Wednesday 26 May 2021

The Map of the Bat

by Rachel Hudson

Myths and motifs (c) Rachel Hudson
Who knew that the old myth of bats getting caught in women’s hair was a way to deter young girls from going out at night? Or that Darth Vader’s mask and his TIE Fighter spaceships were inspired by a bat?
I unearthed these little nuggets and made many other surprising discoveries on my journey to illustrate The Map of the Bat, a patchwork story quilt.

For my day job I am a freelance illustrator working with leaders in nature conservation and publishers to champion species and highlight the issues they face. I have worked with BBC Wildlife Magazine, Bloomsbury Wildlife and my first children’s book, 100 Endangered Species, was published this May by Button Books. (You might have seen the logo I created for the BCT’s podcast, Bat Chat.)

A Map of Many Threads

My bat quilt is part of my ongoing mission to rehabilitate the reputation of mispresented and misunderstood animals in a fun and engaging way. I chose to make a quilt because it is a way of exploring the different stories of the bat in an accessible way to reach a broad audience, nature lovers as well as those less aware of the conservation issues. Story quilting also has a rich history of social commentary, an art form that features in many different cultures around the world. As Chris Packham, President of BCT, has urged, “Bats need to be part of our culture. We need to see them in everyday life… It’s about a manifestation we can connect with.” (Packham, 2020).

Map of the Bat story quilt (c) Rachel Hudson
The quilt is a semi-abstract map of a bat’s journey 'to redemption', from creepy creature of the night to ecological superhero. It charts the bat’s night flight across the landscape, indicated by straight black lines representing hedges, roads, rivers. It is a journey through time and different histories. My map also makes visible the mental mapping of the bat, or ‘batnav’, looping in and out of these cultural geographies (represented by the coloured meandering line). The quilting pattern through the entire map makes visible echolocation used by some species.

I chose fabric patterns for their symbolic significance: the night sky, insect prey, habitats and development - all scraps gathered from family, friends and creatives, some of whom lost their jobs making curtains and costumes during the pandemic. I used graduated colour for the patchwork to unify the illustration. Greys and indigo blues signify ambiguity, ignorance and the beauty of the night. Oranges and reds paradoxically signify threats and illumination.

Creature of the Night or Potent Totem?

From medieval manuscripts and gargoyles, to Gothic novels, DC comics, blockbuster films and the evening news, bats have long been associated with demons and death. But in other cultures, including Aboriginal, Native American and Chinese art – bats have positive associations with change, rebirth and good fortune. I was keen to bring these different perspectives together in one map. I did this using screen-printing, mono-prints, drawings and embroidery, creating a map to be touched as well as viewed.


A Marvel of Design

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings for a flying machine were modelled on bats a well as birds?  The Renaissance polymath made elaborate observations regarding the balance, control and weight displacement of bats. The map incorporates da Vinci’s drawing where a bat’s winged membrane inspired the design of the body of the wings. I was also keen to tell the story of the diversity of bats, more than 1,400 species, from megabats to microbats, the ‘whisperers’ and ‘screamers’.

Eco Super Hero

Beyond the bat enthusiast, not many people know about the important role that bats play in our natural environment: dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and acting as a natural pest control. It was important to give prominence to these positive aspects.

It was also vital to incorporate the many threats that bats face, from habitat loss and development, to climate change and disease. The well-known slogan, ‘Bats aren’t scary, extinction is’ looms large in appliquéd writing, slightly fraying at the edges.

Thanks to science and technology, we are discovering so much more about these once mysterious and consequently maligned animals. My Map of the Bat is a deep dive into the history and natural history of this fascinating animal. My aim is to inspire and delight others to love this animal too.

Find out more

Rachel’s Map of the Bat is part of her Masters in Illustration at Falmouth School of Art. To see her wildlife illustrations please visit and follow Rachel on Instagram @rhudsonillustration

100 Endangered Species is available to purchase online from most major bookshops, including Waterstones, WHSmiths, and Amazon.

Author Biography

Rachel Hudson (c) Rachel Ulph Photography
Rachel Hudson is a natural history illustrator. She has a First Class Degree in the anthropology of art, studying societies and cultures that live more closely with their natural environment. For nine years she worked in wildlife conservation, writing and designing publications for Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. In 2019/20 she was awarded National Runner Up for Best Rural Creative Business, and Winner of the same category in the South East and Greater London region. She lives in Hampshire with her family and other animals, including a crested gecko and collared lizard. Rachel is currently illustrating a picture book about nocturnal wildlife for a publisher in the US. It will DEFINITELY feature bats.

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