Nothing says creature comforts to me like chocolate. After my son and I play out in the cold, it’s our custom to pull a bench up to the fireplace, drink hot chocolate and sing songs together. We don’t drink from gilded porcelains, but it is luxurious just the same.
I wanted to capture the mood that such joyful moments bring me, so this month’s painting is all about luxury, intimacy, and having the sense of peace to enjoy it all. The gilded chocolate cup and pot are about the richness of the feeling of “having it all!”. Chocolate is all about comfort, and the bonsai speaks to harmony and peace with the world.
The chocolate cup is modeled after one from the Seattle Art Museum collection, and I’ve found a matching chocolate pot in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. (The Smithsonian Magazine has a great online article about the history of Chocolate pots if you’d like to learn more about them.) Though they’re thousands of miles apart, both porcelains are attributed to the Messian Manufactory in Germany and date from the early to mid 1700’s.
Adding a bonsai with its feeling of tranquility was the last piece of the puzzle for my composition. The one in my painting is inspired by “More friends the better”, a Chinese Juniper “forest” originally created in 1972 under the care of T. Kawamoto. You can visit this bonsai at the Pacific Bonsai Museum just south of Seattle, and if you would like to show your support, you can even befriend a bonsai. The title, “More friends the better”, says it all as we eagerly look towards a future of sunshine, vaccinations, and most of all visits with friends and family.
The creator can write their own story in the objects of a still life, but more incredibly, we can all write our own stories there. Part of the beauty of a still life painting, or any art, is that meaning is so personal to the viewer. I hope you can find something in this month’s painting that sparks some happy memory or a feeling of comfort for you.
Despite the bumpy start to 2021, I still have high hopes for where this new year will take us. I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to the “new normal.” Meanwhile I thought we could all use some warmth and comfort to cheer us along the way. Each painting of this year’s monthly miniature series will have the theme of “creature comforts”, such as food and drink that makes us feel warm and cozy.
Let’s start this year with a toast. I made you a pomegranate champagne cocktail. Pomegranates are a symbol of plenty, youthfulness, fertility and good luck. Combine that with champagne, overflowing with abundance and joy, and you have the perfect drink to welcome the new year.
Here’s my toast:
The last year has been both terrible and wonderful. Despite a calamitous year, I’ve had the rare privilege to begin painting as a full-time artist without also working a second full-time job. I could not have done it without you, so I propose a toast of thanks.
Your subscription to my newsletter cheers me along. Every time you share my work, you help me grow my audience. Every time you buy a painting, a print or a greeting card, you support me doing something I love for a living. So cheers, and thank you for your continued support. I wish you a new year that overflows with good luck, plenty, and joy!
I find a healthy dose of silly shenanigans is good for me. And after a long difficult year, we all deserve some. 🙂
I usually know what kind of mood I’m going for when I plan a painting, and I seek objects that work together to tell a story that fits. For my final painting of the series, I wanted to make something lighthearted and playful. This one makes me smile every time I look at it, and I hope you enjoy it!
Since I started making still life paintings last year, I am always on the lookout for subjects. Anything that catches my fancy is studied, posed, photographed, then added to my growing reference library. The parts of this painting fell into place by scrolling through those images and intuiting which pieces of this puzzle would fit together.
Meyer lemons are an annual treat for the exhibition crew at SAM. Each year the head Exhibit Designer, Paul Martinez, would visit his family in California and pick lemons from their abundant orchard. Last year I took dozens of photos of them, just in case I wanted to use them in a painting. The squirrel visited us during one of our lunch breaks on a park bench in Volunteer Park while reinstalling the Seattle Asian Art Museum last summer-another batch of “just in case” images. And the dish was too hard to pass up when I noticed it in the conservation studio – more photographs. As I collected each of those images, I had no idea what they would become together.
Because I’m using pieces from the Seattle Art Museum collection as my models, I can’t actually place fruit inside bowls or plates. Instead I use something of my own that’s a similar size, shape and color for my mock ups. That helps me get a good idea of the shadows and light sources. Then I merge everything together, first in my imagination, with sketches, and then digital compositions. It’s still pretty rough at this stage, but finally through the process of making the painting, the scene starts to come to life.
It’s been such a privilege have a “day job” that has put me into direct contact with so much beautiful art. The museum has been closed for almost all of 2020, and it feels so fitting that I’ve made this series of paintings as a tribute to its collection, and to my experiences with the people there who have become very dear to me.
This body of work is my “thank you” to all of the past artists that worked to perfect their craft and push the limits of their artistic pursuits, to all of the countless people that have cared for these objects for hundreds of years after they were created; and to those that continue to care for these objects, ensuring that they will be treasured and viewed by countless people to come. I found the passion museum workers have for the preservation of objects for all of us to enjoy is contagious. I hope I’ve been able to pass a little of it on to you.
