On Friday, before the Illustration Friday topic arrived in my inbox, I had the notion to draw a hippo. I was wondering if i could maybe twist the topic in some way to make a hippo fit but it didn't work as the topic is 'small'. I did think about drawing a very tiny hippo but since i'd wanted to do something fairly realistic, it wouldn't have worked.
So instead, I thought about lice and fleas.
I used to freak relatives when i was a child because I was so fascinated with things other people considered ikky - I spent ages researching things like mummification - especially bog bodies, forensic science, death and diseases ; with a particular emphasis on parasites.
In fact, I was so fascinated by parastites, that when i had to recite a poem for a Burns Night celebration , I picked Robert Burns' poem 'To a Louse'.
I remember my mum wasn't too pleased at first but she did help me learn it, though I remember I refused to change to a different poem that was arguably more suitable to be heard when eating. I suppose i didn't realise then how much itchiness is triggered by talking about lice.
In fact, depite a lingering fascination for parasites I decided against drawing a louse due to the itch factor -even I'm not immune to it anymore. Maybe, it comes from having kids of school age and the dreaded notice on the school notice board that some kids have head lice.
So i decided on a flea instead - somehow fleas don't provoke the itch reaction in the same way.
Fleas have also been used over the centruries as the subject matter of poems, for example The Flea by John Donne. Before modern sanitation, even the rich could not avoid fleas [and lice] which explains why they were commonly written about.
I must admit that i've found the idea of flea circuses really interesting over the years. Here is an older painting based on the idea of a performing flea called Bugulese [my son named him].
However i didn't want to go over this old ground so I decided to paint a more realistic flea - which was somewhat hampered by the fact that most photos of fleas are taken after the flea has been prepared for microsocopy so they can be a bit squashed and the exact morphology isn't always easy to work out. I persevered though, and i think it turned out ok in the end.
Human fleas - Pulex irritans prefer human blood but they will also feed on dogs, cats , pigs and badgers .
The human flea wasn't responsible for spreding the Black Death [plague] but they do spread typhus and this was a major problem in World War One as the men in the trenches were unable to wash or change clothes. Fleas and lice were a huge problem - and typhus spread by both fleas and lice was a major killer.