Friday, 20 July 2012

Drawing bugs with children

One of the members of our camping party last weekend, was the very talented Lizzie Harper, who draws the most incredible bugs, animals and flowers for a living (a few of them are pictured below).

On Saturday morning she whisked Betty and some of the other children away on a jaunt down to a little cove. Two hours later they returned, all buzzed up about their finds, and plonked a dead mole and shrew (carefully wrapped up in a leaf) down on the picnic table.

Lizzie encouraged all the children to stroke the soft velvety fur of the mole, and I was completely struck by her enthusiasm and passion for these dead creatures. I was also surprised at the usually squeamish Betty, delighting in the whole thing. Lizzie went on to tell me that her freezer at home is packed full of road-kill, for drawing purposes.

While on the school run this morning I saw a dead hedgehog and a blackbird on the road and wondered if I should have scooped them up for her.

Lizzie has kindly written a piece below about drawing bugs with your children - it will hopefully inspire and enthuse you, as it did me - it may even change my attitude towards the mice we are currently co-habiting with...

Drawing bugs with kids (at school)

I’m a natural history illustrator with two children, and have recently been doing a few sessions in local schools; trying to share my passion for all insects, and getting them
to draw from some specimens I have hanging around.

Chrysochroa beetle
First I talk to them about my work; I show them pencil roughs and then some finished paintings (asking them if they can name the insect drawn. Gratifyingly, they mostly can). I also show them my watercolour paint-box which excites and alarms them in equal measure as it is VERY MESSY. The tips of my brushes are teeny, so the children tend to be amazed by these, too. 

The show stopper, however, is my very old and battered collection of dead insects. Some are butterflies, begged from a butterfly house; one is a big box of stuff found in a friend’s greenhouse; and then I have a few posh beetle specimens bought as a teenager. They are all really excited by these, the appeal of “bugs” seems to be fail-safe and universal.

Then we get onto drawing.

Peacock butterfly
To be honest, there’s very little one has to do to get kids to draw insects, except to procure a dead beetle or bee and put it in front of them; then provide them with a pencil, paper, and magnifying glass. They take time to look, and their powers of observation are acute. With only a few pointers; asking them to count the wings, if they know what symmetrical means, to look for hairs on legs or vein patterns on wings; they’re away. 

The best bit is looking at their pictures. Those children that get lost in looking produce the best – worked and strained over til the pencil lines are matted, or cut into the page, often out of scale and askew. But these pictures have real power for me, and I find the effort and enthusiasm that’s gone into their creation inspirational. 

Drawing bugs with kids (at home)

Thus far, I have almost completely failed to get my own progeny to draw much, let alone insects. So, for now, I’m concentrating on getting them to love invertebrates of all sorts with a passion. Nothing breaks my heart so much as a little child, overcoming their natural curiosity, squealing “ugh!” at a spider, worm, or bee. 

Dung beetle
Put these things on their hands (well, maybe not the bee). Get them to look for woodlice under stones, for bees sipping up nectar from flowers through their straw-like tongues, to describe what a worm wriggling between their fingers feels like. Take time to observe a spider spinning a web, or even better, feed a hapless fly to a spider and watch. It’s far more brutal and deadly than any movie. 

Bugs are very cool indeed. And I hope that someday my poor oppressed children will not only talk to them and carry dead ones about with them like talismans (which they do now), but may even pick up a pencil and try to draw one. 

And once you’ve got them to like bugs, get them to look closely at dead creatures like baby birds who’ve fallen from their nests; a rabbit on the edge of a path; or even (and ask Ms Buttons about this one) a dead mole and shrew, neatly swathed in a leaf. We love it, and I bet you and your children will too.

Lizzie Harper  

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