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Monthly Miniature – In Season, Still Life Paintings

Each year I do a themed Monthly Miniature series and for 2019, I painted still life paintings. For much of my art career, I’ve been a “figurative” painter. Meaning almost all of my subjects for my paintings have been human figures. Since I first started my Monthly Miniature series of rabbits several years ago however, I’ve been inspired to enthusiastically embrace new subjects.

There’s nothing too terribly new about still life paintings. They’ve been around for hundreds of years and though artists are still creating beautiful, creative and inspiring works today, the basic principals are the same. My inspiration for the series “In Season” goes back to the roots of the still life genre.

Influence of The Dutch Still Life Genre

Before starting this series, I had only made one still life painting in the last 15 years so a refresher art history course really helped. The artist of this genre studied in Northern Europe and were at their prime from around 1600 – 1800. Though I examined the artwork made by more than two dozen artists, each painting in my series had one predominant artist that influenced it. I’ve listed them all below, and upon close inspection, you’ll notice some duplicates.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite, but if I was forced to choose, I’d go with Adriaen Coorte (whose name you’ll find three times). His paintings are easily identifiable in the genre of Dutch Still Life’s because his paintings are unusually unpretentious. Another name you will find more than once is George Flegel. His paintings were more complicated than Adriaen’s, but the way he spaced the items in his compositions felt very ordered. The balance of objects felt sensible to me and I kept coming back to his work. I tend to like simple compositions and studying his work helped me feel more comfortable when I wanted to add more objects to my compositions.

  1. January- Jacob Marrel
  2. February – Adriaen Coorte
  3. March – Ambrosius Bosschaert
  4. April – Gerard Van Spaendonck
  5. May – George Flegel
  6. June – Adriaen Coorte
  7. July – Jan van Kessel the Elder
  8. August – Adriaen Coorte
  9. September – Otto Mardeus van Schrieck
  10. October – Osias Beert the Elder
  11. November – George Flegel
  12. December – Jacob van Hulsdonck

In Season vs Seasonal Impossibility

One thing that struck me about the historical paintings was the fact that 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. For my series, I wanted to do the opposite.

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. Most modern viewers looking at a Dutch still life would have no idea that tulips and chrysanthemum would never bloom together. 

Keeping everything in season took a lot of planning and compromising. Lucky know a floral designer and have a 1/4 acre garden filled with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables (sometimes) ripe for the picking.

Blue Blossoms

Finding the perfect blue blooms for paintings with lush bouquets was tricky. I heavily relied on my sister in law Molly (a floral designer) for help. Finding the perfect spring blue for my April painting, “Flowers, Bird’s Nest and Insects” seemed so easy at first. I’d mocked it up with Delphiniums and was all ready to start paintings and I sent the image to Molly for her stamp of approval. No Delphiniums till summer! After hours of searching and trying out different ideas, I finally redesigned the composition with Grape Hyacinths instead and got the nod of approval. Similarly an early mock up of my “Vanitas with Flowers and Butterflies” painting included blue anemones. I got the shake of the head again – blue anemones are not blooming in October. I needed the blue to balance the colors, so kept searching and was even happier to include thistles.

You could find just about any fruit, flower or vegetable any day of the year that’s grown in a hot house or on the other side of the globe. It’s interesting to have the limitation though and gives me a feeling of connection to the world outside my artificial constructs.

To learn more about specific works withing this series, visit the “In Season” entries on my blog.

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Monthly Miniature – In Season, Still Life Paintings

Each year I do a themed Monthly Miniature series and for 2019, I painted still life paintings. For much of my art career, I’ve been a “figurative” painter. Meaning almost all of my subjects for my paintings have been human figures. Since I first started my Monthly Miniature series of rabbits several years ago however, I’ve been inspired to enthusiastically embrace new subjects.

There’s nothing too terribly new about still life paintings. They’ve been around for hundreds of years and though artists are still creating beautiful, creative and inspiring works today, the basic principals are the same. My inspiration for the series “In Season” goes back to the roots of the still life genre.

