“For so work the honeybees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom.” – William Shakespeare
One of the highlights of my summer was visiting some nearby lavender farms and, of course, where there is lavender, there are bees! In particular, bumble bees and honeybees are two of the main pollinators of lavender. These plants are very attractive to pollinators because they are rich in pollen and nectar and produce a large amount of linalool (a naturally occurring alcohol that occurs in many flowers and spice plants).
Honeybees are any of a group of insects in the family Apidae (order Hymenoptera) that in a broad sense includes all bees that make honey. However, what is commonly known as the domestic honeybee usually refers to the single species, Apis mellifera. Apis is Latin for “bee”. The first Apis bees appear in European fossils at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary – about 33 million years ago. However, these bees are thought to have their origins in South and South-East Asia.
Honeybees are social insects and live together in hives or nests. A colony generally contains one queen bee, a female; up to a few thousand drone bees, or males; and tens of thousands of female worker bees, the latter of which perform dancing movements inside the hive to communicate the location, quality, and distance of food sources to their fellow hive-mates.
Honeybees obtain all of their nutritional requirements from a combination of pollen and nectar. Pollen is the only natural protein source for honeybees and nectar is collected by worker bees as a source of water and carbohydrates in the form of sucrose.
During the winter, the bees draw closer together in the hive to conserve heat and, when nectar sources are low, the worker bees drag the drones out of the nest and do not let them return, thereby starving them and reducing the consumption of winter honey stores.
Most bees are polylectic, which means that they gather pollen from a wide variety of flowers. However, some bees collect pollen only from flowers of certain families or certain colors. Oligolectic bees gather pollen from only a few related kinds of flowers, which their mouths are adapted to.
ANATOMY OF THE HONEYBEE AND THAT DREADED STINGER:
The head is the area of information gathering and food input. It contains the eyes and the mouthparts.
The thorax is the area of locomotion and contains 2 pairs of wings, 3 pairs of legs, and 3 pairs of spiracles for letting air in. Legs have pollen baskets, which is, as the name suggests, used to carry the pollen around. Its special concave shape and hairy edges help to keep the load in position while the bee flies.
The abdomen is the area of digestion and reproduction.
The sting is attached to the digestive tract and is designed, with barbs, to prevent the sting from being pulled out. When a worker bee stings, it tries to get away, but the barbs prevent the sting from coming out, so the sting breaks off and is left behind. The sting and accompanying venom gland will then continue to work on their own to pump venom into the victim, while simultaneously releasing a pheromone to mark the victim, alerting other bees to continue to sting them.
Lavender is such an enchanting color – pretty and serene. As a color – a combination of red and blue – it takes its name from lavender flowers. The word lavender, itself, comes from the Latin word lavare which means “to wash” and it’s no wonder, as the color evokes a clean crispness and is often found in soaps and bath and beauty products. Lavender flowers were used as perfumes since ancient Egyptian times.
Lavender is a gentle form of purple, a color used to signify royalty. And, indeed, lavender has a subdued and elegant feel to it. Often representing Spring and youthfulness, lavender has come to be one of the pastel hues associated with that season.
It is common to find that the word “lavender” can represent several slightly differing shades of pale purple, and that also makes sense since, if you look closely at lavender blossoms, there are many variations of purple hues contained within.
To mix lavender, you will need to combine a warm red with a cool blue. If you use more of the red, you will end up with the color lilac. If you use more of the blue, you will arrive at lavender. You can then add white to your mixture to create various shades and intensities.
July 29th is celebrated annually as International Tiger Day, to raise awareness about these gorgeous, majestic – and endangered – creatures! I love tigers and often celebrate them through my art. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my tiger art with you, as well as some fun facts about tigers and notes on their conservation.
Fun Fact: Tigers have been around for over 2 million years
International Tiger Day was started in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit in Russia, when it was discovered that 97% of wild tigers had vanished since the beginning of the 20th century.
Several countries, including India, Russia, and China, pledged to protect tigers. Thirteen tiger range countries collaborated to form TX2 and committed to doubling the tiger population by 2022, which was the Chinese year of the tiger.
