, Winterbourne House and Garden, Edgbaston, B15 2RT. The exhibition runs until 29th April, so plenty of time to catch it if you are in the area. There is a special event, “Bugs, Bees, Plants and Trees” in the garden at Winterbourne on Saturday 20th April which may also be of interest! Entry to the Gallery itself is free.

Above: Some views of the exhibition. I have provided magnifying glasses for a closer look at some of the detail!

Above: Some of the drawings which are on display. Images of all the drawings in the exhibition can be found here: Leafcutter Bees in Brush and ink.

Above: And finally, some shots of my preparations for the exhibition. It has been a long process, punctuated by a house move! Some of these shots were taken in my old studio, and as yet I have not fully set up my new workspace. The drawings have already spent most of their time in packing boxes, so it was great to see them finally on some walls. I hope you can come along and view the drawings if you’re in the area!

Dates, opening times and location of exhibition can be found here: Winterbourne Exhibition Details.


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April 6th, 2013 at 11:51 am

Article in The Times

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Just a little update to mention that a small piece appeared in last Sunday’s Times Newspaper (16th March) with details of my upcoming exhibition at Winterbourne House and Garden (5th-23rd April).

Further information on the exhibition can be found in this earlier blog post.

Images of drawings which will be appearing in the exhibition are now online here: Leafcutter Bees Gallery.

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March 20th, 2013 at 11:15 am

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Leafcutter bee feeding on borage flower

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“Feeding on Borage Flower”, 2012
Ink and brush on Fabriano paper, approx. 6″ x 9″

Here is a detail of another of my series of Leafcutter Bees in brush and ink. This is one of a Leafcutter feeding on borage flowers last summer. At the moment the bees are over-wintering in the bee-house in the shed, but soon they will be moving (along with me!) to a new house and garden. Hopefully they will hatch out in the Spring and enjoy some of the flowers I will be planting for them in the new garden. Somewhat sadly, the move will mean I will also be leaving behind my “shed” studio, but I will be setting up a new studio overlooking the garden, and will bring you photos of the new place as soon as I can.

It has been four years since I had this studio built and began drawing again, and it seems fitting that the last thing I’m doing in my “shed” before I move is framing up drawings for my first exhibition! The exhibition will feature all of my recent Leafcutter Bee drawings, and will take place at:

Coach House Gallery, Winterbourne House and Garden, University of Birmingham, 58 Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2RT

How to find the venue: Location and directions.

Dates of the exhibition are: 5th – 29th April 2013. See below for opening times.

Winterbourne House and Garden is a beautiful Arts and Crafts house and garden in Edgbaston, Birmingham. While the house and gardens are very much worth a visit, the exhibition is in the Coach House Gallery which is free, and open during the usual opening hours of the house. During April these are: 10am – 5.30pm (weekdays) and 11am – 5.30pm (weekends). Please check Winterbourne’s website for any changes in these opening times: Opening times and admission details.

There is a special event at the venue on Saturday 20th of April: “Bugs, Bees, Plants and Trees“, which may be of interest!

Above: Brochure for Winterbourne, and some shots of preparations for the exhibition.

Images of many of the drawings to be featured in the exhibition can be found on This Page

Also, don’t forget that some of my Leafcutter Bee drawings will be at the Louth Festival of the Bees, which takes place in May. I will give more details of this in a future blog post, once I’m in my new home. There is a PDF of the festival leaflet here.

As I’m at something of an ending and a new beginning, I would also like to thank you for reading my blog this far and following my progress, especially all of you who have commented along the way. Thank you so much for your support, and perhaps I will see some of you at Winterbourne or Louth.

P.S. I may not have access to Internet for a week or two, so any comments may take a while to appear!

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January 28th, 2013 at 10:31 am

Cutting a leaf circle

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“Leafcutter Bee Cutting Leaf Circle from Rose Branch”, 2012
Ink and brush with some body colour, on Bristol Board, approx. 7″ x 4.5″

Here’s another in my series of ink drawings based on Leafcutter Bees. This one shows a bee on a branch of rose leaves which are one of their favourite plants for harvesting nest material. Watching a bee cut a circle from a rose leaf is a truly wonderful experience. I have posted about photographing the bees at work with rose leaves in this earlier blog post which tells of the activities of leafcutter bees.

