“I’m scared of insects,” admits Chere Strain, surrounded by once-living insects she’s incorporated into artwork.
Although Strain may not suffer from entomophobia (fear of insects), there are a few insects that she considers “scary”.
“Things with fangs and big teeth and long legs, and things that can hold you down,” Strain explains from his living room.
Yet in a nearby terrarium is Charlotte, a pet tarantula who has been with Strain for 17 years. And then there is the decor. On the wall above a fireplace there is a large praying mantis, cricket, water scorpion, cicada, harlequin beetle and Madagascar tiphiid parasitic wasp and other insects, artistically pinned and framed by Strain.
On Charlotte’s dining room table is a diorama of a rhinoceros beetle playing a grand piano, with a jewel beetle in tiny cuff links next to it singing into a microphone, all lit by a small chandelier. Titled Rhino Blues, the piece is one of approximately 15 dioramas Strain has created with a mix of insects and miniatures.
Although uncomfortable with living insects, Strain is also fascinated and inspired by them.
“I didn’t appreciate everything we had on the planet when it came to insects until I started doing it,” Strain said. “There are so many different creatures, so many different insects. Some of them have really cool iridescent wings, some of them have clear transparent wings, some of them have dark wings.
“There are so many colors and so much dynamism. Many of these guys have hidden wings underneath and you never see them. Some of them actually have tiny little hearts on their legs. Weevils have tiny little hearts, two or three, on each of their legs. I never would have known that…without working with them myself.
Strain’s passion for working with insects post-mortem (she refers to herself as an “insect mortician” on her social media accounts as Creepin’ It Real) began last year after that she and her daughter took a butterfly pinning class taught by Pretty Dead Taxidermy of Vancouver. at Wild Craft Mercantile in Salmon Arm.
“We thought the butterflies were simple so…we just framed them and I loved them,” Strain said. “Here is another class that features scorpions. So I did a scorpion pinning class and decided that I didn’t want to put my scorpion in a frame, I wanted to put it in a chair. So I bought her a wing chair…
“I put him in and I thought, now he needs a place to sit, to have this chair, so I made this whole bug house based on this scorpion sitting in a chair ears, and I took him out of there.”
Strain also loves miniatures and incorporates them into his work. Some she buys, others she makes herself. One of his pieces made for a friend depicts a rhinoceros beetle sitting on a wingback chair, eating Doritos and watching scenes from Back to the Future on a functioning miniature television.
“I made the chair, painted the chair, hand made the rug, laid the whole floor with different materials, then I thought there must be something else, so I added a bag of Doritos and I hand cut all the Doritos and painted them,” Strain said of the effort.
Strain worked 12 days straight on another diorama for his son’s birthday. This highly detailed video game themed artwork features a beetle holding a joystick, sitting in a game room filled with game consoles and pop culture paraphernalia. The diorama also includes a working screen on which you can play video games. Although Strain’s son isn’t crazy about bugs either, “he loved it!”
“When this bug happened I thought, why does it have to be plain, why does it just have to be in a frame, why can’t it be something better?” said Strain. “Why can’t it be something that stands out?”
Strain sells his work through Creepin’ It Real and will do custom insect-focused illustrations upon request.
Strain confessed that she didn’t consider herself an artist until told otherwise.
“I didn’t even know it – for me it wasn’t the same,” Strain said. “My aunt is an artist, she is a canvas artist, so she paints and everything. That’s what I thought art was. It wasn’t until last year that my aunt said to me, ‘You’re an artist, do you realize that? But it’s art so I guess now I’m an artist.
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