Tribute to Bates

For years I’ve been fascinated by the work of artists who traveled with the great natural history expeditions of the 17-and-1800s. Those artists worked in the most extreme conditions and with the most exciting of assignments: to catalog the flora and fauna of newly discovered continents. Among my favorites are Maria Sibylla Merian, who exquisitely captured flowers and insects of Surinam (1699-1701), Sydney Parkinson, who crossed the Pacific with the Endeavor and left behind nearly 1,000 finished and unfinished botanical paintings and sketches upon his death at sea (1768-1771), and the prolific Henry Walter Bates, who  filled notebook after notebook with insects of the Amazon (1848-1862).


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I’ve always wanted to do a page like this. I started during modest travels of my own, sketching in the cramped quarters of an airplane. I finished back at home, using specimens I had photographed at a natural history museum. No comparison to the working conditions of the masters, but a nod to those artists just the same. And if you’ve ever wondered how much variety you can get from different combinations of browns and blues, paint moths.

Henry Walter Bates, Insects of the Amazon

Henry Walter Bates, Insects of the Amazon

Henry Walter Bates, 1862

Henry Walter Bates, 1862

14 Comments on “Tribute to Bates

    • Thanks Kate! Sometimes it seems like this kind of artistry is so under appreciated. I just love the diversity and discovery that comes with it.

  1. Beautiful work – and so fascinating! I love your pages!! I have been sketching from a vintage collection of butterflies that was donated to my small town museum, and what a treasure it is – big brown drawers filled with still vibrant wings, often untagged but incredibly charming! My project for the winter. 🙂

  2. Insects are so amazing (though I prefer them in controlled conditions!). These are wonderful. Your patience and attention to detail is impressive, as always.

    • Thanks! Drawing from specimens is great, though I have worked with live moths, too (many in the wash room at Hog Is!). The colors fade with an aging collection, but that gives it a certain antiquity that I like too.

  3. Wonderful pages! And I’ve always enjoyed looking at the dragon fly in your header. The wings look iridescent.

    • It’s hard to do those dragonfly wings! But they are beautiful and fascinating insects. Always appreciate your comments…I hope to be in touch about the print VERY soon.

    • Thanks Ros. I appreciate that compliment. I just really like the combination of nature, discovery, and art…and sharing it with others.

    • Yes. She’s quite astonishing. That’s a high compliment. I’m trying to balance my tendency to want to be very precise and accurate, and wanting to loosen up. My journal tends to be where I practice loose and my paintings tend toward precise. Both have merits and there’s much to be learned from the great master’s of natural history illustration like Merian.

      • I love the delicacy of painting small details but also the beauty of sponatenous lines. Best of luck with your experiments! Very well done! I saw am exhibition on Merian in London and really loved her works.

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