Harlequin (West Woodhay Down)


Last Wednesday was warm and dry, perfect weather for sitting on a hill and painting. I decided to find another open access hillside, and settled upon West Woodhay Down – about 12 miles distant, and a place that I had previously walked and sketched but not painted. Named for the Berkshire village that lies a few miles to the its north, it is stunningly beautiful and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), I think for its flora. The down is conveniently concave, allowing me to stand on one end (in this case, the west end) and paint the folds and ridges of the other end.

(West Woodhay Down)

oil on canvas, 46 x38 cm



After about an hour or so’s work, my painting was interrupted by a ladybird swarm, which I certainly hadn’t been expecting.  I am told that the collective noun is a “loveliness of ladybirds”, but these bugs – which I was fairly certain, from their varying markings and the colour of their legs, were the invasive harlequin species of ladybird – were not being very lovely. They flew at me (one or two of them bit me for good measure), and – worse – they flew at the painting. This wasn’t particularly wise, as I am sure that getting covered in oil paint isn’t very good for ladybirds. They are big enough to flail around and potentially make a bit of a mess as well, but they can’t fly with paint on their wings. Their numbers gradually increased and eventually I realised that I was spending more time removing ladybirds from the paint than I was in applying it, so I decided to pack up and make an orderly retreat. I had enough to work with and it was about time to leave anyhow. As I walked up the hill towards the gate, I left the crazy insects behind*.

So this piece was started on the hill but finished in the studio.

I also confirmed that the ladybirds were, indeed, harlequins and read about their rapid spread since 2004 and their displacement (and in some cases consumption) of native ladybird species. I didn’t feel quite so bad about the fate of the ones that had flown into my painting after discovering all that.



*Apart from one that had sneaked into my rucksack. I evicted it into the garden.