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Poison Garden, forest floor still life paitning for group exhibit

Poison Garden, Antler Gallery, July 30th – August 23rd

Forgotten Garden, oil on aluminum, 9″ x 16″

In my “In Season” Monthly Miniature still life series, I studied and paid tribute to different artists of the Dutch golden age of still life paitning throught the year in which I completed that project. One of the artists I stumbled upon was Otto Mardeus van Schrieck. He created these incredibly detailed paintings that so perfectly contrasted the dark and light of the natural world. For that series I made a painting titled, “Forest Floor with Rabbits“. This painting was quite different than the others in the series that were more tradidional table top still life paintings. I think it was an important one to make for me to understand more fully the genere of still life in the 1600’s though.

I’d been toying with the idea of dedicating my next series of miniatures to “forest floor” paintings and decided on something different. When I got the invitation from Antler Gallery to participate in their Poison Garden exhibit I immediately knew exactly what I wanted to paint.

Years ago, I invited my neighbors foxglove flowers into my own garden when she was digging them up in fear that her dogs would eat them. The poisonous but beautiful flowers quickly bagan popping up in new places throught my garden and I encouraged them. When I had my son, however, I began to question that decision. Especilly since he loved foraging for different edible berries on his own. I began pulling them up, but there was no way I could get them all. The model for his painting is one of my survivors. My son still forages, but he’s a quick leaner and is very careful around the flowers. He actually held up a huge sheet of black paper behind the plant for me while I photographed it for reference for this paitning so that I could make the shadows and highlights more accuratly.

I included insects that are also poisonous, some with stings, others bites and I didn’t know this, but most butterflies are also toxic. Not that I’ve ever tried to eat one.

I hope you enjoy the painting and I hope you’ll go to the Antler Gallery website to see some of the other artists beautiful pieces for the exhibition.

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Summer still life paitning

Gifts of Summer, finding gratitude in difficult times

Sometimes inspiration comes from distant shores or precious objects, but for me, most comes from the world outside my window. In my backyard garden I find plants and creatures that add meaning to my life, remind me of my community, and inspire my work.

I just reached the fourteenth anniversary of moving to my house. It came with four fruit trees, a half dead lilac, and rhubarb plant. The rest was grass, weeds and more weeds. Now hundreds of plants grow in the garden where I designed and built 14 tons of slate walls and paths, with the help of some very kind friends.

Central to my garden’s design was a prolific cherry tree. Although it came with a forked trunk and showed some evidence of rot, we cared for it as best we could. It started to lean more this spring, yet it also produced more fruit this year than it has for many years past, which encouraged us. The cherries on this tree have always brought so many wonderful visitors to nibble on cherries, which are neither too sweet nor too tart. Each year brings a new surprise bird: last year a huge pileated woodpecker gorging on cherries, and this year several vibrant yellow and red Western Tanagers. I’ve never seen these timid birds in the yard before, and I was able to photograph them from my bedroom window.

Two days after the photos were taken however, we woke to find that overnight, the leaning tree had become the laying-on-the-ground tree. We didn’t hear a thing, but just like that it was gone! Luckily we had a cold spell and over the next two days, I went through the branches and saved all the cherries I could. It was a surprisingly huge amount, since I could easily reach all the branches!

Some of those cherries are here in my painting, beautifully paired with a vibrant yellow porcelain from the Seattle Art Museum. This bowl is one of a pair recently installed at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park (hopefully soon to reopen!). When I held these bowls during their installation, they immediately reminded me of a piece I got to know early in my career at SAM.

Many years ago, I made mounts for the Porcelain Room, and I handled hundreds of fine porcelains (just about everything had a custom mount for earthquake mitigation purposes). I would carefully pick up each object and take it to my work table to fit for its mount. I picked up a bowl that was one of a pair, remarkably similar to the yellow bowls but glazed blue. I stopped halfway to my table in surprise. I could feel it. After holding hundreds of pieces in my hands, I could feel absolute perfection. The yellow bowls have the same breathtaking feeling of quality, and are identical as far as I can tell, which is quite a feat for a handmade piece!

Every other detail of the painting is special to me in some way. The dragonfly visits me almost daily in my vegetable patch, flying in precise yet economical loops. The pink poppy I grew from seeds originally gathered almost 10 years ago from my neighbor’s yard. I grow poppies because my dad grew poppies, and his dad before him. The delicious orange orange raspberries come from plants given to me by the talented artist, Rachel Maxi. And last but not least, Isaac found a weed on a recent hike that he picked for me to put in my next painting. I treasure his involvement and interest, and his selection balanced out the yellow in the composition nicely. Plus, how could I resist his imploring little face!



In these times of social distance and other disconnection, I hope you can look around and enjoy your own personal gifts of summer. Please enjoy this month’s painting, keep well, and enjoy the sunshine!

BOWL

1723-35, Porcelain with yellow overglaze
height 2 5/16 in., diameter 4 in., 
Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.37.1
Photo: Paul Macapia 

From the Seattle Art Museum website:
Colored wares require a second firing at a lower temperature to fuse the enamels to the transparent porcelain glaze beneath. They distinctly reflect the imperial taste for exquisite design and potting. The combination of white interior and yellow exterior is a color code for wares made for the first-rank concubine, as specified in the Regulations of the Palace of the Qing Dynasty.

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Portrait of an Alpha Rooster

The rooster in this portrait, Jupiter, is the master of over 30 hens in his little slice of paradise at a friends little farm on Vashon Island. My friend Michael has so many beautiful chickens, but this guy demands respect and admiration in a way that only an alpha rooster can. I work from photos and he was happy to oblige. He stayed right in front of the camera, though he never stopped moving. 

My work is influenced by paintings made during the Dutch Golden age. Behind Jupiter, I have a background that is inspired by one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. My intention in giving the painting of Jupiter a formal composition and background is not to anthropomorphize him, but to give him dignity of his own and to signify that this is his portrait, not just a portrait of a rooster. 

Jupter, oil on aluminum, 15″ x 15″. Go to my available works page to purchase Jupiter and to view more works in this series.

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Peace and Love, new still life floral paitning

Each painting in this “Flights of Fancy” still life series includes a piece from the Seattle Art Museum collection. Unlike all the other miniatures in this series that included bowls and vases from the collection, the piece featured in this miniature painting is another painting. 

Albert Bierstadt was known for rendering these sweeping, romanticized scenes, this one of a place he had not yet been. In this piece, “Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast”, Bierstadt portrays Native Americans and the Pacific Northwest in a scene equally idyllic and dramatic. 

Albert Bierstade, Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast

The flowers in the painting are peace roses and love-in-a-mist nigella. I worked on this painting during the time when protests began to sweep across the world calling for justice against racial discrimination. My work is not political, but it is very personal. My response is subtle, but it is genuine. I wanted to bring something into the world that held these two ideals. That of peace and love, hence the flowers and the title.

The birds are a pair of house finches, common in the Pacific Northwest, that I found in my pear tree in the back yard. I heard a rustling noise and upon investigation, realized they were mating! Something I’d never actually seen before. I’m hoping that’s a good sign for things to come. 

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Capodimonte Porcelain Still Life Painting

When I started this painting back at the beginning of May, Italy was often in my thoughts with its explosion of COVID-19 casualties. Having spent a little time in Italy, it felt especially devastating because it struck me as a place so full of life, beauty and passion. This painting became my homage to Italy during a time of so much suffering, to remember the Italy I had known and to wish for it’s speedy recovery. 

I chose two porcelains that seemed to speak to one another, each made in the Capodimonte porcelain manufactory Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte, operating in Naples Italy, 1743 to 1759. One features the two men playing cards in the sunshine, and the other a playful figurine of Columbine, a saucy and clever character of comedic Italian theater. 

At times I felt like I was going to make myself go blind with some of the tiny details in this piece, but my quilting magnifying glass was a life saver—I can almost see numbers on the cards! These two objects are part of the Seattle Art Museum’s collection, and both can be seen in the Porcelain Room when the museum reopens. Links to the objects on the SAM website can be found below.

I wanted the painting to burst with the same life and passion I felt in Italy. My son and I cut a rainbow of blossoms from the garden, including the beautiful namesakes of Columbine. I count my blessings every day, and am thankful for my little pocket of paradise I have been so fortunate to be able to build. 

DISCOVERING THE CAPODIMONTE PORCELAIN MANUFACTORY 

For over a year I helped create mounts for the Seattle Art Museum’s porcelain room and learned about how Europeans were obsessed with learning the secrets of how the “white gold” was produced. With over a thousand objects in the one room, I completely overlooked the Capodimonte pieces. It wasn’t until recently that I learned about porcelain from this region when SAM hosted the exhibition, Flesh and Blood, Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum. The exhibition had little to offer in the manner of porcelains, but it was a feast for the eyes for a painter. I studied many of the pieces in the exhibition while in college (I even wrote an essays on one of them!), and it was such a privilege to see them in person. This led me to research the Capodimonte collection, and as it turned out searches for Capodimonte turn up not paintings but porcelains.

The factory was founded by King Charles and his wife Queen Maria Amalia Valpurga, who was the granddaughter of Augustus the Strong, the founder of the Meissen factory and one of the earliest champions of European porcelain. They recruited chemists, painters and sculptors to work at the factory. One of the biggest challenges in creating porcelains in southern Italy was that kaolin, a type of clay considered essential to porcelain, was in short supply. By experimenting with different combinations of clay, they developed a unique recipe that resulted in a warm white tone, bringing a distinctive appearance to the works from the Capodimonte factory. The factory was in operation a short time, between 1743 and 1759. In 1759 Charles inherited the Spanish throne, and when he left, the entire factory went with him to Madrid, becoming the Real Fábrica del Buen Retiro. 

Though the Capodimonte manufactory did create pieces in a chinoiserie style (the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions), I was struck at how very Itallian these two pieces felt to me. The attire, setting and even the poses of the figures were likely taken from direct studies taken from life in the region. I remember when I was making mounts many years ago and being particularly fascinated by the chinoiserie style. It felt a bit clumsy and seemed just a bit off in what I found to be a very interesting way. These clearly European pieces felt too fussy in contrast. Now here I am, years later, learning everything I can about Capodimonte porcelain. 

Visit my Monthly Miniature page to see all of the paintings in this series.

URN-SHAPED JAR 1750-57
CAPODIMONTE MANUFACTORY, ITALIAN
Soft paste porcelain, 6 1/4 in. (16 cm), height, Dorothy Condon Falknor Collection of European Ceramics
Photo: Paul Macapia

COLUMBINE 1750 CAPODIMONTE MANUFACTORY, ITALIANThis figure represents a character from Commedia dell’arte, the farcical Italian theatre. The character of the servant Columbine is witty, bright, and full of intrigue. She is often depicted dancing.

Soft paste porcelain, 6 in. (15.2 cm), height, Dorothy Condon Falknor Collection of European Ceramics
Photo: Paul Macapia

More Images of “Capodimonte“, oil on aluminum, 4.5″ x 5.5”

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Portrait of a Rocky Mountain Horse

My latest commission is a portrait of a Rocky Mountain horse named Chief. He has a beautiful dual colored mane and he is such a sweet horse. I’m in Seattle, but have family in Ohio and travel back to visit (don’t know when the next visit will be at this point though!). I got to meet my client who lives in Ohio in person last year and spend a lovely morning with her and a mutual friend taking reference photographs. Horses are tough to photograph and horse people KNOW their horses so you have to get it right! It’s quite the experience to soak in this amazing bond. I hope these two have many many years to enjoy each others remarkably warm company.

Date of Delivery

This painting was due to be completed for Bobbie’s birthday. I was dismayed that it was my very first and hopefully last commission that wasn’t finished on time. I have a clause in my contract in the “Date of Delivery” section that states, “This completion date shall be extended in the event of delays caused by events beyond the control of the Artist.” 

My husband and I suffered nasty bout of illness in early March, followed by the challenging transition to working-and-schooling from home.

Being sick while caring for a 4-year-old was really difficult. My husband and I were both sick for the entire month of March, and we took turns resting while we did our best to keep Isaac fed and out of trouble. I wasn’t able to venture into the studio for the entire month and it threw a big wrench in the works for my paintings schedule. 

Once we finally recovered, I got back to painting and I have never been so thankful for my health, the sunshine and wonderful clients! Bobbie was so kind and forgiving and I’m very grateful. Wishing you all a very healthy spring.  💛 

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Peach Blossom Miniature Still Life

Taking the time to smell the roses (or peach blossoms) is making a big comeback this year. One of the unexpected benefits of our isolation is finding time to connect with what’s growing and living outside our front doors. I have five fruit trees in my garden that I spend time with every year while I prune, mulch, and harvest the delicious bounty they finally bring me. Yet I rarely get the opportunity to marvel at the beauty they bring me each spring, when they are covered in a plethora of delicate fluttering blossoms. This year, I’ve been able to take that time. There’s are so many things still to be done, but now simple enjoyment is on that list.

My fruit trees were the first inspiration for this painting, and since the Seattle Art Museum is now closed, I searched their online database for my SAM inspiration. I choose this lovely piece, one of my favorite treasures of the porcelain room. It’s just as much a sculpture as it is a vase, and the masterful painting recalls the delicacy of the garden. Filling it with the branches from a fruit was an idea that came from a recent commission (pictured below) for Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art at the Seattle Art Museum.

The violet-green swallow can be found all over the western coast of North America, but you’ll most likely find them near open evergreen and deciduous woodlands. In the Seattle area, keep an eye out from March to September to spot one!

Wishing you all warm, healthy regards and some time to smell the roses.

💕
Vase in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum

JINGDEZHEN WARE VASE

1736 – 1795, Qinglong period, Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Chinese
Hard paste porcelain
8 1/4″ x 13 1/2″
stamped Qinglong reign mark in seal script Seal mark of Ch’ien-lung on base
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Photo: Paul MacapiaCollection of the Seattle Art Museum

The Qianlong emperor’s love of antiques inspired porcelain imitations of ancient lacquerworks and bronze vessels. The burnished dark green appearance of this vase recalls an ancient bronze.

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Spring Flowers Still-life painting

Spring Flowers, oil on copper, 5.5″ x 4.5″

Finally! My March spring flowers still-life painting was a bit late. After we suffered nasty bout of illness in early March, followed by the challenging transition to working-and-schooling from home, we’ve finally figured out my new painting schedule.

Being sick while caring for a 4-year-old was really difficult. My husband and I were both sick for most of March, and we took turns resting while we did our best to keep Isaac fed and out of trouble. I have never been so thankful for the sunshine and spring flowers.

The flowers for this spring flower still-life painting came straight from my backyard garden. I had to include daffodils, since they are the subject of my favorite poem (included below) and one of the first of my flowers to come in bloom. I have always told Isaac that daffodils are his special flower, since they were in bloom when he was born. 

I wanted bold, bright colors to remind me that despite the unsettling news and unknowns in the world, spring is here, just like it is every year. The smaller blooms felt like the perfect companions for the strong and dramatic daffodils. These red and blue flowers come from my red flowering currant and Jack Frost plant. The red-breasted Nuthatch seemed to follow me around as I gathered my bouquet, and I decided he was as thankful for spring as I am. 

The beautiful glass vase in the Seattle Art Museum collection is just the same bold yellow of a daffodil. It looks as if it could have been made by a contemporary Seattle glass artist, but it was was actually made in China sometime the 1700’s! Read below for more information on this piece featured from the SAM collection.

I hope you’re all staying healthy out there. If you feel sick, reach out and don’t be afraid. Despite the isolation, it’s been incredible to see how people have been coming together and supporting each other in unexpected new ways. Thank you to everyone who brought us groceries when were were quarantined, and for all the well wishes. Now if you can, go enjoy the sunshine, the flowers, and your own lovely company! 

Got to my Monthly Miniatures page to see all of the paintings I’ve made for the series. And sign up for my newsletter for a first glimpse of the newest painting and for updates from the studio.

Fluted glass vase in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum

FLUTED VASE

Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view)
1736-1795
Chinese
Glass, 6 × 2 1/8 in. (15.2 × 5.4cm), Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields
Photo: Elizabeth Mann

From the Seattle Art Museum website:

“This fluted yellow vase inscribed with the Qianlong emperor reign mark characterizes high-quality glassware of the imperial workshop in the Forbidden City during the 18th century.

Although glass was used in China as early as the Western Zhou period (ca. 1046-1771 B.C.), the technology developed slowly and intermittently. It was used primarily in accessories, e.g. beads or imitations of jades. As a medium, it was overshadowed by (and often imitated) porcelains: a 12th century glass dish from the Thomas D. Stimson Collection (47.152) is one such example. To some extent, this current piece was also inspired by a ceramic form (Song-dynasty vases of Ge/Guan ware), although the main catalyst for glass production in the Qing palace came from the Jesuits, who also served as artists and scientists in the court. It was through them that the Qing court re-discovered the beauty of glass. Octagonal, fluted glass vases featuring diverse colors were a common form. This type of vases was first made during the Yongzheng period (1723-35), and became popular – and thicker – during the Qianlong period, when this piece was made. According to the Archives of the Department of Imperial Household, this type of glass was given to high-ranking Tibetan monks. As such, their function extended beyond to serving as imperial playthings.

Robert Shields may have been known as “one of the Grand Old Men in Northwest architecture” (Pacific Northwest Magazine), but it is his enduring passion for art that leaves a lasting legacy at SAM. When Mr Shields passed away in the summer of 2012, he left his entire estate to the Seattle Art Museum, its value to be used in support of the Asian art program.”

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.

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Still Life Pet Portrait

Portrait of Lila

oil on aluminum, 12″ x 8″

My work as a mountmaker at the Seattle Art Museum has brought me into contact with some pretty extraordinary people. Curator of Chinese artwork, Ping Foong, is one such person. I’m very grateful that she and her partner choose me to make a special portrait of their cat Lila that reflects her love of Chinese porcelains. 

From Lucie:

“It’s perfect! I love the painting so much!”

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Still life with Parrot, Oranges and a Chinese Love Story

The Western Chamber

This February I wanted some romantic imagery. This 18th century bowl with its imagery of lovers in a moonlit garden was just what I was looking for. You see a poor scholar, beckoning the aristocratic beauty he has fallen in love with, who is just behind a high wall with her maid. This story, “[Romance of] The Western Chamber,” was originally written as a tragedy, but was later altered to have a happy ending. The happy version seems to dominate and there’s no hint of tragedy in the synopsis written by the Beijing Tourism Bureau. 

These little oranges are currently in season, and I loved the eye catching combination of the contrasting orange and blue. As I dreamed up this painting, I always imagined it with a parrot, never any other bird. I’ve  had a fondness for parrots ever since my dad came back from Florida with a parrot named Charlie, when I was around 8 years old. I don’t know how my mom felt about it, but that was my dad. (My sister could tell you stories about bringing a baby cow home in the back of our station wagon.) Scroll down for a picture of little Rebecca petting Charlie. 

Part of the fun of making still life paintings is to research historical symbolism and dream up my own hidden stories. Many objects have several meanings so the story can differ depending on who’s doing the dreaming. In this case, an uncaged bird symbolizes sexual freedom, and parrots specifically represent nobility, richness and self confidence. Oranges can represent abundance, longevity and beauty. 

Everything was becoming a bit too sweet and easy for the lovers, so I added a fly to bring them back down to reality. I appreciate the description by Steven Connor in his article The Painter and the Fly”, describing flies in art as the “embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen”. And if you want to see how symbolism can be scrutinized by scholars, take a look his article which discusses the fly in art over the course of 500 years.

BOWL

Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view)
Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Porcelain with underglaze-blue decoration, 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), height 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), diameter, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.42
Photo: Paul Macapia

“The fourteenth-century drama The West Chamber tells of a poor scholar, Zhang Sheng, seen here holding a fan, who falls passionately in love with Oriole, an aristocratic beauty. In this night scene, from behind a high wall and accompanied by her clever maid, Crimson, Oriole smiles at scholar Zhang, her hands raised in delight. Shining above them are constellations thought to determine the lovers’ fate. The scene appears to represent the two lovers by moonlight in the secrecy of the monastery garden.” Mimi Gardner Gates, “Porcelain Stories,” p. 118

The perfecting of the underglaze-blue technique made possible richer gradations of the blue color, seen particularly on wares from around the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and expanded the repertoire of design. Narrative scenes taken from lyrics, plays, and popular novels (like The West Chamber depicted on the bowl) became fashionable around this time, catering to the interests of the rising merchant class and the scholar gentry alike. These interpretive blue paintings told intimate stories to the viewer, and enriched the surface of the blue-and-white porcelain. 

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