CLIENT: An Post
In 2017, I was asked to design a set of postage stamps for Ireland featuring native Irish bees. The brief was to paint four beautiful, visually different, native Irish bee species in hexagonal-shape designs and an illustration for the First Day Cover. In addition to this, I was asked to design a Minisheet, with a second First Day Cover Illustration. The stamps were launched in July 2018.
I loved working on these bee stamps, not only because I enjoy painting bees but also because this was a huge opportunity to raise awareness. In Ireland, there are 98 different species of bee- the honeybee, considered a managed pollinator, and 97 wild bee species. These include 20 bumblebee species and 77 solitary bee species. Whilst people are familiar with the honeybee and bumblebees, most people are not aware of solitary bees.
I decided to paint one bumblebee and three solitary bees for the stamps. I included part of the flower in each to give an indication of the size of the bees. I consulted with experts at the National Biodiversity Data Centre and went into the Natural History Museum to study bees under the microscope.
Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)
This is one of our most common bumblebees, and the one that most people will recognize. I painted a Queen, foraging on knapweed, her favourite food. She has knapweed pollen on her pollen baskets. Interestingly, this bee has one of the longest tongues- at 2cm in length, it is almost the length of her body.
Ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria)
The Ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria) is a lovely solitary bee with two distinctive grey bands on its thorax, making it instantly recognizable. It has been described as a ‘flying badger’ and is the size of a honey bee. In spring it is a common sight, emerging when the fruit trees are in flower. It plays an important role in apple pollination. I have painted it on a crab-apple blossom.
Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva)
This pretty little solitary bee is very distinctive and is described a little ‘flying fox’. It was thought to be extinct in Ireland but was ‘rediscovered’ in 2012. Since then further sightings have been reported, and it is hoped that the bee stamps would lead to further discoveries. I painted her on a daisy, one of her favourite flowers.
Heather bee (Colletes succinctus)
This attractive bee is a very common sight on moorland in summer and early autumn. It is often seen hanging upside-down feeding exclusively on heather. Although it is a solitary bee, they often live in large groups nesting in burrows in the ground. It is one of a group of bees known as Polyester bees- they produce a polyester-like substance to protect their larva. This casing is waterproof, and acts as an anti-fungicide.
First Day Cover illustration:
Gold-fringed Mason Bee (Osmia aurulenta)
This little solitary bee nests in empty snail shells along coastal areas. She is a chunky little bee, 7mm in length and covered in golden orange fur. When the female finds a suitable empty snail shell, she lays her eggs inside, each within a pollen-filled chamber. She fills the remaining shell with sand and gravel before sealing the shell with a chewed-up paste of leaves. The eggs hatch inside the shell, feed on pollen and then spin into a cocoon to await until the following year when they emerge as adult bees.
I wanted to paint a bee’s eye view of a summer meadow, filled with wildflowers and bumblebees. Wildflowers and long grass are vital to the survival of our bumblebees, as they provide nesting areas and food. The bumblebees are Garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum; Moss Carder Bumblebee, Bombus muscorum; Common Carder Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum; White-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lucorum and Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius
For the Minisheet First Day Cover, I painted a little honey bee, Apis mellifera
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