Sunday, 4 July 2010

More insects

At this time of year I spend as much time as possible outside, gathering the material that will sustain me in the studio through the winter. I find myself more and more interested in all the insects that must have been here every year, but I just didn't notice before.
The great thing about insects is that you can find them everywhere. You don't have to make a special trip to a nature reserve. They're in the garden, in the house, on the way to the shops... In a foreign country you don't even have to leave the airport before you see something new. Their stories are not as well-known as those of the larger animals, but are every bit as interesting.

We visited the morning opening of a moth trap at our local nature reserve, where I made this hurried sketch of a Poplar Hawkmoth. The names of the moths are lovely. Even the boring brown ones have beautiful names. We found Clouded Drab, Watered Carpet, Scalloped Hazel and Marbled Coronet.

The ditches in Taynish have been full of Four-spotted Chasers this past month. Recently though, with the emergence of the more aggressive Golden-ringed Dragonflies, they've had to keep a lower profile.

This year I finally managed to track down these Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies. They are only half a mile from my house, and it's extraordinary how such an iridescent insect could be so unobtrusive.

I'd seen a similar damselfly in France last year. It doesn't seem to occur in Britain and I can only find a latin name - Agrion haemorrhoidalis. This, presumably, for its pink bottom.

Lastly, in celebration of last-year's migration of Painted Lady Butterflies I made this painting. They reached us by the end of May, and carried on north over the horizon. If I want to follow them I'll have to buy a new road atlas now.

Upwardly mobile

My parents live in West Sussex, where my Dad checks 250 Barn Owl nest boxes every summer. The children and I did a marathon day with him, lifting the ladder on and off the roof-rack to check 16 boxes. Some were empty, some had roosting adult owls, some had Stock Doves, and some had Barn Owl chicks in a variety of sizes. The smaller birds were covered in white fluff, while another box had fully feathered chicks, almost ready to fledge.

It was great to show the children an ecosystem so neatly laid out in front of them - the growing owls, the pellets on the floor full of Vole and Shrew skulls, and the flower-meadow outside where the food-supply came from. We took some of the pellets home to open up. The skulls, jaws and leg-bones had beautiful organic shapes - revealed by the owls.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Birds and Printmaking

During the winter I tend to work in the studio, printmaking, and occasionally venturing out when I get cabin-fever. I found these White-fronted Geese on one such outing, and drew them as they grazed along the high-tide line. Later these sketches led to a screenprint made using paper stencils.

For me, the first sign of spring is the sound of courting Eiders. Their calls drift through my newly-opened studio window from the bay outside. This picture is a combination of a monoprint with cardboard shapes printed on top.

I try and let a lot of weeds grow around the edges of the garden - it's interesting to see what new combinations of plants will turn up each season. I particularly love the dandelions, and any other plant that brings goldfinches to feed outside my studio. This picture combines a monoprint on cotton fabric with acrylic paint.

In June we can tell that the mackerel have arrived when the gannets start diving off-shore. This is a screenprint using paper stencils and wax crayon as a screen-blocker.

Ravens seem to delight in the autumn gales. This family were playing with seaweed from the shore. To make this picture, cardboard shapes were printed onto an acrylic background.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Small is more amazing than you realised

Once I'd re-trained my gaze to look at the smaller animals around me, I realised that I'd been walking right past some beautiful insects - and some fascinating behaviour. In our local woodland I found Peacock Butterflies feeding on Devilsbit Scabious in a patch of sunlight.

When camping on the beach this summer, I noticed Painted Lady Butterflies resting on the lichen-covered rocks and feeding on thrift. I thought that these insects were flying around in circles, until I realised that they were all traveling in the same direction. There was a continual stream of butterflies coming in from the sea and fluttering northwards, on a migration of maybe hundreds of miles.

My daughter found the caterpillar of an Emperor Hawkmoth in a neighbour's garden. It's a bulbous-headed, many-"eyed" caterpillar, the colour of the soil - not very beautiful. It metamorphosed into a chrysalis, which we kept over winter. The moth hatched the following May. Its colours were startlingly beautiful. When we released it onto its food-plant, the honeysuckle, it almost blended in.

In August, Golden-ringed Dragonflies patrol the ditches between heath and oakwood in Taynish Nature Reserve. The closer you look, the more fascinating these insect seem. I'd love to look at them under a really high-powered microscope. If I'm not careful I'll find myself on a one-way Alice-in-Wonderland trip. Dragonflies are such fantastical creatures that sometimes they do seem unreal.

Between children and printmaking, there's not much time for domestic luxuries such as gardening. The weeds are growing up around the patio, and sitting out in the sun with a cup of coffee, I noticed hoverflies feeding on the flowers of a huge Sow Thistle. There seemed to be many different types - big and small, chunky and slight, all with different bar-codes on their bottoms. And for a weed, the Sow Thistle is a beautifully sculptural plant.