Once again I have used Winsor & Newton liquid Indian ink, which I absolutely love using. The paper is Bristol board, and the ink was applied using small watercolour brushes in the technique I have been working on for a while now, in which I build up layers of washes to create the image. For this particular drawing I also used some Chinese White body colour to add detail, for example on the hairs on the bee’s legs.

Above: Detail of two stages in the drawing, and far right, detail of another drawing to show the leaves after the bees have cut them.

Exhibition dates 2013:

There will be opportunity for you to see my bee drawings at two locations in early 2013. I will post details of the exhibitions as soon as I have more information, but for now, here are some links to the places I’ll be exhibiting:

Winterbourne House and Garden, Edgbaston, April 2013.

Winterbourne House and Garden is a beautiful Arts and Crafts house and garden open to the public. The exhibition will take place in the Coach House Gallery.

Louth Festival of the Bees, May 2013.

Louth Festival of the Bees will include workshops, exhibitions and lectures, and looks like it will be an informative and exciting event for all lovers of solitary bees.

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Leafcutter bee in flight

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“Leafcutter Bee in Flight”, 2012
Ink and brush on Fabriano paper, approx. 4.5″ x 7″

A solitary Leafcutter bee returned to lay in the bee houses this year. Due to the rain and cold weather she has completed less than one tube of cells this summer, on which the hope of leafcutters next year now rests. I will over-winter them in the tool shed to ensure cool, dry conditions, and hope for better weather at hatching time next spring.

On the positive side, this bee has been feeding in the garden, and I have taken many photos of her on the poppies and cornflowers. I will be drawing from these over the coming weeks, and posting the results here.

The drawing above of the Leafcutter in Flight is approximately 4.5″ x 7″, on Fabriano paper using Winsor and Newton Liquid Indian Ink applied with small watercolour brushes. A description of my method of work can be seen in this earlier post on a Leafcutter bee emerging from its nest at the beginning of the season.

For more information on Leafcutter Bees and how you can help them in your garden see the Bee Pages, and A Summer with the Leafcutters.

Thanks for visiting, and good luck with your bees!

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Leafcutter bee emerging, in brush and ink

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“Leafcutter Bee Emerging”, 2012
Ink and brush on Fabriano paper, approx. 6″x 5″

After almost a year lived in perfect darkness inside a leaf cell, a leafcutter bee emerges into the light. First its antennae, then its eyes experiencing the world for the first time. In its jaws are the dried leaves of the cell from which the bee has just broken free. One after another the bees hatch from the leafy tubes on warm, dry days, to fly into the garden. The leafcutters in my garden were very late this year. Usually they will hatch sometime during the first week of June, but it was not until the second week of July that I heard the familiar clicking as they chewed their way out of the dried leaf cells.

Emerging, some of them seemed weak and hungry. One stumbled its’ way out of the nest, rested for a while on the ground below and then like the others flew for the nearest flowers and food. After a week or so of foraging and mating, the leafcutters will begin to return to the bee houses, and female ones will select a tube to clear of last year’s debris and begin nesting again.

Click on thumbnails above for a closer look.

The drawing is approximately 6″ x 5″, on Fabriano paper using Winsor and Newton Liquid Indian Ink diluted with distilled water and applied with small watercolour brushes. I have been practicing this technique for a while now in drawings of leaves which you can see in earlier posts and in the gallery here. The leaf drawings were studies from life, but for the bees I am working primarily from reference photographs taken in the garden. I begin by sketching a brief outline in pencil, and then adding an all-over extremely pale wash so that nothing of the ‘white’ paper remains. I then begin work with slightly darker washes, while the paper is still damp and the ink moves around relatively easily. Further layers of progressively darker washes are used to build up the form and add detail. I do not mix the washes using measured drops, but rather in the palette, mixing tiny amounts of ink into water as required.

Several times during the drawing I stop and allow the paper to dry more, and take the opportunity to scan a progress shot. I leave lighter areas such as the hairs on the face and highlights in the eye with only a pale wash, painting around them. Occasionally I have used Chinese White to add in highlights, but not on this particular drawing, where the lighter parts are all reserved from the ink. Towards the end of the drawing I add more and more ink to the darkest areas, using a drier brush.