Influence of The Dutch Still Life Genre

Before starting this series, I had only made one still life painting in the last 15 years so a refresher art history course really helped. The artist of this genre studied in Northern Europe and were at their prime from around 1600 – 1800. Though I examined the artwork made by more than two dozen artists, each painting in my series had one predominant artist that influenced it. I’ve listed them all below, and upon close inspection, you’ll notice some duplicates.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite, but if I was forced to choose, I’d go with Adriaen Coorte (whose name you’ll find three times). His paintings are easily identifiable in the genre of Dutch Still Life’s because his paintings are unusually unpretentious. Another name you will find more than once is George Flegel. His paintings were more complicated than Adriaen’s, but the way he spaced the items in his compositions felt very ordered. The balance of objects felt sensible to me and I kept coming back to his work. I tend to like simple compositions and studying his work helped me feel more comfortable when I wanted to add more objects to my compositions.

  1. January- Jacob Marrel
  2. February – Adriaen Coorte
  3. March – Ambrosius Bosschaert
  4. April – Gerard Van Spaendonck
  5. May – George Flegel
  6. June – Adriaen Coorte
  7. July – Jan van Kessel the Elder
  8. August – Adriaen Coorte
  9. September – Otto Mardeus van Schrieck
  10. October – Osias Beert the Elder
  11. November – George Flegel
  12. December – Jacob van Hulsdonck

In Season vs Seasonal Impossibility

One thing that struck me about the historical paintings was the fact that 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. For my series, I wanted to do the opposite.

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. Most modern viewers looking at a Dutch still life would have no idea that tulips and chrysanthemum would never bloom together. 

Keeping everything in season took a lot of planning and compromising. Lucky know a floral designer and have a 1/4 acre garden filled with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables (sometimes) ripe for the picking.

Blue Blossoms

Finding the perfect blue blooms for paintings with lush bouquets was tricky. I heavily relied on my sister in law Molly (a floral designer) for help. Finding the perfect spring blue for my April painting, “Flowers, Bird’s Nest and Insects” seemed so easy at first. I’d mocked it up with Delphiniums and was all ready to start paintings and I sent the image to Molly for her stamp of approval. No Delphiniums till summer! After hours of searching and trying out different ideas, I finally redesigned the composition with Grape Hyacinths instead and got the nod of approval. Similarly an early mock up of my “Vanitas with Flowers and Butterflies” painting included blue anemones. I got the shake of the head again – blue anemones are not blooming in October. I needed the blue to balance the colors, so kept searching and was even happier to include thistles.

You could find just about any fruit, flower or vegetable any day of the year that’s grown in a hot house or on the other side of the globe. It’s interesting to have the limitation though and gives me a feeling of connection to the world outside my artificial constructs.

To learn more about specific works withing this series, visit the “In Season” entries on my blog.

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Waffles! Miniature Still Life painting

Breakfast takes center stage in November’s miniature still life painting featuring waffles, apples, small floral arrangement and red dragonfly. I love breakfast. I believe starting every day with a nice leisurely breakfast is absolute perfection. I’ve spoiled my three year old son to believe the same. When asked what he wants for breakfast his reply is usually, “scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon”. And that’s usually what he gets. Special occasions substitutes the pancakes for waffles.

Dutch still life paintings of breakfast are nothing like the photos of food you see online. Photos of food never seem that appealing to me, but the paintings are delicious. Antoine Vollon’s painting of “Mound of Butter” from the 1800’s was on view at the Seattle Art Museum a few years and it was a feast for the eyes. If they could make a small mountain of butter look delicious, you have to see paintings of eggs and waffles.

