A few years ago I licensed four of my insect illustrations to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum for use in an exhibit about honey bees. The exhibit designers wanted an interactive way for people to learn to tell the difference between honey bees, bumble bees, and some of the other flying insects we commonly see. They created this cube with three rotating sections; people can turn it to try to match an insect’s head to its thorax and abdomen. The matching is pretty simple thanks to a different color background for each of the four insects – honey bee, bumble bee, yellow jacket, and bald-face hornet.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Museum in Ottawa and see my illustrations in the bee exhibit. My favorite part of the Museum had to be the friendly, beautiful, majestic Clydesdale horses in the paddock.
First in a new series of $50 coins is this recent release by the Royal Canadian Mint; a polar bear leaping from one ice floe to another. I worked on this design last year. Apologies for the inadequate photograph; it is difficult to photograph shiny coins, especially when they are encased in acrylic! You can see the Mint’s image of the coin here.
Made buoyant and kept warm by their body fat, polar bears are accomplished swimmers. They have been seen swimming several hundred kilometers from land.
Despite their ease moving through the water, polar bears often avoid taking a comparatively short swim by walking a longer distance across ice floes. Sometimes they leap from one ice floe to another rather than get wet. The reasons for this behaviour are not known, but it is possible that the bears use less energy by walking and jumping than they do by entering the cold water and then rolling in the snow to dry off.
I’m not quite ready to post any of my most recent illustrations, so I thought I’d share some pen and ink drawings I was working on a decade ago. I don’t often I work in black and white anymore and it’s been ages since I’ve done any stippling; seeing these drawings again after 10 years makes me want to dig out the ink and pen.
To stay within a limited budget, these illustrations were intended to be fairly quick, emphasizing color patterns without being finicky about details such as fin ray counts. I produced these for the Belle Isle Aquarium for aiding the public in identifying animals in the exhibit tanks, though I have no idea if the illustrations are still in use. The historic Detroit aquarium closed in 2005 but reopened in 2012 and is now operated by the Belle Isle Conservancy and run entirely by volunteers. It is open on Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM, with free admission and parking.
I illustrated this recent offering by the Royal Canadian Mint (pictured above) that shows a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), the world’s most widespread bird of prey.
The Peregrine’s primary prey is medium-size birds which it catches in mid-air. The Peregrine does this by searching for a target from high above the ground; once the target is identified, the Peregrine plunges down to the target and hits it just right (about one time out of ten!). This fast flight, called a stoop, is when the peregrine is the fastest animal on the planet (over 325 kph). The Peregrine becomes a streamlined teardrop shape when it performs this dive.
When the Peregrine falcon approaches its target at the end of the stoop, it throws its wings out and back and swings its legs out in front of its body so the feet are far forward. It does this so fast it is really only possible to see it by slowing down a video, and even then it’s tough to see it clearly.
My illustration show a Peregrine that – most likely – is just about to land, though it is possible the bird is in attack mode; the exact position of a Peregrine Falcon’s mid-air attack varies each time and occasionally the Peregrine takes prey from the ground or surface of water.
The Royal Canadian Mint is offering two different coins with this design; the one pictured above, a 38 mm Fine Silver coin with a proof finish, and a silver bullion coin pictured below. Even with my amateur photography you can see that the finishes are quite different.
Last month, the Royal Canadian Mint announced this Olympic year’s Lucky Loonie coin design, and to my great surprise it is the same design they chose for 2012 – the loon that I illustrated with wings spread in a territorial display. As in 2012, the Mint released both a circulating version of the coin as well as a Fine Silver collector edition which also includes trees in the background.
Below is a photo of the new 2014 collector edition Fine Silver Lucky Loonie, which – aside from the date – is the same as the 2012 collector version except for the finish.
This 2014 coin has a “reverse proof” finish, meaning the subject has a highly reflective “brilliant” sheen and the background has a frosted or matte finish. By contrast, the 2012 collector version has a “proof” finish, with the relief frosted and the background field brilliant.
My 2012 post about the Lucky Loonie includes a photograph of the circulating coin; the 2014 circulating Lucky Loonie is the same except for the date on the obverse side of the coin. Five million of these coins entered circulation on January 20.
The Royal Canadian Mint recently released two silver collector coins engraved with my illustration of a bouquet of maple leaves and of a swimming beaver.
The former, which shows a hand holding leaves of three species of maple in autumn color, is part of the Mint’s 2013 O Canada series and is the only colored coin in that series:
The swimming beaver coin is the Mint’s second 5 oz. beaver coin; you can see the first here. I like designing for such a large coin (65 mm) because it allows me to tell a more detailed story about the subject. In this case, I chose to illustrate an aspect of the beaver’s life that I find especially interesting: The beaver is bringing an aspen branch down to the bottom of its pond to store it in advance of winter. The reason a beaver constructs dams is to create a pond deep enough that it won’t completely freeze in the winter, allowing the beaver safe and easy access to food the animal has cached.
I really like how the Mint used different finishes on this coin to make the foreground elements contrast with the background (though it’s a bit hard to tell from my mediocre photograph of the coin).
This is my 5th numismatic design that includes a water line with elements of the illustration above and below water. (The others are the Memphré, Mishepishu, a Polar Bear, and an Iceberg with whales). I didn’t plan to create a body of work with that element in common – it just happened that way! I suppose I find the water line to be a useful device for telling a story, creating an interesting composition, and showing a unique perspective.
Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to paint a variety of animals for interpretive signs at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Below is my most recent illustration for that client: An Eastern Bumblebee worker.
Fortuitously, the Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) is a local species and my client gave me this assignment during a season (August) when I would be able to easily find some specimens. Though I’m certainly no bee expert, it wasn’t difficult to figure out how to distinguish the Eastern Bumblebee from other local species. A bit of research also informed me that I could easily spot a worker bee (as opposed to a male or a queen) by looking for the balls of pollen the workers store in the “baskets” on their hind legs. I netted a few, put them in the freezer, and then carefully mounted them in relatively life-like positions using pins to hold each leg in place while the bees dried. With the help of a macro lens and a microscope, I was able to see the bees in great detail. After I finished the illustration, I properly labeled the specimens and they now reside in my small insect collection.
I used gouache to paint this bee.