This post is a little long but it contains a few thoughts about the insects world that I would really appreciate if you could read. It’s an important revelation to me and has changed my life…literally.
Bees. I think most of us have a huge respect and soft spot for these busy guys, who work tirelessly to pollinate our plants and make the most delicious, sweet treat that never deteriorates, that has healing properties and brings a huge smile when trickled over warm pancakes!
Back in 2013, click on that little ‘sweet’ link above, we were in the process of pulling together a honey import business and there was a lot of enthusiasm and small producers keen on assisting us with providing a diverse selection of flower and wooded honey’s. I found that actually honey is very political and tied into numerous trade rules and protection rights. I agree in principle but it seems that is the problem. Our perspective was to encourage small producers and limit the impact of large producers, to encourage a more humane treatment of bees by bringing honey away from world markets and into local.
I learned about the slavery of bees travelling thousands of miles in trucks to pollinate the human races insatiable appetite for foods such as almond milk. Closer to home the local honey companies honey was inedible. If you haven’t tasted pure honey, simply strained into a jar from the ‘super’ frames in the hive, you might be led to believe that what you eat is honey. My friends you are very, sadly mistaken.
You might notice on tasting honey, a slight twinge in your taste buds, a sharpness, not significant but there all the same. The honey is sweet yet there is an aftertaste that makes you feel a little thirsty. The honey will probably be quite runny, or have a very uniform colour. That is not honey. Ot is a sly mix of honey from many sources with added glucose or water syrup, in otherworld, caramelised sugar.
The local honey I couldn’t eat, it had all the signs of being tampered with. If you simply do the maths of number of bees x ability to produce an onze of honey, versus the extraordinary volume of honey sitting on supermarket shelves alone, you will see its a cover-up.
But this post isn’t so much about honey. In the end the hoops to jump through because the big boys manopolized this honey business, meant an outlay of investment we couldn’t handle. We took our honey stock with us to France and put the project on hold. Never say never. When I want a jar, I pop out to our cellar. Back in the kitchen I slowly unscrew the lid, dip a little spoon deep into the sweetness and I savour the heady flavours of the honey slowly.
When you pot up honey you end up drunk. Real honey is potent. After a couple of hours and a few mouthfuls to check the taste, you feel almost euphoric. In the hive this atmosphere gives the bees their insistence on protecting their queen and broods. They feel good and they use that strength to work their socks off!
So never one to give up on an idea, I still wanted to do some project that long term could be used to bring to attention the plight of bees, their skills and importance. The last few years have been a push to move from my old tax career to my new art career and although it took time to really understand what I wanted from that move, I knew that it all boiled down to drawing on what was around me and promoting local. I wasn’t interested in illustrating anything I couldn’t find within a few miles of my home. I wanted the originality of my own photos and first hand examples of plants and insects…the latter miraculously I had completely overcome all phobias of creepy crawlies and spiders.
The country girl could actually pick up any bug and help it on its way, rather than freeze, panic or run for something to squash or swish it out the way. Like many phobias this was nonsense and to my relief the bug world has been a revelation. Way down in the food chain in many cases and some even lower and at the mercy themselves to other insects, their little world seemed a struggle. Casually dispatched by humans and myself to blame for this too in the past, I felt a huge guilt. These bugs had projects, families, journeys to complete. Studying them closely I was also very aware they acknowledged me too. The little spider on the grass stem hid from my camera lens as I circled. Pausing, it would peep round the grass stem to see where I had gone. Raising my camera, the little guy would hide again, wait, then peep round once more.
Bugs on their backs, snails crossing busy roads, moths in water are all retrieved, helped and set back on their feet. Insects found in rooms we clean out, trapped for how long I do not knoe, and seemingly in a state of death, are taken outdoors, given water, honey and often, miraculously they revive. Watch them very closely, and they look at you, almost working out a code to understand that you are a friend. With little grass stems I have opened up moth and butterfly wings stuck from dust and cobwebs. I have trimmed damaged legs of spiders that have dragged and caused the poor things to go round in circles. Just yesterday a beetle needed a few encouraging moments to get back into flight. I found it in the dust with its front legs somehow stuck together, it’s little head being stuck too. Half an hour of gentle cleaning with warm water on a piece of grass released the legs. Painstakingly careful I nudged the mite to work with me. With legs free it started to wash it’s face, drank the drop of water I had placed near and after another half hour, it flew away. How long a life it might have now, I do not know, but death in the dust was not on my agenda!
The revelation that I love bugs 🐛 has been profound, as much as the same for poultry. I can’t explain it very easily but it’s changed my life. I have begun to design, to illustrate after a life of being corporate. This is a dream that I clung onto and finally it’s materialised and mainly due to that revelation. I just couldn’t see what subject I wanted to work with…like white paper block. Now it’s clear. All around me is a lifetime of inspiration and with my husband cooking with herbs right now in our kitchen, the insect world will be a great partner too. He adores cooking and vegatarian food. Our insects field of which I will post about soon, will help pollinate our food and hopefully in a few years I may even have a bee hive. 🐝
And the illustrations here are part of my set of six bees….Honey bee, Bumble, Carpenter, Mason, Leaf-cutter and Solitary. The hard part is pulling together the character. The Internet is full of cartoon digitally created bees, hyper-reality illustrations or botanical studies. I want to design for children, for playful adults and capture a slight old fashioned element of the illustrators from the heyday of children’s books from the late 1860’s upto the 1960’s. The brocantes are full of children’s books and I have a growing collection to dip into for techniques.
From ideas, transferred to shaded pastel paper, I work the character up in coloured pencil, charcoal and wax pencils. I am learning to be patient and to not beat myself up if its not perfect. The final illustrations are then reworked for fabric or for ceramic products, tweaking contrasts or colour levels in Photoshop. For example the mugs have wrap around designs and I hate repeating the same image twice, so I design a further element. Fabrics have different weaves, so I need to resize images and work out the best pattern layouts to compliment the images. It’s a new world but I love it and even though I am hard pressed for time with the renovations, I try to keep plugging away at ideas, my sketchbook and researching.
I hope you got this far, I rambled a little, but glad to share my passions and finally express that I have found my vocation at last.