“Want to illustrate my book?” asked Jules.
It was a no brainer.
“YES!” I said. And then, perhaps foolishly, “What’s it about?”
I know now it’s probably more sensible to ask first, although I was so excited it’s still doubtful that I would have taken in the answer. It wasn’t until Jules’s first draft arrived, almost a year later, that it started to sink in that I was illustrating a book about… sex.
A popular science book by the new Bloomsbury Sigma imprint, Sex on Earth: A Journey through Nature’s Most Intimate Moments by Jules Howard is funny, irreverant, scientific, a bit poetic and very intriguing. Once I stopped blushing at the thought of dino porn and exploding duck penises, my mind was full of ideas for the illustrations – black and white chapter headings.
I tentatively checked with Jim Martin at Bloomsbury as to what exactly I need to draw and the answer was a huge relief: “No humpage.” So, the only animals who are actually caught in the act by my pen, so to speak, are the dragonflies, who’s joined bodies make a pretty and chaste appearing heart shape. All the other creatures are merely thinking about it…
The book contains 16 pen and ink illustrations to go with the chapters, portraying some of the amazing animals Jules discovered in his year as Mr Sex. It was a wonderful project to be part of, and I hope that my wobbly and whimsical pictures bring the writing to life.
The Look of Love. Pandas get a hard time in the press about their mating ability, but breeding in captivity is a far cry from their behaviour in the wild. These guys are much smarter at sex than we give them credit for.
Mr & Mrs Rex. Speculation abounds about how T-rexes mated. I guess we’ll never know… But one of my favourite things about illustrating this chapter was researching ‘dino-fuzz’ – current theories suggest dinosaurs had a light covering of feathers…
Yin and Yang. Male sticklebacks put a lot of work into preparing their mating ground for the females, and flush a handsome dark red along their bellies and flanks to attract attention.
Here she Comes… Male frogs often reach the breeding ponds first, and then hang around singing and croaking waiting for the ladies to turn up.
Alright my Duck. The mating habits of ducks and the respective adaptations of both sexes are INCREDIBLE to read about – it’s worth buying the book just for this chapter…
Happiness is Heart Shaped. These damselflies are the only animals in the book pictured in the act – but they make such a pretty shape, we felt it was in quite good taste…
The Mane Attraction. Mating gets pretty weird and very lucrative when you’re a stud horse…
The Single Life. I had never heard of these guys before illustrating the book – Bdelloid Rotifers are weird microscopic creatures, that can time travel, come back from the dead and reproduce all on their own…
I Love your Glow. Glow worms are one of my favourite UK invertebrates – how wonderful it is when you’re lucky enough to spot them glowing gently in the undergrowth on a summer evening. Unfortunately, all the artificial light we surround ourselves with can be pretty confusing if you’re a male glow worm seeking out those glowing females. Poor little guys….
You Rock. Marine iguanas are incredibly majestic and prehistoric looking. If you read the book, you’ll learn that the males sometimes…do things to rocks that are slightly unusual. If you then look at photos of marine iguanas sitting on rocks, you can’t help but wonder if they are just perching there, or doing something more exciting.
Carlos and Fernando. I’m a bit in love with these two. They’re a pair of male flamingos who have become the top couple at a nature reserve and every year are given eggs to raise, due to their outstanding parenting skills.
Mites of the Living Dead. Doing the image research for this chapter made me feel rather itchy – Jules was aiming to film some slugs mating (which is a pretty weird process) but instead, caught footage of slug mites. These tiny creatures live on slugs and scuttle around on their slimy skin.
Hedgehog Carousel. I’d never thought about this before, but the mating game is kind of tricky when you’re prickly. Hedgehogs form miniature crop circles in long grass as they spend the night circling each other, with the male waiting for the moment the female is ready to lower her spines and let him close.
Come into my Parlour. Creating this image went quite a long way to helping me tackle my fear of spiders, and helped me to find the beauty in those long tickly limbs. Fen raft spiders are very rare, with conservation projects working hard to help them flourish again in their native habitat. And they have a rather lovely mating dance.
Penguin Family Portrait. Wow, so… I learned some things about penguins when I was working on this project that I rather wish I could un-learn. But who are we to judge what other animals get up to?