A is for amazing and art, b is for bugs and bringing garden nature to life
PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 June 2020
Vanna Bartlett/Mascot Media
An alphabet of arthropods is an eye-opening exploration of a fascinating world of mini-beasts all around us.
Vanna Bartlett has always loved insects – and centipedes, spiders and all the abundance of bug life buzzing, creeping and crawling around her garden.
She began drawing wildlife as a child, continued throughout her adult life and has spent the last three years piecing together an exquisite alphabet of beetles and bees, grasshoppers and hoverflies, dragonflies and moths which fly, crawl, scurry and dart through the pages of her first book.
Many of the creatures she pictures in such loving detail in Arthropedia - An Illustrated Alphabet Of Invertebrates can be spotted in her Norwich garden, which her husband Jeremy has transformed into a wildlife sanctuary.
“There have been numerous occasions over the years when I have been stuck at home for various health reasons and it has been so important to escape into the garden and sit and watch the wildlife. If I can’t visit the wildlife, I encourage it to visit me!” said Vanna. She grew up in Norwich, learning the names of wildflowers from her mother. Her eldest brother had a caterpillar collection (he wanted to find out what kind of butterflies they would turn into) and the whole family painted and drew wildlife. Vanna went on to art school and later exhibited her wildlife pictures in galleries and at the Norwich Print Fair. Her colourful wildlife prints have been used as Christmas card designs by the RSBP and Amnesty and eventually she was able to become a full-time print maker. In her spare time she returned to sketching the insects she had loved as a child. “I was acutely aware that the abundance of wildlife that had filled my childhood was no longer there,” said Vanna.
She realised she could turn her exquisitely intricate, accurate, pictures into an alphabet of arthropods (invertebrates with an exoskeleton and segmented body.) “Arthropedia was born out of a desire to share my passion for invertebrates with a wider audience and for invertebrates to be better appreciated,” said Vanna.
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“The core theme running through the book (other than my obsessive passion for all things creepy-crawly) is about noticing and appreciating the wildlife that lives literally on our doorsteps. It is all very nice to go on exotic trips looking for exotic animals but there are so many fascinating creatures in this country that are under appreciated and can be found close to home. All the species would be ones that could be found in Britain and the majority would also be ones that I could track down in Norfolk.
“There are just so many fascinating invertebrates out there, it was difficult to stop and not include more. I don’t really have a favourite as such, although I have to admit to being besotted by bees.
“Each season brings its own delights. The first butterfly of the year is always much anticipated and cherished. The dark days of winter are enlivened by torch-lit searches around the garden to see what spiders are lurking on the fence by the back door. Every creature has its own merits.
“The one thing that I do kind of dislike however is harvest mites. They are tiny little blood-suckers that leave a tell-tale pinprick red spot where they have fed, usually around your waistline. The reason that I dislike them is that I didn’t know I’d picked any up as they are so small and I never even got to see them. I’m all for something having a little feast but only if I get to draw them!”
Over three years she took close-up photographs in order to study the finer details of her tiny subjects, sketched them in pencil and then pen, and added watercolour washes. It took a year to produce all the pictures and then last year Vanna wrote the book, including information about all the species in her pictures. Her alphabet uses a mix of English and scientific names, “As well as some more playful ones like L for legs,” she said. There are also sections on how to attract wildlife to your garden and the importance of invertebrates. She hopes it will appeal to a wide age range, from novice nature-watchers to serious naturalists.
“It saddens me that so many people seem to be so utterly un-connected with the natural world. Wildlife in its many weird and wonderful forms has been central to my life for as long as I can remember. I get so much joy from the smallest pleasures – the first brimstone butterfly of the year bowling along like a bright yellow wind-blown leaf; hearing my first chiffchaff in spring or listening to the resident blackbird singing; the return of swifts at the beginning of May, a bee fly probing the forget-me-not flowers in the garden for nectar; the lumbering buzzing take-off of a queen buff-tailed bumblebee; listening to the frog chorus coming from the pond in spring. These are all on my doorstep and cost nothing to appreciate so it is a puzzle that others are not interested.”
Vanna was keen to use a local publisher and printer. Alan and Marion Marshall of Mascot Media, based in Stalham, had already featured some of her linocuts of birds and hares in their books The Artful Hare, The Elegant Fowl and Wings over Water. Now her first book Arthropedia - An Illustrated Alphabet Of Invertebrates, by Vanna Bartlett, is published by Mascot Media.
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