Beyond garden variety bees: illustrations by Gina Cranson

UNIVERSITY of Newcastle natural history illustration student Gina Cranson is urging us all to not only stop and smell the roses, but to study them with a magnifying glass.

For atop the flowers in our backyards is a plethora of native pollinators, busying themselves as only bees can.

Carrying on from her Native Bees of the Hunter Region poster printed earlier this year, Cranson has just released an A2 poster on Native Bees of New South Wales, featuring watercolour paintings of 21 species plus the introduced European honeybee and African carder bee.

‘‘My aim was to produce a beautiful artwork that also serves as a useful identification guide for the average punter,’’ she says.

There are more than 1500 different native bee species in Australia and Cranson says ‘‘their exquisite physical attributes are matched by their quirky behaviours’’.

‘‘They come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Some are social, live in colonies and produce honey, but most are solitary and build their nests in the ground, or in timber or mortar.’’

Neo bee by Gina Cranson

Neo bee by Gina Cranson

The solitary blue-banded bee and the social, stingless Tetragonula carbonaria are among those most often spotted in the Hunter, but there are so many more to discover and Cranson insists that the most effective search tools are simply being aware that native bees exist and affording oneself the time to explore.

Cranson, who is also a  mother and professional editor, has been working on native bee drawings and paintings since the middle of 2014. She has spent time with entomologist Dr Michael Batley at the Australian Museum to view various species under the microscope.

‘‘He has given valuable input on all my sketches and paintings,’’ she says.

‘‘I spend a bit of time in the field taking photographs with a macro lens, but I mostly use specimens and some internet images from the Pests and Diseases Image Library, under the scrutiny of Dr Batley.’’

The original paintings are A4 in size and are the result of layer upon layer upon layer of watercolour, finished off with some coloured pencil.

Cranson is a prolific gardener who loves learning about the natural environment. She and her husband, Kevin, also have first-hand experience keeping beehives at home.

‘‘I do love honey but my fascination with native bees is not about honey,’’ she says.

 ‘‘Social natives do produce some honey, but not nearly as much as the European honey bee, and the solitary species are not honey producers because they do not have to feed the hordes, only collecting small amounts of nectar to provide for their own young in tiny nests.

‘‘My attraction to native bees is more about their commendable pollination services and about their captivating appearance and variety.

‘‘I haven’t returned to beekeeping, yet, because I have been too busy, but wouldn’t rule it out in the future.’’

Since announcing the poster’s release on Facebook a week ago, Cranson has been inundated with orders and has had to set up an Etsy online shop to cope with demand.

Harlequin bee by Gina Cranson

Harlequin bee by Gina Cranson

‘‘I am quite overwhelmed by the response, and heartened that so many people have an interest in native bees. I am receiving lots of requests for posters showcasing native bees in other states of Australia, too, so I think I’ll be busy.’’

Cranson says she has a ‘‘long to-do list’’ for future projects but is considering illustrations of pumpkin varieties and the Hunter’s threatened bird species, to name a few.

The posters are available for purchase at ginacranson.com, MacLean’s Booksellers’ online store, Newcastle Museum, Pender Beekeeping Supplies Cardiff, Newcastle Wildflower Nursery at Glendale, Organic Feast at East Maitland and Garden of the Soul at Morpeth.