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Drawing the invisible: the value of scientific entomology and microscopy art

Posted by on September 18, 2014

Cath Hodsman is a skilled and widely acknowledged British wildlife artist, specialising in entomology. She is also one of the most technically accomplished and accurate natural history artists, who counts The Natural History Museum, London amongst her many prestigious clients. Cath will be running the Society of Biology’s Anatomical Painting Course in November.cath

Biology and Art – disciplines that are at opposing ends of the academic spectrum. In fact, in certain situations, the two are not only a lot closer than you might think, but they are virtually symbiotic.

I am an artist, but the approach I adopt with my art also makes me a biologist – or an entomologist, to be precise. My passion is insects. To me, they are the most fascinating, diverse, quirky, strong, beautiful group of animals on Earth. In addition, they are the biggest and arguably, the most important group. You could take any group of animals and blast them into outer space and the world would go along fairly happily. Do the same thing to insects and you would have, at best, a huge amount of trouble and, at worst, no world at all.

As an artist, in order to pay homage to insects in my work, I set myself the challenge of achieving 100% anatomical accuracy in every piece of art I produce – the right number of joints on legs; the correct texture and amount of hair, fluff, or bristles; a realistic portrayal of chitin texture and so on. You might think that this is a lot of effort to recreate something that we can’t see anyway, but that is the reason why I produce art in this way – Insects are shy and elusive creatures. They spend much of their time flying, scurrying or burrowing away from us.

imageWhen we do come into contact, insects receive a much worse ‘rap’ than they deserve. We spend much of our time spraying, stamping, or screaming and running away from them. I think that a lot of this fear comes from ignorance. We think that just because something is striped it must be a bee – that is wrong. We think that everything that buzzes must be a bee – that is wrong. We think that all bees sting – that is wrong.

It is a sad human indictment that if we don’t understand something, we often inherently fear it. Other people, equally misguided, think that if something is small then it must be insignificant. One of the main aims in my scientific art is to reveal the hidden beauty and intricacy of insects. If we understand insects, we will no longer fear them and if we do not fear them, we will learn to care about them and if we care about them, we won’t want to lose them.image2

So to me, my art is a ‘win, win’. I disseminate every piece as an educating and conservation tool. The anatomy of an African bull elephant is large and showy and impressive, but to me, the anatomy of a beautiful female honey bee or a delicate red admiral butterfly is much more spectacular. All of their beauty and intricacy is squeezed into a tiny little ‘nut’ of a being – fantastic and wonderful to behold.

So come along to my anatomical painting course on the 7th November at the Centre for Science and Art, Stroud. You’ll find out how to paint a butterfly, using high-powered microscopes, fascinating insect specimens and macro photographs. Enter this fascinating, invisible world and find out why a butterfly sucks up nectar and why a bee licks it!

Find out more about my artwork and projects on

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