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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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A Muse for Spring

The inspiration for my March Monthly Miniature is artist, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (18 January 1573 – 1621) who was a still life painter of the Dutch Golden Age. He was among the founders of the tradition, the height of which dates to around 1600-1800. I’ve long admired paintings from this era and this series is giving me the opportunity to luxuriate the detailed little worlds created by so many different artists. Each of my twelve paintings will pay tribute to a different artist form this era and Ambrosius Bosschaert is definately one of my favorites. I’m drawn to his symmetrical and simple compositions and tried to compose my daffodil painting with some of the grace and elegance he so carefully crafts into each small painting. Go to my Monthly Miniatures gallery to see all of the paintings in this series. Learn more about this painting in my previous post.

Oil on Copper

Ambrosius Bosschaert is also a fellow painter on copper. If you look at the image below, you’ll notice that this three hundred year old painting is free of cracks or paint loss. Aside form the luminous and smooth surface, meal is an ideal painting surface because it is such a stable surface. It doesn’t tear or suffer from expanding or contracting with humidity like canvas or wood.

Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621), Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover, and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle, oil on copper

Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621), Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover, and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle, oil on copper

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Miniature Oil Painting of Daffodils

Daffodils are a symbol of the beginning of spring and the subject of my favorite poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth (scroll down for the poem). Though not as varied as tulips, the typically yellow flowers have been cultivated to bloom in many other shapes, sizes and colors. I wanted to show the wide variety available today and choose seven distinctive types for this miniature oil painting of daffodils.

Another herald of spring is the ladybug, which are just coming out of hibernation. I added three in this painting for good luck.

If you live in the Northwest, may have also recently seen the Northwest Salamander in your neighborhood! These sweet little creatures breed this time of year and I’m very lucky to live in an area where they are thriving. I live near a small lake and find them in my yard and out on the sidewalks when I go for walks. They’re amazingly still and gentle. They don’t hurry away, but just sit and smile up at me!

This one has quite a bit of tiny details and if you ever see it in person, you might want to have a magnifying glass handy so you don’t miss anything.

See all of the paintings in the series so far on the monthly miniature page and sign up for my monthly newsletter for a Monthly Miniature Preview & for updates from the studio.

Wishing you a very Happy Spring!

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.