The Centerpiece

For the past two weeks I have been sharing my kitchen table with an enormous baldfaced hornet’s nest (a gift). I realize that this is a highly peculiar and unappetizing centerpiece, but there is simply no other place in my house that can accommodate it and a similarly oversized sketch pad. To be honest, I didn’t think we would be dining with it for more than a few days. The night I brought it in, I made two large, quick sketches and started a painting. But I wasn’t satisfied— the nest was more subtle, detailed and complex than I expected. Then one morning at breakfast, I saw more clearly how the nest was constructed, the patterns of the waved paper, how the lilac leaves where cemented in, how subtle shadows helped define each section. I decided to start again. Here’s the finished drawing. My table is now decorated for the holidays and the nest has been relegated to the garage— for later dissection and more art.

“The Centerpiece,” graphite on Strathmore 400 series drawing paper, 18”x24” (actual nest size 20”x 10”). Click to view larger.

“The Centerpiece,” graphite on Strathmore 400 series drawing paper, 18”x24” (actual nest size 20”x10”). Click to view larger.

Though silent when I brought the nest in, I was still quite relieved to learn that baldfaced hornets live only one season and do not hornets-nest_sketchingreuse their nests from year to year. Only fertilized queens overwinter (but not in the old nest) and emerge in spring to build a new nest and start a new colony. Baldfaced hornets build their nest by chewing old wood and mixing it with saliva to form a papery substance — which is rather astonishing when you think about such small creatures creating something of this size and complexity.

26 Comments on “The Centerpiece

  1. That is a huge nest! but it is beautiful. I like your drawing very much. Must admit I am almost terrified of bald-faced hornets.

    • As well you should be Vicki! I learned a lot about them in the process of tackling this– especially that you shouldn’t mess with baldfaced hornets when they are active. I was pretty nervous that I might awake a sleeping giant by bringing a cold nest inside…and relieved to find out that they don’t overwinter in it.

  2. This is a wonderful drawing! You have captured its majesty and intricacy. It makes me appreciate the wonders we encounter in nature (carefully of course!).

    • Thanks Julie– it is quite an amazing structure. Glad I had an extended amount of time with it (and a supportive husband who never complained about it being center stage).

  3. Oh my goodness, Jean – what an amazing structure. Thank you for sharing it through your artist eyes and drawing. It reminds me that our sketching only improves as we learn to really “see” our subject. As always, I’m thankful for the beauty you share and lessons you teach me.

  4. Check out fiber artist Kay Sekimachi’s hornet nest paper bowls. Very delicate.Thank you for being good at what you do and sharing it with us all.

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing the tip about Kay’s bowls– a whole new level of detail and creative expression. The subtle grays and browns of the hornet’s nest are quite remarkable.

    • John- There is so much detail in this that I could easily spend another two weeks on it. But holidays and my desire not to overwork the drawing (not to mention reclaim my table) made me stop. Thanks for your compliment.

  5. This drawing has a very attractive liveliness and looseness to it – and who would think that would be the case for a discarded hornet’s nest? I can’t help but wonder if the first drawing had as much life in it. In any case, I like the story of coming back and starting over after the nest slowly revealed itself to you. Terrific drawing!

    • Thanks! The first drawings were fine– even more loose, actually, as they were just attempts to get the shape and values. The painting was constrained because I really didn’t have paper large enough and because there is just so much detail in both the nest and the leaves. I am intrigued to paint it again, but I would really need to decide how many hours to devote. In the end, I loved doing this in pencil.

    • Hi Mary- I used pencils: B, 2B, 3B, 4B and 6B. I started with B and 2B and then progressed with the softer, darker graphites as I worked on the shading.

      • Thanks. It’s really wonderful how you were able to capture the subtleties in the crafting of this drawing.

      • Thanks Mary- It is helpful to have a range of pencils — I don’t think I could have gotten a good value range otherwise.

    • I’m so glad Karen…you never know. But I suspect you are among the kindred spirits who delight when friends give you things like dead butterflies or birds, interesting rocks, nests, and the like. Unfortunately, I just learned that the nest is upside down–the hole should be at the bottom! So, I’ve got to start again.

      • Oh definitely! My house is full of that kind of thing 🙂 Do you know about the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators- GNSI? There’s a whole group of us! Sorry about your drawing being upside down-how frustrating! But you’re right, the hole is at the bottom.

      • I do know GSNI and was a member for awhile. Which calls to mind the importance of accuracy! So, I’ve got to tackle the nest again…but first, holiday stuff.

  6. Pingback: Back to the Drawing Board | Drawn In

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