I’ve been working on my new series for a long time now, and I realize that I haven’t documented the process much, or at all. So, here’s the first installment.
This is one of the walls of my studio space–with images waiting, drying, some on the floor and others hung up. I print my own work on a lovely, slightly translucent gampi paper. The process is time-consuming because the thin gampi won’t go through the printer on its own; it has to be lightly and temporarily glued onto another surface. Once printed, the image is immediately and gingerly removed from the backing. If I’ve added too much spray adhesive, the paper tears when I try to remove it, so that becomes a lost print! The good prints are left to dry for several days. The pigments are archival quality and killer expensive, but at least I am bound only by the limits of my printer’s dimensions (and my credit card limit for that month).
studio wall with prints hung up to dry
The small colored rectangles you see in the image are pollen color samples. They are done on little wooden panels and painted with acrylic. Some will be dipped in beeswax, others finished with an acrylic resin.
One of the first little flowers to bloom in the spring is the delicate snowy-white galanthus nivalus, appropriately called, “snowdrop.”
You can see the bright yellow-orange pollen dusting the inner surface of the petals in this close-up. Peter Lindtner, in his book, Garden Plants for Honey Bees (2014), ranks the snowdrop as a good source of pollen (3 stars out of 5), and a fair source of nectar (2 stars). Haven’t seen any bees yet at my little clumps of galanthus, but then I’m not standing guard all the time.
Galanthus has medicinal uses (according to the Kew Botanical Gardens website) One of the chemicals it contains is called galantamine, and it’s used to treat moderate memory impairments. Apparently snowdrops and their bulbs are poisonous to humans and can cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten in quantity. Well, I will leave the pollen to the bees and the bulbs to the squirrels. They made short work of my bulbs last fall. Basically they waited until I had finished planting and then gleefully dug them up again.
My interpretation of the snowdrop and its pollen:
24″ x 36″. Graphite and encaustic on mylar. I am using Dorothy Hodges’ pollen load color swatch for snowdrops (Pollen Loads of the Honeybee). As she has only one color recorded, I also added the pollen color in Kirk’s book (A Colour Guide to Pollen Loads of the Honeybee, IBRA, 2006), and I am using my own approximation of the anther colors from the snowdrops I collected in my garden.
Close-up of the encaustic work on Galanthus nivalus.
A visit to the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens recently proved to be a real treat–my first honeybee sighting of 2015! The intrepid bees ventured out between downpours in search of nectar and pollen. This busy little worker was in the process of loading light yellow pollen onto her hind legs from a hybrid honeysuckle bush (lonicera purpursii).
In a different part of the Gardens, the scent of Sweet Box (Sarcococca) blossoms was intoxicating. Thought there’d be lots of bees there, but the skies darkened, the air became chilly as the sun disappeared behind the dense grey clouds. No bees, sadly.
I photographed my own Sarcococca ruscifolia plant, a small one, at home. No consolation for the disappointment at the Gardens, but a useful reference and resource for drawing, nontheless. Here’s a close-up of the male flowers spilling creamy pollen over the leaves.
The tiny amount of pollen provided me with the impetus to record this anther pollen color in a drawing, as part of my self-appointed work to explore and learn more about the plants that bees love. Dorothy Hodges (Pollen Loads of the Honeybee) lists 20 very early blooming plants and trees, but Sarcococca is not part of her record. So, although I could not use Hodges as a guide here, I started the pollen work with the Sarcococca.
Detail of pollen drawing in encaustic
Sarcococca ruscifolia 24″x 36″ graphite, soft pastel, encaustic on mylar
Between the downpours of rain, it’s wonderful to discover what February brings to light.
Along the roadside near our house, leafless trees reach out among the evergreens. I found several hazel trees there and brought home a small branch to examine more closely. To my delight, the male catkins opened a few days later and spilled out their lovely golden yellow pollen. The female flowers of the tree contain tiny, bright red stigmas which peek out from their bud-like ovary–no petals. Hazel, Corylus avellana, is on the early spring list in Dorothy Hodges book, The Pollen Loads of the Honeybee. I’m still obsessed with Hodges’ book and her work and continue to explore and learn more about the plants and the pollen she’s included in this amazing work.
My neighbors have a curly hazel in their yard, a Corylus avellana contorta, also known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. The wonderful red female flowers are clearly visible here, along with the male catkins, still wet with raindrops.
I haven’t been consistent in posting my progress on the large bee project, “not by chance alone.” This is a new section that I have been working on recently. It incorporates one of the large “Flora/Melissa” images.
And some close-ups of the smaller figures. Final image, the paint-covered stamps piled up and ready for washing.
One of the most fascinating aspects of my work on bees is that I have become much more aware of the kinds of bees and other insects that appear in my garden. I’m on the lookout all the time and dash about with my camera in the hopes of capturing the little creatures at work. I must add that this awareness is also thanks to Madame Beespeaker, Lori Weidenhammer, who has widened my interests immensely with her passion for plants, for pollinators and for helping people understand the importance of maintaining and enhancing our natural environment.
Here’s a busy honeybee, sunk deep in my pitiful-looking hellebore, searching for nectar.
What a beauty! An orange-rumped (?) bumblebee queen digging in my pink pieris blossoms.
Another bumblebee queen on my white pieris.
Look at the color of the pollen this lovely honeybee is carrying on her back legs. She’s been foraging on my Buttercup Winter Hazel.
March 9. A beautiful day finally after some grey days of rain. And wow! I came upon a little patch of crocus in my neighborhood, no more than 2 metres square, and there buzzing away, hard at work, were a dozen or so honeybees. I only had my cell phone with me, but couldn’t resist taking some photos of this year’s first sighting (for me, that is). Some of the bees were covered in pollen, and on others, I could see that they already had the beginnings of a pollen load forming in the pollen baskets of their back legs. What a treat.
I found a beautiful book of poetry by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, called The Bees. Here’s one poem from that wonderful book. (I stole a phrase from this poem for my previous blog post, “shadowed busy heart.”)
I have the privilege of being part of an upcoming exhibition on environmental art at the Roundhouse Community Center Gallery in Vancouver. My bees will be there! Well, not all 50,000, but the 17,000 (or so) that I’ve completed to date. I am very excited about the show, about having the opportunity to exhibit this work in progress and about sharing the space with so many wonderful artists and artistic practices. I’ll be spending these final 2 weeks before the installation joining the image sections together and working out the logistics of display.