Golden Threads of Inspiration ūüēł


The last time I illustrated an orb-weaving spider, it was for the Encyclopedia of Life, a website supported by the Smithsonian, MBL, Harvard & the Field Museum, dedicated to "global access to knowledge about life on earth" Yellow garden spider illustration by Tamara Clark, Eden Art- a vast and important project working toward publishing a detailed & accurate page for every species on the planet. The image was done in traditional watercolor and colored pencil, was vetted by an expert Arachnologist for accuracy and was one of my favorite images from one of my favorite projects. Also known as Yellow Garden & Writing Spider, this Black & Yellow Orb Weaver, is one of the more common of the orb-weaving family Araneomorph- given their name for their spiral or wheel shaped web. Find out more about this species & image here. 

Lately, as I've been playing more with digital painting, in part due to space and life changes, I was inspired by the "weavers" theme put forward by my lovely sketchbook group to explore another species from this family, the Golden Orb-Weaver.  Enraptured by its gorgeous golden webs, I spun some hours creating a digital painting of this fascinating creature and its circular web. The iPad worked well for this piece as I could layer the thin threads easily above a dark background, without any masking fluid or tiny brushes! This species and its golden silk offers huge inspiration to artists and weavers and, like other spiders, has great potential impact for nature-inspired design (biomimicry) projects .

Golden orb weaving spider, Illustration by Tamara Clark, Eden Art

Orb weaving spiders are found around the world and consist of over 2800 known species. Within this group is the Nephilidae family, derived from the Greek for "fond of spinning"- which includes the Golden Orb Weaver, named for its shining yellow silk and distinctive circular web. This species is generally found in warm climates, including Madagascar where an monumental  project was undertaken in order to produce a uniquely stunning, wearable work of art. 

The creative brain child of art historian and textile expert Simon Peers and fashion designer Nicholas Godly, it took over 80 people and 1.2 million female spiders to produce this exquisite cape, on display first at the American Museum of Natural History, then at the Victoria and Albert museum in London in 2012. Over the span of 8 years, specially trained workers would collect the silk by hand from 24 spiders a day using a specifically developed harvesting contraption, releasing them back to the wild at the end of the 20 minute session.

Golden orb weaver silk cape, Victoria and Albert museum

Because of the particulars of spider behavior, this is the only way to collect the silk as they can not be "farmed" in the way that silkworms can. The 1.5 kg of silk eventually gathered was then woven and brocaded by Peers and Godley who enhanced the almost glowing effect of the cape with detailed brocade of the spiders themselves. The project was inspired by the historic development of a spider silk extraction device by French missionary Jacob Paul Camboué in the 19th century.  Cape image: Creative Commons (free access)


Top 10 reasons to respect spiders!

* Spiders are important in art, myth and folktales. They are symbolic in many cultures of patience, strength, interconnectivity and the power of creativity.

* Spider silk is stronger and more elastic than steel. Research is being done for its use in bullet-proof vests and artificial tendons. Spider webs are rich in vitamin K and were used centuries ago as a blood clotting material and to aid in healing. In Madagascar and other regions, the qualities of spider silk have made them ideal for local fishing nets.

* Only some spiders are dangerous to humans. Spider venom is studied and used in medicine and as non-polluting pesticides.

* Spiders live on every continent and habitat on earth, except Antarctica. There are roughly 46,000 species of spider.

* Spiders are crucially important for the control of insects that would otherwise decimate crops & gardens and infest households. They are also highly effective pollinators!


* Cobweb paintings, originating in the Austrian Alps in the 16th century, were created by layering wound mats of cobwebs over cardboard, hardening with dilute milk and painting in minute detail with watercolor. Fewer than 100 of these paintings still exist. Photo from NW University Library

* Experimental evidence has shown that spiders weave their web differently based on the ingestion of caffeine and marijuana so can be used to measure potential toxicity of substances. Spiders sent to space also weaved webs of different characteristics than earth-bound spiders.

* Spiders make different types of silk, depending on its use. Some strands used for catching prey are sticky, while others, used for travel, are not. In making an orb web, a spider will use its own body proportions for measurements.

Orb weaving spider photo, Charles James Sharp, Wikimedia Commons

*Spider webs have been in existence for at least 100 million years, evidenced by a rare sample of web found in amber in Sussex, England

* Spider silk can be used for violin strings, building materials such as shelters and bridges, even for the crosshairs of guns and telescopes. It is stronger than steel, lighter than cotton and 1000 times thinner than human hair, giving it vast potential for the clothing and materials of the future. Photo by Charles James Sharp, Wikimedia Commons

We have so much to learn from nature and its creatures. Curious about this idea? Visit the Biomimicry Institute. Biomimicry is a practice that "learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges- and find hope." 

I hope you've enjoyed following along this thread... Have a look in the shop to see the Yellow Garden Spider framed or on a selection of lovely things. 
%3 to Conservation¬† ūüĆć

Common Orb Weaver framed, Illustration by Tamara Clark, Eden Art

Thanks for your interest!
Tamara ūüĆł