Sunday, 3 August 2014

An Oasis of Peace

Cuckoo wasp, Chrysis coerulans

I sometimes feel that the world has descended into madness. In this age of technology, there seems to be an almost constant stream of violence and bloodshed, one tragedy after another, each more brutal and more horrifying than the last. It’s hard not to be affected by the images that we are bombarded with, or to feel at times, completely overwhelmed by helplessness and despair.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy
 is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy amidst the simple beauty of nature. ...I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”  Anne Frank

It’s true. At times like that, the only answer is to escape into the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and find your own little oasis of peace. 

For me it starts with the delight of watching my date seeds start to grow. Eight of my dates have sprouted now. I’m watching and recording their progress, impatiently waiting for the new leaves to emerge.

The ripe dates continue to change too, going from a crunchy crisp red to a rich dark colour and becoming soft in texture. I love to eat them at this stage- the flavour is intense, like caramel, melting in your mouth. I did a couple of dissections to illustrate the changes.

Ripe and riper

 I found a tiny gecko that had drowned in the pool. I have a soft spot for these little lizards, known as Mediterranean House Geckos. People are superstitious about them here, but geckos are great little hunters, feeding on mosquitoes, flies, ants, cockroaches and all the other insects that I don’t want to have around my home. I carried this one carefully home and sketched it. 

A far better solution to insect control than using harmful pesticides

Morning walks along the beach are great for the soul, and I often come home with treasures like this little shell to bring home and paint. 

Another find is a little Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui. It is incredible to realise that this tiny creature with it’s seemingly delicate wings has flown all the way from Northern Europe, perhaps even Ireland. Scientists have puzzled over the mystery of this migration for years, but have recently discovered that these butterflies ascend to a height of 500 metres and windsurf all the way down to North Africa, reaching speeds of over 45km an hour!! How cool is that!!! 
There is a little video at the end of this blog post which tells more about this remarkable feat.

A Painted Lady that has reached the end of her journey

However the most exciting event of the week was finding the most gorgeous wasp in my kitchen. It glistened like a sapphire in the sunshine… simply stunning! It is a Cuckoo wasp, Chrysis coerulans . They get their name because they lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps, and I have a potters wasp’s nest just outside my door. 

Slowly uncurling... but look at those blues!
Of course I really wanted to paint it, but it’s challenging to paint an insect which is running around, trying to escape. The best thing to do in this case, is to put the creature into the fridge for an hour or so. It doesn’t seem to harm them, but when you take them out, they will keep quite still until they warm up, giving you a chance to take photographs and do some small studies. I made up a small blue colour chart so that I could match up the dazzling blues and emeralds. The cuckoo moth has a habit of rolling into a tight ball when threatened which gave me a chance to get some close shots of it’s wonderful metallic sheen.

Stop moving! I want to draw you.

 I did some quick sketches to give me a better understanding of the shapes, but by then the wasp was starting to move a lot. 

It feeds on the nectar of flowers, so I gave it a tiny drop of honey which it really enjoyed, and then I let it go. 

What a treat to be able to observe this wonderful creature so closely! I plan to do a larger study when I return to Ireland.

Nature is certainly a constant source of wonder and inspiration… I have found my oasis of peace this week.

"The forest makes your heart gentle.  You become one with it... No place for greed or anger there."  
Pha Pachak


  1. I've enjoyed this so much Shevaun. Loved the last quote. Nature certainly does make your heart gentle. Loved all of your subjects and your paintings!

    1. Thanks Debbie. There's no forest here, but that last quote is so true

  2. Magical post Shevaun, the world is getting crazier by the day. Stunning wasp and I love the painted lady and gecko, thank you for the last quote too, it's beautiful xx

    1. Thanks Claire. Isn't that a painted lady in your avatar?

  3. What a fantastic post! I love geckos and always enjoy seeing one in my room whenever I've in a southerly place. Never saw that wasp before but it's gorgeous!!! So glad you got to study it a while. My husband is a biologist and I learned the trick of putting an insect in the fridge for a while to slow them from him - didn't know botanical artists did this, too. Have a wonderful week ahead.

    1. Thanks Rhonda. The cuckoo wasp is actually a lot more common than you'd think, but they seem to be good at hiding despite the flashy coat. I got the tip about putting the insects in the fridge from my friend, Dianne. It's so handy when drawing live subjects. Dead insects just don't look quite the same. You have a wonderful week too!

  4. Hm, maybe I'll try to paint a butterfly someday - it looks easy ... :-) Your Painted Lady is beatifull.
    When I was a teenager I collected butterflies, so I have some to choose from, they are all carefully mounted and stored in sturdy paperboxes.
    / Karin F

    1. Karin, you really should try it. Mine didn't take very long to do. If you have a collection, even better! Butterflies are stunning

  5. A truly wonderful post, Shevaun. That Cuckoo wasp is spectacular. It's neat to see little critters that you don't have at home, isn't it? For the last 4 years our garden has hosted Japanese beetles which are lovely to look at, but munch on most of our plants. Their iridescent bodies almost make me hesitate to pop them into soapy water . . . almost!

    1. Wow, I'm feeling quite jealous now! Even the name Japanese beetles is so exotic sounding. You must save a few to paint sometime, Candice! At least take a photo and put it on your blog!

  6. I find tremendous solace and comfort in nature too. I try to stay up on what is happening in the world, but find I watch the news less and less because it is so distressing. But insects, geckos and plants are much better to think about! Your studies are really great, and I'll remember that useful tip about the fridge, and then the honey treat later.


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