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Saving the Small Things...

wasp insect charcoal drawing

I have embarked upon a new series of work, which is much darker than my usual bright oil paintings, which I am known for. These dark portraits of insects reflect my concern and sadness for the little critters that surround us. What really provoked me into the studio to start these drawings, was a scientist on BBC Breakfast asking viewers to set traps for wasps. These were traps that the wasps would not survive, and the dead wasps would then need to be posted to the scientific team, so their DNA could be determined. This process cuts short the life of the wasp. I was furious and saddened all at the same time. What right do we have to kill wasps for scientific purposes or otherwise? The drones only have a short life of 12-22 days, so why shorten it any further? The argument was that the wasp nests were coming to an end anyway, because it was August and their season was ending. But who are we to decide that these wasps should die? I try not to kill anything at all, and if I really must, I try to with a conscience. As most of you know, I am a very keen gardener and do have to take (or complicit in the taking of) creatures’ lives for my crops to prosper. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take any lives, as that is not possible or practical, but any impact upon nature however small is of importance and we should do this consciously, especially if we are ending a creature’s life, even if it is a slimy snail or an infuriating fly.

Wasps. They irritate many, don’t get me wrong, even me! I attempt to bop them on the nose, they tend to get the message and fly away. However, as irritating as they are, they do have a purpose. They are part of the food chain, wasps eat a lot of different things and do a huge amount of good. They pollinate flowers just as bees and hoverflies do. Wasps also eat aphids, spiders, flies, caterpillars and other invertebrates which are a nuisance to the gardener. Wasps are also eaten and are crucial to their food chain. Birds, dragonflies, and moths all eat wasps. So, for every person who followed the advice of the scientist on BBC breakfast, they made food slightly scarcer in their localised area for birds and dragonflies etc. The more we disrupt the food chain and the local ecology, we affect the environment around us. All those annoying insects have larger insects which rely upon them, and in turn birds and smaller mammals feed upon those larger insects. Finally, larger mammals will eat the smaller mammals. Therefore, wasps support a larger food chain, any small insect at the bottom of a food chain is crucial for all those predators above it.

Maybe if we look after the smaller invertebrates that aren’t pretty, that people loathe, fear or hate, the larger birds and mammals will have a better rate of survival. That is why pesticides have such a huge impact upon the landscape, they intentionally, and often indiscriminately kill the smaller invertebrates or “pests”. When in fact what we want to be doing is encouraging their predators and putting a better balance back into the ecosystem. Yes, this does take longer and is more expensive, but isn’t this better for us in the long-run? This solution also has a socio-economic impact which I won’t discuss here, because it is a whole other argument.

Sadly, more often than not, humanity has favoured the economy over the environment and ultimately it will be mankind that pays the price. Without robust food chains, diversity will be threatened. Without diversity the environment is more vulnerable to viruses, fungal and bacterial infections. Bananas are a great example of this. The bananas that are sold commercially are cloned. They are infertile and cannot reproduce, so much so, this has threatened their gene pool. One disease that targets the banana could make them all extinct, so that we would no longer have bananas.

I have digressed a little, but next time you want to kill something, however small it maybe, do you really need to? If it’s a fly, could you not just open a window? I’m sure most of you won’t stretch as far as me and let the mayfly nymphs happily hibernate on the wall in my kitchen for the winter, and I don’t really expect you to. When there are too many ants, could you plant mint and encourage them to move, rather than put ant powder down? That way they are still food for something else. Think of the impact of your actions does it really have to die? Of course, if you suffer from anaphylaxis then you want to live and will undoubtedly kill what threatens you, but much of the population don’t have an allergic reaction and are not threatened by these creatures. Killing them is merely disrupting the food chain in your local landscape, which in turn will cause you to have an imbalanced population and force you to perhaps use more chemicals in your garden.

In response to my thoughts and ideas I have created the Insect Portraits series of work. I want these critters to be put on a pedestal. They are important, and they do have a role to play. They are threatened by us, for often, no real reason apart from being annoying, or not that pretty, or perceived, incorrectly, as a threat. Therefore, these portraits of insects have been surrounded in black background. I have done this because it is imposing and threatening, and it is a metaphor for our attitude towards the insect population. I am attempting to highlight in this series of work our misguided attitude towards insects. Conservationists struggle to raise money to conserve the smaller uglier creatures because many will only give money to save the cute panda. But, the ugly maggot is no less important, in fact it may be more so, because it may have more creatures relying upon it in a food chain. Most critters in the UK aren’t threatened, but remember, they are important, and everything has a right to life, so do you really need to kill it?

wasp charcoal drawing

If you would like an insect portrait, please email me at as some of my work has begun to sell before it is even finished!

September 2018



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