Join me in welcoming Valerie Littlewood, our featured guest for June!
Valerie has been a commercial illustrator, designer for industry, artist and art lecturer for many years. Most recently, she has been drawing plants and insects, becoming more and more interested in their relationships and their conservation. Currently she is drawing bees and other pollinators and has a traveling show, BUZZ: A Celebration of British Bees and Their Flowers, showcasing 24 of Britain’s bees. Valerie was awarded a bursary from The Society for All Artists in 2012 to help encourage creative people of all abilities to take inspiration from the natural world, from insects, bees and flowers and to understand more about their important relationship to us.
A hands-on artist, Valerie says she loves “everything about making art with brushes, pencils and paint.” Valerie made her living as a general illustrator creating illustrations for anything from packaging and advertising to book illustration. She also created illustrations as a giftware designer. Valerie does less commercial work these days because so much of the work she used to do is now done on the computer. Being a hands-on artist, Valerie says she is “very reluctant to sit at a computer all day.” So she has turned more of her attention to teaching.
Throughout her career, Valerie has always taught art — from degree students to “purely-for-pleasure art holidays.” She feels teaching is a wonderful way to open up possibilities for all kinds of people. Valerie has taught many subjects and has many interests herself. She is a printmaker, a painter, loves ceramics and bookmaking. She used to teach an interior design course teaching creative thinking and fine faux finishes. Her experiences as an artist and teacher have enabled her to be happy painting with a 6″ house brush or a 00 sable brush.
An admirer and advocate of craft skills, Valerie believes artists should hone their skills to be able to say what they want to say in their work.
Reflecting on an almost 40-year career as an artist, designer and educator, Valerie says the natural world has been a recurring theme in her work. While she may teach people how to draw and paint, she says her main preoccupation is to teach them to “see”.
Save the Date!
(I teach students) to observe and to consider what is around them through the eyes of an artist. The observation and interpretation of the natural world can be the inspiration for so many of the artistic disciplines, from pattern and form to structure and colour informing sculpture, textiles, architecture and more.
Then there is the emotional connection we have with nature, things that we as humans relate to. A fascination with how things live, thrive, survive and reproduce and an affinity with their daily struggle. For example, how could you not admire the ingenuity of a little bee who makes her nest in a snail shell, who diligently collects twigs many times her own size to cover the shell and who chews little pieces of leaves to use as a green camouflage?
To practice art in any of its forms you first have to learn to look. Artists have to be observant. But it is so worth the effort because the added joy of that looking, seeing, and learning, especially in the field of natural sciences, is the understanding it brings. Then what hopefully follows is a greater connection with a world which can sometimes seem increasingly distant as we rely on machines more and more.
Certainly since painting the bees, I have become more aware of the astonishing variety and interdependence of living things, especially some of those small often overlooked creatures. I have become increasingly appreciative of how important they are in our lives.
(June 18-24, 2012)
Valerie will discuss her work with Britain’s bees and the plants they pollinate during Pollinator Week. You will have the opportunity to ask Valerie questions during this annual event that brings attention to declining pollinator populations.
One of the topics Valerie will discuss is her book, BUZZ, dedicated to British bees and the plants they visit and pollinate. BUZZ is a self-published title. You can preview Valerie’s book here. Above is an example of the type of pollinator illustrations Valerie creates. Featured is an illustration of Bombus hortorum (Garden Bumble Bee). This species of Bombus has a long tongue it uses to access nectar from the long tubular flowers of the honeysuckle plant. While drinking nectar, pollen is deposited on the bee’s body. When the bee travels to another flower, it brings the pollen with it and deposits the pollen on the stigma of the new flower, thereby completing the transfer of pollen (i.e, pollination).
Unlike their longer-tongued counterparts, short-tongued bees are unable to access the nectar of honeysuckle flowers in the same way. This does not stop them from getting what they want, however. To get their share of the nectar, they bite holes into the base of the tubular flowers and steal the nectar. While this may be a win-win for the nectar robbers, this form of nectar harvesting negatively impacts pollination success because pollen is not transferred in the process.
Even the simple act of pollen transfer is not as simple as one might think!
Ask the Artist with Valerie Littlewood
Watch for more information about our conversation with Valerie during Pollinator Week. Share this information with colleagues, friends, fellow gardeners and the pollination ecology students in your life. Look for events in your state, download planting guides and learn about resources for the home gardener and professional landscaper here.
Gardens for Pollinators with the BeeSmart Pollinator Gardening App
Created by the Pollinator Partnership and Catch.com, this app is a database of almost 1,000 native plants found across the United States. To find pollinator-friendly plants for your garden, simply enter your zip code to view a list of plants for your area. Then sort through your list by selecting specific pollinators, flower colors, soil types, plant types or the type of sunlight your garden receives. To learn more about the BeeSmart Pollinator Gardening app click on the image above.
UPDATE: Pollinator Week Q&A with Valerie Littlewood