I have long been a garden cultivator. And like so many gardeners, I have come to revere the humble bee.
When I had a larger backyard garden in Calgary, towering hollyhocks were one of my favorite flowers. The bees seemed to love them, too. When in the garden, you could almost always hear the drone of a bee (or bees!) exploring the inside of these spectacular flowers.
I love the idea of having an urban garden that is good for bees. According to the Back Yard Beekeepers Association, bees collect 66 pounds of pollen per year, per hive. One-third of the food humans (and all animals) eat need pollination to reproduce, and bees are masters at cross-pollination.
It’s this kind of inter-dependency that inspired me to create a print that honored the beautiful spring garden, and it’s lovely partner, the bee.
If you have a garden, here are some tips from the David Suzuki Foundation about making your own bee friendly garden.
I began with a very light blue print of a block of daisies. I wanted this print to have a bit of a vintage feel, so I selected a delicate Japanese-made paper that is almost tissue-like.
I sketched a number of possibilities — many bees flying around, or a small strategically-placed bee — but ended up drawing a more vintage-style bee, fairly large.
It was a lot of fun carving the bee with its lacy wings. To complete the vintage look, I decided on a burnt sienna brown for the ink, lightened with just a touch of white.
The registration of the brown on top of the blue flower background would be done by hand, so I printed the bee on top of the paper, rather than laying the paper on top of the block like I usually do.
Next, I dragged my sewing machine into the studio and bought several rolls of thread, to get the right hue to go with the print.
After running a few test stitches on a scrap piece of the Japanese paper, I learned to go quite slow and even switched out my existing needle for a slightly smaller one. I had a great idea to use a zig-zag stitching around the print (buzz-z-z) but that complex stitch shredded my delicate paper. Deep breath, and ready to sew!
I carefully guide the paper through the machine. This is the first paper I have sewn. It’s not at all like sewing fabric where I am used to tugging on the material to keep my lines straight. This needed a very light pressure, and so my final lines ended up a tiny bit crooked. (How you know it’s handmade!)
Turning the corners was tricky, too, as I didn’t want to pull on the paper too much, or it would leave a big hole! Next time, I think I would print on a more resilient paper. Hindsight is great, but that wouldn’t help me with this print!
The stitch was a fun addition to the print, and gave it some structure. It was also my nod to the fine threads between the natural world of the bees and ourselves. Everything is connected, and sometimes these threads are very intricate, but thankfully also quite strong.
The prints had dried by this time, but I caught myself hanging them back on the line anyway. I loved the translucency of the paper, with the light shining through. It brought a lovely whiff of spring to the studio, so I wasn’t quite ready to store them in a drawer.
For this print, I produced only 11 prints for the edition, a relatively small number. Each one, being hand-printed and hand-sewn, is completely unique.
I think I may do more with bees — as well as the process of sewing on paper — though maybe not together. Always fun to try something new!
If you are interested in learning more about urban agriculture and beekeeping, watch this cool 12-minute TED Talk with Noah Wilson-Rich: