I started painting insects by chance. I found a bluebottle on the floor and took a couple of photos and realised how extraordinary even the most ordinary insect can be when viewed through a macro lens. Then I was given some exotic beetles collected in the late 19thC and was hooked.
I went to the Natural History Museum and was shown drawer after drawer of brilliant blue and green weevils. Rather than painting them from above, I painted them from side view and at a similar size to creatures we can relate to: guinea pigs or cats.
Then, wanting to have more control over lighting (and now using a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens), I started buying insects for my own collection: beetles, cicadas and of course weevils. However I felt uncomfortable knowing these insects had been caught in the wild and killed. Also, insects for collections tend to be ‘set up’ neatly and symmetrically – good for identification but rather limiting from my perspective. I am not a natural history illustrator; I want my creatures to form interesting shapes.
So for the last couple of years I have gone back to painting insects (and, recently, spiders) found in dusty corners or on windowsills - if they have the odd leg missing or are a bit chewed, so much the better.
I spend a lot of time working out the best angle from which to view them and then lighting them to get the most effective shadow, sometimes subtly and sometimes more dramatically. 'Dreaming of Escape' and 'Black on White' would both be much less interesting without their shadows. Once everything is set up, I take the photographs, sometimes as many as 30 or 40, making sure I have captured every joint and whisker. I only have one attempt at this as most of my beasts are very delicate. Moths, spiders and crane flies have an almost indecent tendency to fall to pieces if they are moved.
We all know how important insects (and spiders) are for the eco-system of our world. We need to cherish them. Their loss would cast a very long shadow over our future. I hope my paintings will persuade people to look again at the creatures who share our homes.
And perhaps to think twice before swatting them.
all images copyright of Tacy Kneale