To read more about TX2, check out the World Wildlife Fund’s TX2 page HERE.
Fun Fact: Their stripe patterns are all unique, just like human fingerprints!
Fun Fact: Unlike most cats, tigers love to swim!
Some Conservation Highlights
In India, Project Tiger, which was started in the early 1970s, with 268 tigers now has over 3000! This great news also illustrates how tied together issues of ecology and conservation are because, with the growing number of tigers in the wild, one now has to address issues of habitat and prey loss and the potential for tigers to enter spaces with humans more and more. Some of the ways this is being addressed is to look at development through a lens of ecological preservation: for example, creating safe passages for tigers and other wildlife when highways are built and preserving large swaths of natural habitat.
As we celebrate the good news, we also need to keep in mind that there is still a way to go. On average, two tigers are rescued from traffickers very week and there are still more tigers in captivity than in the wild.
To learn more about ways help tigers, check out legitimate nature organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund for more info and resources.
Fun Fact: India has the greatest number of wild tigers, and this makes up over half the tiger population of the world!
“The air was fragrant with a thousand trodden aromatic herbs, with fields of lavender, and with the brightest roses blushing in tufts all over the meadows.”
-William C. Bryant
Recently, I was transported to the delights of the French countryside right here in Washington State, at the annual Sequim Lavender Festival! For three days, the entire town is adorned in purple flags heralding the location of the festivities and several dozen friendly volunteers are ready and waiting to guide you around the many attractions.
The sun-drenched landscape of Sequim is already dotted with pretty and fragrant lavender plants on every city block but is especially dazzling from June through September, when the farms are painted in large vibrant swatches of purples, greens, and whites.
The name lavender originates from the Latin verb “lavare,” which means “to wash.”
There is also that delightful three-day festival that I mentioned earlier, with live music, delicious food, scrumptious lavender deserts and lemonade, and vendors with art, jewelry, culinary treats, and bundles and wreaths of fresh lavender, of course!
I treated myself to some sweet little lavender wands, also known as lavender bottles, a traditional flowercraft from Victorian times, and also some lavender sachets for family and friends, and fragrant bundles of fresh cut lavender.
“To make a perfume, take some rose water and wash your hands in it, then take a lavender flower and rub it with your palms, and you will achieve the desired effect.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
Lavender represents serenity, purity, and calmness.
We also visited a very charming and picturesque local farm, Purple Haze Lavender Farm, where I took these photos of the fields. The beautiful farmhouses and gift shop on the property perfectly complemented the purple fields and were picturesque additions to the photos.
The gift shop was filled with lavender treasures – fresh cut bundles, lotions, soaps, candles, and honey! There was live bluegrass music and picnic tables in the shade if you wanted to take a break after strolling through the fields.
Lavender originated in the Mediterranean region, northeast Africa, and southwestern Asia, where it has grown for over 2,000 years.
There are over 45 species of lavender and more than 450 different varieties.
And, of course, where there is lavender, there are also hundreds of buzzing bees, honey and Bumble, and I will soon (in the next few weeks) be doing an entire post on these important little pollinators, so be sure to stay tuned for that! You can also sign up for my newsletter to be sure you don’t miss out!
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
July is World Watercolor Month and over on Instagram, I’m creating a painting (almost) every day to celebrate! I’ll upload them once a week onto this website, but if you’re on Instagram, be sure to follow along my progress there in real time! And definitely check out the official World Watercolor Month account on Instagram as well.
Watercolor is my first love when it comes to art! It’s how I found my voice and confidence as an artist and what I used to create the first of my pieces that were accepted in a show. I am fond of creating in many different types of art media but to this day I still think of myself as a watercolorist first.
I love painting skies in watercolor and couldn’t resist creating the above homage to sunsets in the Caribbean, where I grew up. Every night, the skies and the ocean would shine like liquid gold. The ocean is what I miss most from my childhood. I live on the coast now too and it’s wonderful -I actually wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. However, somehow, the ocean is not quite the same.
