Latest bee drawings

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.

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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  1. Susan Sparks

    Dear Christine,
    I have helped a client totally remodel a home and discovered the leafcutter bee funnels between the cedar siding. I stunned and fascinated by the exquisite jewel-like funnels but had no idea what made them.

    I contacted the Oregon Extension Service and discovered it was the leafcutter bee. My plan was always to frame the funnels in a shadow box with an accompanying photo of the bee. So, in searching for a leafcutter picture I found you and your drawings which are fabulous.

    Can you let me know what you have for sale? Do you make the prints in different sizes or cards? I look forward to hearing from you.

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