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Insect Painting Miniature

In art school I was known as the “bug girl” because almost all of my painting had insects in them. Insects were a huge inspiration, and though they are no longer the primary focus on my work, they have continued to appear in my paintings throughout the years. I find that the closer that I look at the insect I’m painting, the more I feel a sense of empathy for it. I imagine a personality in there, and wonder about the history of it’s life.

My insect collection has been with me since my art school days. Some of my insects were gifts from Cincinnati Zoo entomologists, while others I sought out myself. I learned to pin insects from a friend I met at the frame shop where I used to work. 

Anita’s Insects

The insect specimens in this painting are from a very special part of my collection. These creatures came from three prized boxes put together by photographer Anita Douthat when she was a girl in Northern Kentucky. I knew Anita through her husband Cal Kowal, who was my photography teacher at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Still life paintings can tell a secret story through the symbolism of their elements. These pale raspberries grow in my garden and are symbols of kindness. The shell came from my husband’s pocket (he’s always collecting shells and rocks on his adventures) and are a symbol of birth and fortune. Insects are all around us, yet their forms, life cycles, and social structures couldn’t be more different than our own. Dragonflies symbolize change, and grasshoppers luck. Bees have had close ties with humanity and throughout the ages have variously stood for power, love, and industry. All of these types of insects can be found in the Northern Kentucky region where my models were originally collected over forty years ago (I exaggerated the blue in the dragonfly which was quite faded).

This painting is 5″ x 5″, oil on copper. Go to the Monthly Miniature page to see more of the paintings from the series, In Season.

Jan van Kessel the Elder, Flemish still life master that inspired this months painting

A Dragon-fly, Two Moths, a Spider and Some Beetles, With Wild Strawberries, Oil on copper; 9 x 13 cm

Jan van Kessel the Elder had big shoes to fit into. He was the great-grandson of Pieter Bruegel, who is cited as the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. His grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, was a close friend and collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens and the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century. Not to mention his uncles and great uncles… Let’s just say, he came from a family that made a big and lasting impact on the art scene.

Starting his training at the age of nine, he was particularly influenced by the work of his grandfather and was quite versatile. He worked in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes.

I was drawn to his insect still life paintings by his playful compositions that fill every section of the page, while carefully balancing color and shape in a seemingly effortless manner. The results of his carefully painted tiny subjects do not come across as cold scientific illustrations, but instead are warm and lively portraits. And if that weren’t enough, he also painted these miniature still lifes on copper (my hero!).

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Miniature oil painting of Birds of the Pacific Northwest

For the Month of May, I’ve made a still life painting of birds of the Pacific Northwest. I’m paying tribute to the painter George Flegel. He was born in what is modern day Czech Republic and did his training in Austria and Germany but ended up in Holland in the early 1600’s. His strange compositions, bursting with life are a study of technical perfection. I love how he incorporates birds in his still life’s in such a natural way. Between looking at his paintings, spending more time out in the yard, working on chicken paintings for a show in August, AND having a Stellar’s Jay nest in the eaves right outside my bedroom window, birds have been on my mind lately.

George Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637

George Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637

I’ve made a painting that is heavily inspired by one of his most unusual composition filled with birds and insects. I’ve chosen birds and insects that can be found in my backyard in the Seattle area. My dad always knew what birds were in the yard when we lived in the farmhouse in Ohio. I never studied them enough to be encyclopedic about the different species like he was and I had trouble identifying the different little brown ones. My friend, Chris Keenan (who also helped identify the nest in last months painting) helped me figure out more species than could possibly fit into one painting. I did my best, though!

In this Months Painting:

I have 8 birds in the 5″ x 5″ painting; American Crow, American Robin, Anna’s Hummingbird, Dark-Eyed Junko (Oregon), Northern Flicker, Plaited Woodpecker, Red-Breasted Nuthatch and a Stellar’s Jay. Insects are: Darkling Beetle, Painted Lady Cocoon and Butterfly (did you find the Caterpillar in last months painting? They transformed!), Grasshopper, and a Pholcid House Spider (also called a daddy long-legs). Also included: black sunflower seeds and a Blue Flag Iris I plucked the from the garden.

Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5″ x 5″

It was incredibly challenging to figure out such a complicated composition. Getting that many birds in there, meant I had to paint them at a very small scale. I have some detail images below to help you get a sense of the size of this painting. It took a lot of careful consideration to try to make the painting look right upon careful close inspection, but also from even a short distance away. Some of the details are lost, even from two feet away!

I hope you enjoy this painting as well as your own backyard birds! Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see all of the paintings in this series. And join my mailing list for a Monthly Miniature Preview, to get a chance to purchase them before before they go for sale on the website, and to see what’s new in the studio.

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Influences Abound: Jacob Marrel Floral Paintings

The paintings in my new Monthly Miniature series “In Season“, are inspired by still life paintings from Northern Europe that were at their prime from around 1600 – 1800. Each painting is influenced by a different artist from within the genre. My first painting in the series is inspired by the German artist Jacob Marrel. He primary made floral paintings and you can almost always find an insect somewhere in his work. He studied still life painting in Utrecht under Jan Davidsz. de Heem who is a major representative of that genre in both Dutch and Flemish Baroque painting. Later Jacob taught painting to his own students including his stepdaughter, Maria Sibylla Merian, who became a scientific illustrator and one of the premier entomologist (scientist who studies insects) of her time.

Paintings from this genre can get quite complicated both in composition and in subject matter. Marrel could compose an intricate composition to rival the best of them, but I was drawn his paintings with only insects and flowers. This fit the mood I was wanting for my first painting in the series. Since this series will only feature produce, flowers and insects that are in season, I wanted to start simply to demonstrate how sparse it is in winter. Look carefully at Joseph Marrel’s painting below and you will find my simplified take on his composition.

Please visit an earlier blog post for an introduction to this series. You can also find previous Monthly Miniature series by scrolling down on the Monthly Miniature page.

Jacob Marrel artist known for floral paintings, "Still Life With A Yellow Iris, A Parrot Tulip, A White Rose And Insects On A Wooden Table Ledge" oil on Canvas.

Jacob Marrel, “Still Life With A Yellow Iris, A Parrot Tulip, A White Rose And Insects”, oil on Canvas.

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New Monthly Miniature Series: “In Season” Featuring Still-Life Paintings

Happy New Year everyone! I’m celebrating the new year by starting a new Monthly Miniature series. For each month of 2019, I will create a miniature still-life painting in the Dutch Still-Life tradition and I hope you will enjoy following along. As a newsletter subscriber, you’ll be the first to see them, and they will be available for sale as soon as they are announced.

The Historic Still-Life tradition with a modern perspective

Still-life paintings from Northern Europe were at their prime from around 1600 – 1800 and they often feature blossoms, insects and food that could not be found out of hibernation or in season at the same time. They are constructs of seasonal impossibility, pieced together from earlier studies, signifying impermanence and the perception that earthly life is transitory.

In Season pays homage to Northern European still life, while also contrasting modern and past experiences. Expectations have changed; perennial availability is the norm now, and seasonality is hardly acknowledged. In Season features combinations of fruits, flowers and insects that occur together naturally, in appreciation of the beauty of the cyclical and ephemeral.

The first painting of “In Season” features the camellia flower and cave cricket. The camellia is one of few flowers in bloom here in January, and you may also be startled to find a cave cricket in your basement. Most insects are dormant this time of year, but these little creatures are actively scurrying around ready to frighten unsuspecting people in cool dark places.