It’s beautiful here where I live now, but in a colder, starker, greyer way – which I am also incredibly drawn to – but every now and then, you miss warm sand between your toes, soft like silk; and so much blue that your heart can’t help but be happy. The thing with the tropics is that everything has an intensity of 10 : colors, scents, tastes! The sea is turquoise, the flowers are heady, the fruits taste like the sun.
Speaking of tropical flowers….
“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
-Vincent Van Gogh
“…every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was talking about the stars, but I think the quote fits this painting strikingly well!
Stay tuned for Week 2 paintings … in a week!
“Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.”
– H.P. Lovecraft
Throughout June, I participated in the FOR PLANET OCEAN art challenge on Instagram. Be sure to check out the @ForPlanetOcean account to learn more about this challenge and its organizers.
There were five prompts:
- Coral Reefs
- Blue Mind
- Artivism: Protect What You Love
- Deep Sea: Mysterious Depths
- Seagrass: Planting A Future
Having grown up on an island, I love the ocean and feel most completely at peace when I am standing on the shore, looking out at the waves and the endless blue. I always welcome any opportunity to observe the ocean and its creatures and to try and capture some of their awe-inspiring beauty and mystery in my art.
“I can mention many moments that were unforgettable and revelatory. But the most single revelatory three minutes was the first time I put on scuba gear and dived on a coral reef. It’s just the unbelievable fact that you can move in three dimensions.”
– David Attenborough
Coral reefs are stunning underwater ecosystems that rival rainforests in their biodiversity! Sadly, our coral reefs are threatened by pollution, climate change, and irresponsible fishing practices and some of them have already been completely destroyed. Not only are they incredibly beautiful to look at but they support the lives of many, many marine creatures – so we definitely need to step up and consider how our actions impact them.
“Water quiets all the noise, all the distractions, and connects you to your own thoughts.”
-Wallace J. Nichols, from Blue Mind
Artivism: Protect What You Love
“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”
Art can help raise awareness for causes and influence change. Nature Art can inspire people to learn more about the natural world around them and find ways to get involved with conservation.
In this piece I wanted to illustrate the beauty and biodiversity of the flora and fauna that can be found in our oceans. We still haven’t explored all of the mysteries that the waters hold but we are causing them a great deal of strain with over-fishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change to name a few.
Oceans regulate the Earth’s temperature and generate most of the oxygen that we breathe. Marine ecosystems, such as mangroves and seagrasses help store a lot of carbon emissions, and so are a vital part of the fight against climate change.
Deep sea habitats are incredibly biodiverse and have up to (and maybe more than) 10 million species! And the vast majority of the ocean has yet to be explored still! I don’t want to go into all of the ways in which the ocean’s flora and fauna benefit humans – because I don’t think that’s the point. Instead, we need to remember that our actions directly impact the lives of these precious creatures, so we need to do our best to care for them.
Deep Sea: Mysterious Depths
“Although we couldn’t have been more different — I, a terrestrial vertebrate constrained by joints and bound to air; she, a marine mollusk with not a single bone, who breathed water — she was clearly as curious about me as I was about her.”
-Sy Montgomery, The Soul of An Octopus
The fourth prompt of @ForPlanetOcean was Deep Sea: Mysterious Depths and I decided to do a surreal colored pencil drawing of an octopus – because they are beautiful, mysterious, intelligent (classified as the most intelligent invertebrate), recognize people they commonly see, playful, can use tools, open jars of food, and solve puzzles… so many cool facts!!
Also, the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) can be found off the coast of Washington State, where I live, so I want to give them some art-y love!
This is the largest octopus species, with a record of a 71-kilogram (157-pound) one weighed live.
While it can be found to ocean depths of about 4,920 feet (1500 m), it is mostly found in shallow waters to 16 feet (5 m) deep.
Seagrass: Planting A future
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
— Jacques Cousteau
I adore turtles so I had to include one in this painting!
Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that grow underwater in marine environments. They got the name because of the long, blade-like appearance of many of the different species in the group.
Seagrasses spread along long stretches to look like terrestrial grasslands and they contain an incredible range of biodiversity! For example, they provide a nursery for baby turtles of all species as well as food for all ages of green turtles… which is how Green Turtles also get their green color!!
