During recent travels, I noticed a hub of buzzing activity around the back porch where we were staying. After a momentary investigation, I realized that the wooden decking was suffering from a slight infestation of carpenter bees, the large eastern variety known as Xylocopa virginica.
The bees who were unlucky enough to find themselves trapped inside the screened porch had died and collected into small piles in the corners. A bit sad, but also an excellent opportunity for studying and sketching!
Contrary to popular belief, carpenter bees do not feed on wood but on pollen, just like their bumblebee cousins. However, unlike bumblebees who nest in the ground, carpenter bees build nesting tunnels into wood and are often considered pests by homeowners.
As I sketched them, I really struggled with their faces. I just couldn't get past the alien appearance and the intimidation of painting black eyes within black faces. I mean, how was I to do that?!? You can see my struggles in my sketches and notes.
I share the page above as a reminder of the importance of letting go and not always trying to make perfectly pretty sketches.
I'm learning that mistakes and working through them is all part of the process, and a sketchbook is a great place to record the journey. I had to slow down and really study the bees' faces. I also asked for advice from other nature artists I admire.
At first glance, each bee looked the same, but as I studied them I saw something I should have already realized — every single bee is unique. Even their faces appeared widely different from each other! The males have the yellow noses, of course, but besides that some bees' faces were more oval or had more brown or more fuzz or larger eyes.
When I realized this, all of a sudden their faces became personal. As a result, sketching them became enjoyable!
And they became beautiful to me.
Whenever I spend time studying and sketching something in nature, I never come away from the experience the same. Without fail, sketching always causes me to gain a huge appreciation and increase in education of my subject. This also happened with these lowly carpenter bees.
"Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment." C. S. Lewis
I know carpenter bees can be pesky, and I wouldn't want them drilling holes into the structure of my home, but the next time I am tempted to dismiss something as a nuisance, I hope I'll have the wisdom to slow down and take the time to really look. And study. And maybe even walk away with a renewed appreciation for the beautiful thing that has buzzed my way.
See you in the field!