Richard Lewington, one of Europe’s foremost natural history illustrators
His recent book on micro-moths with Dr.Phil Sterling contains some of their best works and The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland with Professor Jeremy considered his work most important in his career as illustrator of wildlife
Richard Lewington lives and works in Oxfordshire, UK. He studied in Berkshire College of Art and Design and he has illustrated many wildlife books, specialising mainly in entomological subjects. He is particularly well known for painting butterflies, moths and dragonflies. Among Richard’s achievements are the illustrations for the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, which includes 1,700 immaculate paintings of British moths. He has written and illustrated the Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, which shows the detailed life-cycles of all the British butterflies. The majority of books that he has illustrated belong to British Wildlife Publishing.
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His passion for nature, wildlife and more specifically the observation of insects and other invertebrates, is it something that comes from family?
Both my father and grandfather were interested in natural history, so my interest in insects, especially butterflies, has been with me from childhood. My grandfather had a small collection of butterflies, which always fascinated me.
How a scientist, biologist and natural historian becomes a wildlife illustrator?
I trained as a graphic designer and then specialized in illustration but because of my interest in natural history, the obvious thing was to combine the two when I graduated from art college.
Your task requires a prior observation and understanding of the natural environment. Do you think that it was easier to illustrate wild insects to be biologist?
The most important thing when illustrating the natural world for field guides is to know your subject, as many of these books are read by experts who are very knowledgeable and expect illustrations to be accurate.
Many illustrators of nature work only from photographs, but do you accompany your photographic work with direct observation in the field?
I take a lot of photographs and often use them for posture when showing subjects in a natural position but for the fine detail I like to have an actual live or preserved specimen to work from. I also spend a lot of time in the field observing behaviour and noting posture.
Have you ever been thought a guide to illustrate British and Irish beetles?
I would like to illustrate a book on beetles but there might not be enough people interested in them to make it worth while for a publisher to invest in such a project.
Class Insecta usually consists of very small species; do you often find limitations in your work by that aspect? What materials or techniques do you used to correct them?
I use a binocular microscope to look at the smaller insects and usually paint them several times larger than life-size to show more detail.
Each Illustrator has his particular technique of work, do you use watercolor illustrations?
All my colour work is done with designers’ gouache which I find has stronger colours than watercolour paints. I find acrylics dry too quickly and cannot be moved around easily.
Why do you prefer doing the illustrations to insects and invertebrates and not others?
I know more about insects than other forms of wildlife. There is also a huge variation in their shapes, colours and form, so there’s a never ended range of subjects available to illustrate.
Nature painting is a genre that has always enjoyed many adherents in the Anglo-Saxon countries and other countries of North and Central Europe; why do you think that this kind of painting has been so successful in your country and not in other countries as Spain has virtually unnoticed?
The U.K. has a tradition of nature study going back hundreds of years. The Victorians were also keen on collecting specimens and recording wildlife, this has continued to the present day when naturalists travel all over the world recording and looking at the natural world.
The majority of books that you have illustrated belong to British Wildlife Publishing, one of the publishing houses more aware of wildlife in Great Britain. How did you to illustrate with British Wildlife Publishing? Were its beginnings complicated as a professional in the illustrative entomology?
BWP are more aware of the needs of naturalists than any other publisher in the UK. The larger publishers have become much less conscientious and are not producing book of the quality of the past.
You worked with a young Dutch Klaas-Douwe B. Dijkstra in the Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain and Europe in 2006, is it difficult to illustrate all the details of the wing of a dragonfly in an identification guide? Has it been your most demanding project?
Dragonflies are probably the most demanding of subjects as the wing veins have to be painted accurately. This is because many species have quite different structures to their wings.
Do you believe that the success of Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain and Europe is in part due to its excellent production and printing?
All insects, especially dragonflies, have distinctive colours and markings and unless the printing is accurate the appearance can look different to the real thing. The printing in the dragonfly field guide is now very good though earlier editions were not quite right.
Mariposas de España y Europa of Tom Tolman and you is the most complete field guide for the identification of European butterflies. Recently, Lynx Edicions publishes in Spanish 2nd Edition, have you made modifications on any of your 2000 illustrations? Have you also published in other countries and languages?
The illustrations in the 2nd edition have not been modified or added to. I would really like to go through the whole book and update it thoroughly, as many things have changed since it was first published 15 years ago.
Collins Butterfly Guide is considered one of the best guides in field of butterflies of Great Britain and Europe by its taxonomic nomenclature, but many errors were introduced in the latest editions. Did the publisher ignore the suggestions of entomological experts?
