Book Review: Drawing and Painting Insects

The following review was published in issue 52 of Atropos and is published here with the kind permission of the Editor.

Drawing and Painting Insects by Andrew Tyzack. The Crowood Press, 2014. 192 pages, 541 colour illustrations. Softback. ISBN 978 1 84797 489 1. £19.99

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Drawing and Painting Insects - coverIt’s fair to say that, despite their general popularity, insects appear as subjects in art far less frequently than birds or mammals. While my bookshelves strain under the weight of titles on both insects and wildlife art, this is the first one I have ever seen that combines the two. But there are of course many artists who, like author Andrew Tyzack, specialise in painting insects, or at least occasionally portray them in their work, and this book brings together some of the finest in the field.

The author states that ‘this is a book for the entomological expert and novice alike who have an interest in drawing and painting insects’, and with that readership in mind there are useful and instructive chapters on finding insects to study, insect anatomy and drawing/painting techniques. But even if you have no intention of ever attempting to draw insects there is plenty here to delight anyone with an interest in either insects or wildlife art. All the chapters, but especially the last three, ‘Painting Insects’, ‘Insects in Printmaking’ and ‘Insects in Art’ feature work by a wide variety of artists, around 40 in total, whose work varies from traditional drawing and painting to sculpture, CGI and even glass engraving.

Tyzack’s own work is mostly monochrome, and often rather dark and brooding, a good example being the extraordinary ‘Self Portrait with Death’s-head Hawkmoth’ facing the Introduction. If this isn’t to your taste, plenty of colour is provided by the other artists. Outstanding images for me include Bruce Pearson’s damselflies, which almost seem to move as they hover over the water; Katrina Van Grouw’s beautifully detailed micro-moth close-ups; Dan Powell’s lively dragonflies; Robert Gillmor’s linocut New Naturalist book covers, and Carry Akroyd’s vibrant screenprints. There are also several examples of Harriet Mead’s always entertaining metal sculptures. Alongside these familiar names are some which will be less well known to most people: Jim Westergard’s wood engravings, Mark Rowney’s amazing carved leather book covers and Carim Nahaboo’s detailed drawings were all new to me.

Although the quality of print reproduction is generally excellent, several illustrations unfortunately appear to be screen resolution scans that should have been replaced by higher resolution images for printing. Dan Powell’s hunting Southern Hawker on page 75, and a couple of John Norris Wood’s screenprints have suffered from this, with the jagged edges of individual pixels clearly visible. I know from personal experience how easily this sort of thing is missed in the tedium of proofreading, but they really should have been spotted by someone.

Throughout the book there is a strong emphasis on ‘art’ and drawing from life, as opposed to the more ‘scientific’ illustrations for identification that we are all used to seeing in field guides and textbooks, but this doesn’t wholly explain what is, to me at least, a surprising omission. I would be willing to bet that if Atropos readers were asked to name an insect artist, a large majority would come up with the same one. However, that artist, without doubt the best known illustrator of insects working in Britain today, is not mentioned at all, other than in the Bibliography. There may well be some reason for this that I’m not aware of, but I feel I have to mention it, if only as a puzzle rather than a criticism!

I’m not sure how many ‘entomological experts and novices’ there are out there who have an interest in drawing and painting insects, but surely they will all want to own a copy of this book. And for others who don’t yet have that interest, hopefully it will trigger it, especially in the young. For me at least, Andrew Tyzack has definitely succeeded in his aim of enthusing and inspiring, and I shall certainly be making more effort to draw and paint insects from life from now on.

Andy Mackay

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