I will be posting drawings of all stages in the life of a Leafcutter bee over the coming months.

Further links: Leafcutter bees, Building a house for solitary bees, and a photographic record of last summer with the leafcutters in which you see this nest being created by the bee last year.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer

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Latest bee drawings

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Once again there seems to be a huge amount to report both on the drawings, and the activities of the bees in the garden. For those waiting for an update on the leaf-cutter bees, there is a post coming soon, with many photographs! There are also a few pen and ink drawings of leaf-cutter bees below. For those looking for my drawings, this post covers those I’ve been working on since my last update. I’m still in the experimental stage, as you will see, but eventually I will have drawings of bees for sale, as well as illustrations for the planned book about the bees.

The materials I’m using can be seen in the first picture below left, and are: the Gillott 404 nib and dip pen, Winsor & Newton Liquid Indian Ink, a Winsor & Newton Cotman fine brush, distilled water, a lint-free cloth to clean the nib, blotting paper, and a mixing palette for the ink wash. All the drawings shown in this blog post are on Bristol Board: some on Strathmore smooth Bristol board which has a nice off-white tone, while others including this large white foxglove drawing are on the bright white Canson Bristol Board.

An outdoor sketch of white foxglove, with bee visitors:

Above: For this drawing I left the studio and took my pen and ink kit onto the decking where I had a good view of a white foxglove which was being visited by many bumble bees. Above centre and right: two closer views of the drawing. I sketched the foxglove itself, adding a quick impression of each bee visiting the flowers during the hour or so I was there. As you can see the bees tend to repeat the same pattern of flight, visiting each flower in turn usually for a quick inspection and only sometimes entering a flower for pollen and nectar.

A purple foxglove with raindrops and a bee:

Above: For this drawing I worked in the studio from a reference photograph on the computer screen. I have found that this is more successful than working from a printed photograph, as it allows me to zoom into the image when necessary to check a detail. Somehow the light in the computer screen also helps to reveal some quality which seems to be lost when something is printed. For this drawing I sketched the outlines in ink, then using distilled water and a fine brush drew the ink out of the lines to create shading. This is possible with Winsor & Newton Liquid Indian ink as it is not waterproof. For the darker areas I added more and more ink in washes.

Another outdoor experiment: bees on thyme:

Above left: I sat for a while in the sunshine watching three or four honey bees working on a thyme plant just outside my studio. This time I tried to capture the positions and activities of the bees, and left the plant as a few lines which indicate the position of the main stems. Not surprisingly, I found drawing these bees very difficult – they are so small and move quickly, and there is hardly time to capture more than the position of the wings or a leg. However, after a short while the patterns the bees make in their explorations become clear. I intend to repeat this experiment again soon as I feel I was just getting somewhere when the paper became too crowded with bees to continue. Above right: detail of one of the bees from this drawing.

These same bees, drawn at the computer screen:

Above left: I have been taking many pictures of bees this summer, and these help me to understand the way these insects are put together. So I took plenty of photographs of the bees on the thyme which featured in the drawing above. Here I am working from the computer screen, as I did for the drawing of the purple foxglove above. A combination of observation, drawing the bees ‘live’, and working from photographs in this way is helping me to get a good result with the drawings. Above centre and right: more detail of these sketches. As you can see I am using very little wash on these bees, and concentrating on the lines.

A leaf-cutter bee carrying a leaf:

Above: A leaf-cutter bee carries a furled piece of rose leaf into its nest. As with some of the other drawings above, I’m working here from a photograph I took this summer displayed on the the computer screen. The drawing is in the same materials as before, and on Bristol Board. This is a nice preview for you bee fans out there, as I have many photographs to share with you of this bee building her nest. I drew this completely in pen without any pencil sketch, as in all the drawings above. I wasn’t too concerned about the exactness of the anatomy, but was rather aiming for some animation and variety of line.