Lots of suggestions were made to improve this book but the publishers were too concerned about getting the book published quickly, and many mistakes were made. Maybe in the future they’ll spend more time updating the book properly.
The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland book of Jeremy Thomas and you includes resident and migratory butterflies in these countries, along with the species discovered recently as Real’s Wood White and the Geranium Bronze. Why after publishing in 1991 was it re-released in April 2010 with another publisher?
Jeremy Thomas and I thought there was so much new research, which hadn’t been widely published that a new updated book was needed. Dorling Kindersley did not want to re-publish, so British Wildlife Publishing was the obvious choice. I think they made an even better job of publishing the book.
In 2003 arises Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, why does it meet all the requirements to be an excellent field guide?
This is a scaled down version of the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland but it is designed for the pocket. It is also low priced and concentrates on identification as well as giving all the necessary information about the life-cycles of butterflies.
In many cases the adult life of a butterfly is very short; do you think that it would be important to include a guide to the different chrysalides? Which is your favorite butterfly to illustrate?
My favourite butterfly is the Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines but perhaps the most challenging and interesting species to paint is the Painted Lady Vanessa cardui this has beautiful rosy/buff wings marked with black and white, and an intricately patterned underside. I don’t think a book on chrysalids would be too popular, maybe one on caterpillars?
Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland is described by experts from moths as Paul Waring and Martin Townsend and it’s illustrated by you in 2007. How did the idea arise of show moths in their natural resting postures? Why is this something transcendental?
It was my idea to show the moths in their natural resting postures as this is how they are seen in the wild and inside moth traps. Other books have shown moths in ‘set’ positions, how they appear in collections but it’s difficult to convert these into how live moths look.
Do you think that ease of use and low price makes one of the most popular guides of macro moths in Great Britain and Ireland?
Yes, because it is a practical guide with the information about the moths opposite the illustrations. It also opens out easily and has a waterproof cover. It has less information in it than the Field Guide but is also less expensive so it can be treated more roughly.
Field Guide to the Micro-moths of Great Britain and Ireland of British Wildlife Publishing is one of the books where you collaborated recently.After the publication of Macro-moths, must you publish that book? Were you more complicated to illustrate moths that tend to be brown and less appealing than other Lepidoptera?
It was more challenging than the book on macro moths but I soon realized that ‘micros’ are much more diverse than ‘macros’. There is a vast range of colours, textures and postures and I was amazed at this diversity.
What do you work considered most important in your career as illustrator of wildlife?
Probably the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland with Professor Jeremy Thomas although the recent book on micro-moths with Dr. Phil Sterling contains some of my best work.
You attend several annual events such as the Butterfly Conservation AGM, the Amateur Entomological Society Exhibition and the British Birdwatching Fair.What is it carried out in this type of event? Is important the feedback with your readers?
It’s always good to meet the people who buy the books I illustrate at these events, as I can get feedback as to what interests them. I also get a chance to sell many of the paintings I have done for the various books to the people who are interested in the subjects.
British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland was an event with great success among the attendees organized for the first time by Birdfair; do you think that this event will be repeated next year? Did this event have importance in the entomological world?
This was the first time it appeared at the Birdfair and many people including the organisers enjoyed it and want it to be repeated next year. I’m quite happy to do it again if Phil Sterling wants to. I think this sort of event is a good way of showing none entomologist just how fascinating moths and many other insects are.
Also another recent project you’ve been involved with, is illustrating all the British bumblebees for an app, which is being produced by BirdGuides. Even though there are only 23 British species, have you become simple identifying British bumblebees? Do you know what Bumblebee Conservation Trust takes after the extinction of two bumblebees in United Kingdom?
I’m now quite good at identifying bumblebees but as males and workers emerge later in the year, it becomes a little more difficult to separate one species from another. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is dedicated to publicising the plight of bumblebees and their importance as pollinators. Their work attracts much attention as we all depend on insects to pollinate many of our trees and plants
Last April you produced a set of 8 butterfly stamp designs for the Isle of Man Post Office, are you producing a set on the Bees of the Isle of Man now?
The butterflies issue was very well received and the Isle of Man Post Office then commissioned a set of bee stamps. These appeared at the beginning of August and they are the current issue available.
Finally, what Entomological book would you recommend to reader of De lectura Obligada?
If your readers are OK with English then I would recommend Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and me. The text is very well written by Europes leading butterfly authority. The printing and layout is also very good and I’m pleased with the way my illustrations appear. If it’s a Spanish publication, then Mariposas de España y Europa by Tom Tolman and me.