Unfortunately a great number of seagrass species are also listed as Threatened or Near-Threatened due to a combination of factors such as storms, disease, pollution, and human activity along the coast, such as motorboats, fishing, and development.
This art challenge has been in support of Project Seagrass, an organization working towards the protection of seagrass meadows. Be sure to check them out for more information and ways to help.
While “owls are not omnipresent for us in the way songbirds are, they’re present for us in some deeper way or place, where night lives inside us.”
-Jennifer Ackerman, in “What An Owl Knows”
This was one of my favorite quotes from What An Owl Knows: The New Science of The World’s Most Enigmatic Bird by Jennifer Ackerman (The Genius of Birds). If you’re intrigued by owls as well or curious to learn more about their natural history, biology, and lore, be sure to check out my Starred Review of this fascinating book in the Nature & Environment section of the July 7th issue of Shelf Awareness (CLICK HERE).
June was National Rose Month and I saw SO many beautiful roses! My parents’ rose garden was in all of its magnificent glory – wild and gorgeous. My parents spend hours each day tending to their garden and it really shows! All of these blooms are from that garden.
“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
-Maud Hart Lovelace
“Come out here where the roses have opened. Let soul and world meet.”
“Wild roses,” I said to them one morning.
“Do you have the answers? And if you do,
would you tell me?”
-Mary Oliver, Felicity
There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Love is like the wild rose.”
– Emily Brontë
“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”
– Henri Matisse
“And the roses—the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sun-dial, wreathing the tree trunks and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades—they came alive day by day, hour by hour.”
-Frances Hodgson Burnett
I’m so lucky to be surrounded by so many beautiful shades of pink these days – gorgeous flowers everywhere, including my parents’ rose garden, which is where I took these photos above! And, since there is so much pink around me, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about one of my favorite colors, pink, which is often featured in my art.
Here are a few facts about this lovely color:
WHY IS IT CALLED “PINK”?
The color pink takes its name from a flower called Dianthus plumarius, a plant in the Carophyllaceae family. That flower is sometimes commonly referred to as “pink” because of its frilled edges. The word “pink” used to refer to a perforated pattern and that’s why those scissors with the zigzag edge are called “pinking shears.”
In other languages, the color we know as pink is named after roses instead!
WHY ARE SOME FLOWERS PINK?
Pink is one of the more common flower colors and is the result of natural pigments called anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid, which also produce the pink color of some fruit. Anthocyanins are just one category of flavonoid and, in addition to pink, are also the reason we have red, blue, and purple flowers. Over 9000 different types of flavonoids are responsible for all the beautiful colors we see in botany. Those pretty, bright colors help ensure flowers’ reproductive success by attracting pollinators.
HOW ARE PINK ART SUPPLIES MADE?
How about the pink that we find in our art supplies? Where do they get their color from?
Those pinks were originally derived from rose madder dye extracted from the root of the Rubia tinctorum plant, originally found in India, the Middle East, Egypt, and the Mediterranean. Evidence of madder as a dye has been found in paintings and decor from these regions as early as 1500 BC.
Madder contains two dyes: alizarin and purpurin. In the late 1800s, the alizarin portion of madder was chemically synthesized, shifting the origin of pink dye from the natural rose madder plant to the less expensive synthetic alizarin. Nowadays, the more light-resistant quinacridone has predominantly replaced alizarin.
And if those pinks aren’t pink enough for you, there’s always the pinkest pigment ever developed – simply called “Pink” and created by UK artist Stuart Semple in 2016. You can read more about Stemple’s pigment (and his ongoing feud with fellow artist Anish Kapoor over the blackest black) HERE.
For all you artists out there: The next time you bring out your paints, be sure to take a few minutes to see if your reds and pinks are labeled “madder”, “alizarin” or “quinacridone”!
Until next time, dear friends, Happy Creating!
If you enjoy colors are much as I do, be sure to follow me on Instagram, @gracerajendran, where I regularly do a Today’s Palette post, highlighting the many gorgeous hues I see while I’m out and about! I’ll be posting a Today’s Palette single- color exploration similar to this one about once a month on this website. And, for more content, be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter, Grace Notes (form at right)!