Waffles, apples and dragonfly still life painting detail
Waffles, apples and dragonfly Miniature still life paintingby Rebecca Luncan

Finding My Models: Waffles, Blooms and Insects

I knew I wanted the waffles to sit on one of the Dutch silver plates used in so many of my favorite paintings and my own waffle iron is very special to me. It’s an antique cast iron waffle maker from the 1800’s that my sister gave to my years ago, but my circular waffles just weren’t working. It had to happen, but it felt so wrong to buy rectangular frozen waffles to pose for the paintings when I love my own waffle maker so much. But for art, we suffer. I’m kidding, the waffles were delicious. 🙂 

I was having a hard time finding flowers in bloom in November and was about to give up. I take ballet classes from The Ballet Studio in the University district in Seattle and I looked out the window while at the barre to see a flower box in full bloom. Kristen, my teacher gave me a pair of scissors after class and let me bring home some of her last remaining blooms for the painting. I’m amazed I found roses blooming in November, but Seattle is a pretty special place.

The red dragonfly is a frequent visitor to my backyard. I live near several likes north of Seattle in Lynnwood. One summer my husband wore red swim trunks while going for a swim and he was surrounded by dozens of them as he floated.

Hope you enjoy the painting and hope you have a happy holiday season!

Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see the whole series. Sign up to my monthly newsletter for upstate and for the chance to purchase paintings before they’re public on the site.

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Miniature Vanitas

Vanitas with Flowers and Butterflies

As the flowers and trees fade and die back, fall is the perfect time for a miniature vanitas painting. Vanitas paintings were created long before and after they became a common genre in Netherlandish art of the 16th and 17th centuries. They are symbolic and are meant to remind us of the inevitability of death or change.

My grand show of color and life punctuates the shift toward winter, one last “Hurrah!” from the warmer seasons. The hint of the coming winter is found in the tiny, almost hidden hummingbird skeleton. But if you dig into the meaning of the items in the painting, you’ll find that both the cut flowers and skeleton symbolize the same things – death or transience. The cut flowers are preserved my painting in full bloom glory, but they began to fade even before I’d finished the paintings. But don’t worry, the butterflies are a symbol of regeneration, resurrection and the cycle of life. Everything’s going to be fine.  

Detail of Miniature Vanitas with Flowers, hummingbird skeleton and Butterflies oil painting by Rebecca Luncan

Hope you enjoy my newest miniature vanitas and I hope you’re keeping warm and healthy. Thanks to the flowers of my garden, to the dahlia garden at Volunteer Park, and to my sister-in-law for the hummingbird skeleton and the biggest dahlia I’ve ever seen. And a big thank you to you for your continued support.

Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see the whole series! Sign up to my monthly newsletter for upstate and for the chance to purchase paintings before they’re public.

Detail of Miniature Vanitas with Flowers, oil painting by Rebecca Luncan
Miniature Vanitas with Flowers and Butterflies oil painting by Rebecca Luncan
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Swallowtail Butterfly over Japanese Plums

Still life paintings, both universal and highly individualized

For my Into the Country monthly miniature series from a few years ago, I included one still life with plums and bees (pictured below) in the mix of portraits of animals. This was the first still life painting I’d done since art school, and it helped direct the focus for this years series, “In Season”. This is my eighth painting of this years still life series. I find the still life to be one of the most universally accessible genres of painting. I was amazed to find that still life paintings are also quite personal. Each item I place in my composition is carefully chosen and has personal meaning to me and I hope to my viewers as well.

From the Garden

My Japanese plum tree is the star of my little quarter-acre garden. Almost every August, I get around 2,000 plums from my one tree. Over the years my incredibly juicy plums have been eaten as is (watch out for juice going everywhere!), been made into jam, wine, sweet bread, liqueur, filled up my freezer for winter enjoyment and now they’re models for paintings.

The yellow of the plums make them the perfect companions to the equally golden and plentiful swallowtail butterfly. Swallowtails are found all over the world, and the Western Tiger Swallowtail I’ve featured in my painting makes its dazzling appearance in the Seattle area. And swallowtail butterflies are always fluttering around the garden. One friend said he’s never visited my garden without seeing at least one. This painting feels like distilling some of the beauty and magic of my garden.

Honey Bee and Japanese plum still life, oil paitning on copper by Rebecca Luncan
Into the Country- Honey Bees, oil on copper, 4″ x 4″
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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

Georg 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.