And finally, perhaps too much detail:

Above: Once again, as in an earlier post on my bee drawings, I have been wavering between a freer drawing style and recording exact details as in this drawing of a leaf-cutter bee at rest. This drawing was traced from an earlier sketch – hence the pencil marks. I hoped in this way to get a more anatomically correct result, but I perhaps took things a little too far in getting out my magnifying light and trying to record every single hair! The result looks a little stationary even for a resting bee, I think. However, I do like the close-up view above right, so I believe I’ll save the magnifier for when I’m drawing a detailed portion of a bee rather than an entire specimen. If you click on the thumbnail image above right, you will see that it’s possible with the Gillott 404 nib to stipple and produce lines as fine as those with the Rapidograph.

So at the moment I’m working on something midway between the “correctness” of this final leafcutter drawing and the animation and freer style of the bee carrying the leaf. I will continue to use the dip-pens as I’m quite pleased with some of the results I’m getting.

The next blog post will be mainly about the leaf-cutter bees and what they’ve been up to since we saw them last. Thanks for reading, and thanks also to those who have taken the time to comment or to email me about their bees. There are a lot of people with leaf-cutters in their garden, it seems!

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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Bees in pen and ink: Dip pens

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Here are my latest drawings of the bees. Earlier posts showed my sketches of  ‘bee characters‘ as well as some bee drawings using the Rotring Rapidograph. Here I’m using a dip pen to draw in detail the head of a bee.

Dip pen and Indian Ink:

Above: The drawing is from a photograph of a leafcutter bee emerging from the nest, which I took I think in 2009. The nib I’m using is the Gillot 404 which I used for the ‘bee characters’. I was surprised to find that used carefully and slowly I can achieve quite a lot of detail, as you can see if you click on the thumbnail images above. The ink is again the Winsor and Newton Liquid Indian Ink, which is non-waterproof. I have found it is ideal for this work. I use a very small amount of ink on the nib each time, dipping a very little way into the ink, or applying with a small paint brush. This way I have found there have been (so far!) no disasters with blobs of ink, and it flows almost like using a pencil, if the nib is used gently and relatively slowly. Every so often, once the ink starts to dry on the nib, I rinse the nib in a small cup of water and dry it on a lint-free cloth. Paper is Bristol Board.

This is the technique I’ll be using for a while now on the bees. Despite being quite slow work, it is in fact much quicker than drawing with the Rapidograph. It also allows me to make a variety of marks including stippling, and the lines also have more variety of thickness.

Above, left: Some quick sketches of a newly-emerged leafcutter. Above, centre and right: close-up views of a larger study of a leafcutter bee, showing the variety of lines used.

Above: Gillott nib looking slightly worn – I just hope that when I start using the next one it gives me the same results, or I’m going to be very disappointed!

The close-up of the nib above was taken with my new compact camera, which I’m hoping to use to take some better photographs of the bees. I have been struggling with the older photographs of the bees I’ve taken, since they don’t have the detail that I want to record in these drawings. At the moment I’m enjoying the weather, chasing insects around the garden and getting used to the camera. I have been really pleased to find miner bees digging in my garden for the first time this year. I don’t know whether I’ve missed them before, or they’re here for the first time.

I’ll post a few of the new pictures in the photography part of the site soon. For now, there is a link below to take you to some of my earlier photographs, and information on the solitary bees.

Bee Pages with photographs and illustrations |

All images and text ©Christine Farmer

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Bees in pen and ink: Bee characters

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Something of a different take on the bees, and probably as far removed from the Rapidograph drawings as I can get.

A label:

Above: Back in February I did a couple of quick sketches of bees on labels and cards for a gift. It was just a little sketching, using the same nib I used to address the envelope. But I realised that these bees had all the character I was looking for in my more serious drawing, and I think this is where the idea for the bee characters originated.

Bee characters – a few early drawings:

Taking notes one day from one of Fabre’s bee books, my mind was wandering with regard to what the bees might think of our notions about them, and I found myself doodling these bees on the page.

