Painting bees 🐝 plein air is like catching buses. You wait patiently for ages and then two come at once. Or they’re headed in the wrong direction.
This weekend, I made the most of summer bees and blooms in my little courtyard of joy. I’d seen the bees pigging out on the poppies every morning while I made my pot of coffee. Torture to have to stick to work commitments instead of going out to paint them. But when the weekend arrived, my morning plein air sessions were worth the wait.
I love painting from observation. And I love the challenge of having to recognise and translate the distinctive bee shapes into marks on papers from a momentary glimpse. Waiting for the bees to appear, re-emerge from a foxglove or return to the hover angle you started painting them at so you can add the next stroke is beautifully meditative.
I think there are at least four different species currently dropping by my humble pot plants. Not to mention the hoverflies that I’ve not painted so far. Looking at the bee guide on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s website I suspect I’ve seen the following:
1. White tailed bumblebee – pretty sure about this one from its gorgeous fluffy bum
2. Common carder bee – with a fluffy orange stole around its shoulders and a hint of a central dark stripe – coincidentally also a bumble bee but smaller than the white tailed bumble
3. Early bumblebee – has a hint of orange in that fluff, bigger than the carders
I learnt to recognise which kinds of bees prefer particular flowers. The common carder bees like the pink and purple toadflax. The white tailed fluffy bums ignore these and feast on red poppies. On Saturday morning, neither wanted foxglove. But it seemed to be on the menu for both after some light showers.
There’s another species that’s less fluffy and more stripy. It seems to like daisies. I think it’s a bee rather than a wasp but haven’t identified it yet. Any suggestions?
My bee cards are always popular and sell out quickly. I’ve got a healthy stock of just over 30 new bee cards to take with me to Kirkstall Art Trail. Some of these are solitary bees. some are bees and blooms together. There’s even a foxglove with a bee butt and legs sticking out of it. I had painted the bum first and then it buzzed off. I waited patiently for it or another of the same species to return. But none obliged. So it seemed best to finish the card with a foxglove.
Recognising the different bees means I may work on two or three cards simultaneously. Important to make sure I’m using the right real life reference when I add the next brushstroke and it can be a bit of a wait for the same species to both appear and hover at the right angle for continuity. There’s definitely a bee in this new set of greetings cards that inadvertently became a mash-up of two species. Oops.
If you’re up north on 15 and 16 July, please come along to the Kirkstall Art Trail. I think there are a good 70 artists taking part at different venues. I’ll be upstairs in the lovely airy Starbucks lounge. So you can pop in to choose your favourite bees and enjoy a cuppa.