Lonesome Crow © Rodney Matthews Studios

Insect Antics Part III


OK, you've probably gathered by now that I’m hooked on insect blogging – here comes number 3!

Trawling through my plethora of insect-inspired works, I have selected another bunch to show you, together with some more ridiculous but true stories. 

First though a warning for arachnophobes, you should perhaps sidestep the last few paragraphs, because it is largely heaving with large spiders!

How about starting with scorpions?

'Lonesome Crow' was commissioned by Heavy Metal Records, Wolverhampton, UK, for a re-release of the debut album by German heavy rock band Scorpions.

Lonesome Crow © Rodney Matthews Studios


The larger than life scorpion dominates the front cover, while the lonesome crow features on the reverse.  A nuclear explosion can be seen on the horizon - it found its way into the scene via some information that had come my way about scorpions having a much greater resistance to radiation than that of humankind.

‘Skellnag's Promise’ features an exaggerated scorpion with a semi-human face.  It acts as steed for the dreaded reptile wizard Skellnag, who has issue with a bunch of cursing goblins.  

Skellnag's Promise © Rodney Matthews Studios


Commissioned by Pierrot Publishing, London, UK, in 1978, it was earmarked for inclusion in a book titled Heroic Dreams in the section ‘War in the Woods’.  Michael Moorcock was involved, but sadly the project did not come to fruition.  It became a poster instead. 

Ready for some grasshoppers, locusts and crickets?

Members of this family crop up now and then in my art.  ‘The Hop’ – a calendar image from 1985 wherein the grasshopper plays a magical groove on guitar. 

The Hop © Rodney Matthews Studios


This image is set to appear in the booklet of my forthcoming album to accompany the tune of the same name featuring Jeff Scheetz, Oliver Wakeman, Yours Truly and others). 

Locusts appear in 'The Five Months of Torment' (Revelation 9), licensed by the band Seventh Angel for their album ‘The Torment’.

The Five Months of Torment © Rodney Matthews Studios


As I write about my insect obsession I am reminded of the time I spent chasing insects in the South of France.  The summer was hot and dry (around 1957) and the insects were large, abundant and loud.  There were grasshoppers in several different sizes and colour schemes, there were crickets and cicadas at every step – I almost lost my marbles!  Can you imagine what the locals thought of this English kid, armed with a jam jar and wandering about in the heat of the day with hands cupped to ears (in an attempt to ascertain the direction of the beguiling sounds of insect back legs)?  Mad dogs and English kids go out in the midday sun – perhaps?

The praying mantis - I can't blog about insects and not mention the mantis, but as I have had a whole blog on this insect before, I will only express my delight once again at forming a relationship with the rock band Praying Mantis, providing me with an opportunity to draw this amazing creature on a regular basis.  Click here to view the blog Gravity - Heavy Stuff.  Okay, I can't resist one image:


Now, let me show you the Alice in Wonderland piece for which Lewis Carroll provided me with a good excuse to illustrate a caterpillar.  Most people are aware of this part of Carroll’s great surreal tale, and many illustrators (including the original, Tenniel) have depicted the scene – my favourite is of the great Arthur Rackham.  Well, with these images having become icons before me, what was I to do with Alice and the caterpillar?  I decided to follow the Walt Disney example (also iconic) and give Alice the long fair hair appearance, while for the caterpillar I fell back on a personal experience involving the Privet Hawk Moth caterpillar.

Alice and the Caterpillar © Rodney Matthews Studios


As was my custom, when I was a young kid, I kept a number of these fantastic creatures which I had found chomping away on a privet hedge skirting the road near my home.  I was enamoured not only by the large size of these critters but by their bright green colouring, the "go faster" stripes along their sides and the spike protruding from their tails – add a pair of arms and facial human characteristics and there we have it.

The male British Stag Beetle also makes an appearance in my illustrated version of Alice in Wonderland.

At the March Hare's Table © Rodney Matthews Studios


The picture shown here is my interpretation of the "March Hare’s Table" from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  Down on the left you can see a stag beetle using its ‘antlers’ to assist a spider in its web knitting routine.  The image itself had simmered in my mind since the early seventies when in a rather different art style, it had been one of my proposed images for a children’s board book, Insect Antics, that did not happen.  Familiar pattern here?

Not to worry, much later, I shoved the idea into the Alice artwork and the mighty John Cleese bought it from the famous Chris Beetles Gallery in London – so there!

One more story, before the spiders, an’ then I’ll stop – promise!

The year must have been around 1951.  My mother and father had taken me on a family holiday to Bognor Regis (it must have been the last such occasion due to the fact that my mother was becoming increasingly ill and passed away a couple of years later) my memory in general terms is quite vague on the details of this trip except that of course it was a seaside town on the south coast of England.  However, one thing comes to mind in considerable detail – I found a large, black, shiny, male stag beetle with the largest set of "antlers".  There was no jam jar in sight so I converted a small cardboard box and made some air holes in it.  The creature was amazing – it could inflict quite a nip on my finger if permitted.  But, how could I get it home without my Dad noticing?  He was particularly sensitive to my tendency to carry uninvited critters around in his Austin Ten, the previous indiscretion had been the fiasco in which my bucket of crabs had upset behind his seat resulting in much side scuttling and sea water threatening to rot the floor out of his car!  Needless to say I hid my beetle behind some stuff in the boot (trunk) and hoped that my smuggling would not be discovered.  Alas, it was, and I was instructed to release my "pet" back into the wild!


I left most of the spider images to last, knowing that the spider is universally disliked and felt it would be inappropriate to turn readers away from the outset!  For Michael Moorcock fans, this is 'The Great Mishassa' from his novel Lord of the Spiders, one of his Martian Trilogy. 

The Great Mishassa © Rodney Matthews Studios


This image was one of twelve Moorcock influenced pictures I painted for a series of posters and for the 1978 calendar ‘Wizardry and Wild Romance’. 

'An Unlikely Hero' was an artwork for my 1990 calendar ‘The Storybook Collection’.  It features JRR Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins confronting one of the Spiders of Mirkwood from the book The Hobbit.


'Archiva' was my third album cover for melodic rock band Asia.  The album came about after a collection of forgotten recordings were discovered when John Payne and Geoff Downes rummaged through the flotsam and jetsam after their London studio Electric Palace had been flooded by a broken water pipe above the mixing desk during a Christmas holiday. 

Archiva © Rodney Matthews Studios


The scale of the spider can be ascertained by comparison with the trio of little goblins crouching near the recording tape boxes.

Well that's it for now -  I'll try and contain my insect enthusiasm for a while! 

However, for those of you who don't know, I will be giving art lessons over the summer at three retreats, and will likely talk endlessly about insects there.  You can view and sign up to one of the retreats at the Fantasy Art Retreats website by click here.

Best wishes,


Same time, same place next Sunday? 

1 comment

Thanks for the info on Skellnag’s promise, I’ve had the poster since the mid eighties and it remains my favourite, alas the years hadn’t been kind to it and it was worn and faded but fortunately I was recently able to replace it, this time with a signed copy, and now, framed, has pride of place on my wall. I have always wondered about the story behind it as it had the feel of a scene from a book!
Love your work, your art style is amazing

Ian Burcher

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