Above left: First doodles with gel pen in my notebook. Above, centre left: Work on the bees using the nibs I’d been using to practise my writing, and Indian Ink. After a little experimentation I found that the Gillott 404 nib with Winsor & Newton liquid indian ink were ideal for these tiny sketches, as you can see from my note on the page. This ink is less ‘sticky’ than the Indian Ink I’ve always used before, and I’ll write more about that in my next blog post on the bee drawings. Above right: Two shots of a couple of the early characters – the one with the pen gives an idea of scale. I added some ink wash, as you can see.

Above: Combining some of my lettering with the bees. This combination of lettering and small drawings is one I’ve been using on my family trees. Since these first efforts I’ve drawn many more ‘characters’ engaged in photography, writing their own books, looking through telescopes and what not. Not sure where it’s all going, but it’s fun playing about with them!

My next post on the bee drawings should be up next week, and looks at my most recent drawings using the dip pens – a return to more ‘serious’ bee studies.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer

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April 21st, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Bees in pen and ink: Rapidograph

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I’ve been meaning to update the blog for some time, to show the drawings I’ve been doing of bees. I hadn’t felt there was much to write about, but looking back over the material, I realise I should have updated everything a lot sooner. Since there seems to be too much material for one blog post, I’ve split it into three. Here’s the first – about the bees in Rotring Rapidograph.

Those of you who follow the blog will know that I encourage solitary bees to the garden and am always photographing and writing about them. I have an idea to write a book about the Leafcutter bees in particular, which would be either an ‘Artists Book’ with most of the focus on the drawings, or else more philosophically-based, with the drawings serving more as illustrations.

I also have a lot of straightforward information about solitary bees which I will probably put on the website in some form or another. I’ve put a link to all the bee information on the website at the moment – blog posts, web pages, photographs and drawings – on the menu at the right, or you can go straight to it here: Bee Pages.

Rapidograph Bees

Dining Room Chair – detail of the Ivy:

Above: A detail from the drawing Dining Room Window and Chair showing the view through the lower part of the window – an ivy, which is always covered in honey bees during its flowering season. This was one of the first times I had included bees in my work, though I am often photographing and writing about them. I decided to use the photographs as the basis of some drawings which would focus on the bees themselves.

A Leafcutter bee using Rotring Rapidograph:

Above: This first study was a straightforward drawing using the Rotring Rapidograph, mainly stippling but also using fine lines for the hairs. As you can see above left, I had begun by making a sketch of this bee in pencil. For the ink drawing I began by drawing the outline of the bee and flower in pencil. But the more I worked on the bee, the more I felt it was too ‘stationary’ and not at all what I wanted from a study of so lively a creature!

I also had the difficulty of rendering the flower petals; so easy in pencil, but too time-consuming for the number of drawings I’ll need for the book. I decided to experiment with some looser sketches in Rapidograph pen, leaving aside the preliminary pencil drawing, and being freer with the marks used:

Rapidograph sketch of a newly-hatched Leafcutter bee:

Above: Sketches of a bee in Rapidograph (0.13). Of course abandoning the preliminary drawing meant there would be plenty of mistakes. But I think this was good for me, since I’m so used to meticulously drawing everything out in pencil before I begin. It also helped with my beginning to understand the anatomy of the bee. I think this bee comes alive and off the page in a way that the earlier bee did not.

Once I’d sketched the bee in ink, I used a combination of stippling, dashes and other small marks for the details. I think I went on to fiddle about using a little ink wash, and some dried India ink on cotton buds. This wasn’t particularly successful in terms of a beautiful image, but I think the experiment worked in that it moved me away from so much reliance on the time-consuming stippling.

Adding ink wash:

Above: And finally for this post, a page from my tentative experiments with ink wash on the petals. The bees themselves were mainly drawn with the Rapidograph. I say ‘wash’ but I’m still trying to control everything too much, and I need a lot more practice. I really had to push myself to try out all these different ideas after being wedded to the stippling for so long! I’m still somewhat uneasy sharing my ‘mistakes’ and experiments, as all I can see are problems that still need work.

After a while I decided that the Rapidograph wasn’t giving me the lines I wanted, and neither did it blend well with either the wash, or in combination with pencil leaves and petals. Something else was needed, and so I put down my Rapidographs for the time being.

Go to the main Bee Pages |

All images and text ©Christine Farmer

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Written by Christine

April 18th, 2011 at 4:27 pm