Interview: We chat to Bee in the City artists Laura & Lizzie Chapman

The Bee in the City trail will take to the streets of Manchester on Monday 23 July and the colony of giant bee sculptures will remain in place until Sunday 23 September. This Wild in Art project will bring people from across Manchester together to celebrate our great city through art. The art trail is free, family friendly and has been developed with a huge amount of community involvement to ensure that there’s a lasting legacy throughout Greater Manchester. Sisters Laura and Lizzie Chapman were both selected as artists to join Bee in the City and Molly Court had the pleasure of meeting them and learning more about their bees.

How did you both get involved with Bee in the City?

Laura: I’ve done a few projects for Wild in Art before. I knew this one was coming up because I was already working on another project for Wild in Art. One of the team mentioned it was in my home town of Manchester, which was brilliant because I’d never done a project there. I sent a design in and I was lucky enough to be chosen.

Lizzie: I knew about it through Laura. She encouraged me to put some designs forward and get involved, especially because we’re from Manchester and I’m based there. I know how much Laura has enjoyed it in the past and it’s a nice company and cause. I was really eager to take part in it, so I put two designs forward because they extended the deadline. They were both selected, which was lovely.

What inspired the designs behind your bees?

Laura: I was struggling for an idea because I didn’t want to do anything that was largely associated with Manchester. I thought there would be so much competition and it also doesn’t suit the way I work. I wanted to do something with a limited colour palette because normally the stuff I do for Wild in Art is really colourful. Gold and black were the only colours I wanted to work with really. I was on a walk and I just thought, ‘I don’t know why I’m over complicating this, I’ll just create the worker bee and include the jobs a worker bee does’. I also like to research, I’m a bit of a geek! I researched more into the worker bee and what their jobs are in and out of the hive. I decided to do lots of botanical illustrations; flowers, honey cells and lots of different bees.

Lizzie: My first design was inspired by an overgrown garden as I normally create colourful botanical work. It has lots of flowers and leaves around the base. It’s all about pollination and the flowers that the bee loves. I wanted to encourage how important the survival of the bee is. The second bee is called Luna, inspired by how the moon controls the tide. I linked that with the bee going to and from the hive, which represents daily routine because we go to work and come back home.

Lizzie Chapman decorating her botanical bee
Lizzie Chapman decorating her botanical bee

Have you both always been interested in art?

Laura: Yes, always! I don’t know where it comes from because our mum’s not good at art, but she’s very artistic in the way she thinks about things. She always let us experiment. Cheers mum!

Lizzie: Our mum works with children, so you have to be creative to work with them. When we were growing up she always encouraged us to do art work. She thought that everything we made was amazing. The clay models we used to make looked like nothing! She won’t take down the art work we made in high school because she loves it. She didn’t mind us making a mess, it was always encouraged that we could do what we want which is why we’re so experimental now. The freedom to be creative was definitely encouraged growing up.

Have you enjoyed being able to share the experience together?

Laura: Yeah, it’s one of the nicest things because normally I paint at my studio space in Liverpool where I’m now based, so it can be quite lonely. It’s nice having Liz here, especially when you have long days because being together makes you have breaks. If something isn’t going right or you’re not sure about something, you can ask what the other thinks. I probably value Liz’s opinion over most other people because she’s honest with me. It’s lovely seeing Liz’s stuff come along as well. I think I’m more excited for Liz than I am for me.

Lizzie: It’s like a smiley face. It’s been nice exchanging podcasts and sharing equipment which cuts down costs.

What’s been your favourite thing about Bee in the City so far?

Laura: I think being able to paint most days, because when you’re freelance everyone thinks you have a lovely job (and don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t change it for the world!), but people don’t realise a lot of your days aren’t spent doing just art work. Meeting other artists and seeing all the other bees come along is really exciting. There’s been a real buzz about this project, it’s been so overwhelming and positively received. The look on people’s faces when they walk in and smile if nothing else is huge.

Lizzie: For me its seeing how different everyone’s work is and it’s encouraged me to think there is no right or wrong way of doing something. The feedback from people looking at your designs has been nice because you leave university and you’re at home on your own, so you don’t hear it. So many people have got on board. The number of bees has just been growing and growing. It’s been a real painting hive full of busy workers.

Where can we see your bees when the trail launches next month?

Laura: My first bee is going to The Oast House and I’m starting another bee next week for Manchester Gin. I’m not sure where that one will be going but it’s exciting!

Lizzie: My floral bee is going to Wythenshawe Forum. At first, it’s going to be inside and have edible flowers installed around it and then when it goes to its forever home, it will be outside at the front in a pollination garden. The Luna bee is going to a group in Higher Blackley. Both bees are for community groups, so they will own them forever.

Laura Chapman hard at work with her worker bee
Laura Chapman hard at work with her worker bee

What do you hope people will take away from the project? And are you hoping Bee in the City will have a lasting legacy?

Laura: I hope it will have a lasting legacy, especially because everyone’s really got behind it and the worker bee has such a close relationship with Manchester. I hope it makes people explore and appreciate the city.

Lizzie: I hope it inspires culture, for people to be more creative and explore the outside spaces of Manchester, not just focusing on bees in the city centre.

Has there been any rivalry between you whilst you’ve been designing and painting the bees?

Laura: No, I just want Liz to do as well as she can. I found out my bee had been picked and Liz still hadn’t heard anything. I just wanted her to get one and then she got two. I’m really happy.

Lizzie: Someone said to me I was giving Laura a run for her money and I said, ‘do not say that to her!’. Laura has always been rooting for me.

Are there any bees being designed by other artists that you’ve heard about or seen in the painting space that you’re particularly excited about?

Laura: There’s a cotton bee that’s been made, a really clever way of representing the cotton industry in Manchester and it has lovely colours. I’m really looking forward to the private viewing when we get to see them all, it’s always so overwhelming seeing all the hard work. It’s emotional because you see how many talented people there are.

Lizzie: I really like the spray-painted bees, they’re amazing. They’re so far detached from how I normally work, I’m mesmerized! When the artist’s work they don’t sketch anything out, it’s all freehand.

Bee in the City will run from 23 July until 23 September.

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