DISH WITH PHOENIX AND FLOWER MOTIFS, Collection of the Seattle Art Museum
Chinese, early 14th century Porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration , Diameter: 18 3/4 in. (47.6cm), Purchased in memory of Elizabeth M. Fuller with funds from the Elizabeth M. Fuller Memorial Fund and from the Edwin W. and Catherine M. Davis Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota, 76.7 Provenance:Purchased for Seattle Art Museum with funds from the Elizabeth M. Fuller Memorial Fund and from the Edwin W. and Catherine M. Davis Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 6, 1976 Photo: Paul Macapia
From the Seattle Art Museum website:
“Brilliant cobalt pigment and a refined porcelain body are essential to the striking beauty of blue-and-white wares, which rose in Chinese ceramic production in the fourteenth century largely as a result of huge demand in the central and western Asian markets. This large dish manifests the taste for elaborate designs derived from Islamic art, and its massive size was intended to accommodate communal meals customary among Muslims.”
I’m thoroughly conditioned to associate November with food. Though we had an unusual Thanksgiving, we did our best to maintain tradition. This year, for me, it felt more like a necessity than ever. I also felt the need to make a painting about not just what I’m thankful for, but also my hopes for the future. So this month’s painting is full of bright colors, food and reminders of family.
I’m originally from Ohio, and my family still reside there, apart from a nephew in California. I was excited to bring a little of Ohio into this month’s painting a male and female Cardinal, which is the state bird. Although they are common, I would never call them commonplace. Their color is extraordinary, especially when you find them on a snowy-white day, sitting on a bare branch.
My mom has a huge garden and chyrsanthemums are one of the few flowers still blooming at the beginning of November, though they disappear by the end of the month with the first snow of the season. I thought of mom especially when I added these ‘mums. Though I haven’t been back for Thanksgiving for many years, I have seen my mom and step-dad at least once a year since I moved out here around twenty years ago. Until this year. I am hoping for a future when we can visit again, and where the world my son grows up in is a little closer to the one where I grew up. I think one thing that people across the globe will all soon have in common (at least for a little while) is not taking the time we have with friends and family for granted.
The plate pictured from the Seattle Art Museum is one of my favorite pieces in the Porcelain room, and I’ve been hoping to figure out a composition I could fit it into. It is so cheerful and bright and makes me smile to look at it. When I was thinking of it, I had it in my mind that it was Japanese, but it’s actually a perfect example of chinoiserie. Chinoiserie is the European interoperation and imitation of Chinese and other East Asian artistic traditions. The porcelain is English and was made in the late 18th century.
I hope you made the most of your Thanksgiving holiday! Although we put off our feast a day to make cooking easier, we made up for it with waffles for breakfast (they’re a favorite around here, but you probably noticed that already). We had an intimate Thanksgiving dinner celebration with just my husband, four year old son and myself. We made far too much food and got all dressed up. Isaac had a blast. We did end up cooking a turkey, despite shortages of the smaller birds, but I don’t know how much longer my son will partake; we might have a budding vegetarian on our hands:
Isaac: “Where’s the turkeys head?” Me: “Well they cut it off when they killed it.” Isaac: “They killed the turkey?! Did they go to jail?!”
Thanks so much for continuing to follow my work! All my best to you and yours for the holiday season.
CA. 1772-75, ENGLISH, WORCESTER
Collection of the Seattle Art Museum, on view in the Porcelain Room Gallery
Soft paste porcelain, Diam.: 8 1/4 in., Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection, 94.103.79 Provenance:[Mr T. Leonard Crow, Tewkesbury, England, 1948]; sold to Mr and Mrs Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser, 1948-1994 (cf. Mr Crow’s letter dated March 6, 1948 to Mr Klepser); gift from Mr and Mrs Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser to Seattle Art Museum, Washington, 1994
This colorful painting is made with hopes for the future. We’ve all had our share of negative transformations over this past year, and I am reminding myself and you that not only is our current situation temporary, but everything is temporary. Seeking the best of every situation will keep us strong and help us persevere.
I recently went to the Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park and found a shocking patch of weeds where the Dahlia garden usually resides. The Puget Sound Dahlia Association, whose members have been planting the garden each year since 1984, didn’t get to plant this year due to Covid-19. I assumed the decision not to plant was to discourage people from congregating in close proximity. They were a favored feature of the park, and I have high hopes they will return next year.
Luckily for me, I also used dahlias in last October’s miniature and had taken dozens of reference photographs that I could use for this painting. I paired the blooms with a Korean vase from the Seattle Art Museum’s collection. I love the subtle colors and the design that reflects the joy of the flowers in full bloom. I want to celebrate and remember the beauty that we once so freely enjoyed and will enjoy again.
I was saddened to hear earlier this week that the Seattle Art Museum’s downtown building would need to close again due to wintertime’s rising Covid-19 numbers. It does make sense to close nonessential businesses to keep us safe. But my gosh, I’m just so happy that I decided to highlight works from the museum back in January. It reminds me how grateful I am to have these beautiful pieces on view to the public, and I hope it reminds you as well. Please think about your local art museum this holiday season. These closures make a huge financial impact, so if you can help them out, please do so.
The last several months have brought so many unforeseen changes to each one of our lives. It’s been disturbing in the best of circumstances and devastating in the worst. For this month’s painting, I chose subjects that bring me peace.
The black-capped chickadee came to mind first. Of about five different species I watch splashing in the birdbath while I sip my morning tea, the chickadees are my most frequent visitor. They are also the only type of bird I’ve seen sharing the bath with another species.
The vase is another from the Porcelain Room at the Seattle Art Museum. In this gallery, the curator, Julie Emerson, filled each niche in the room with pieces related by color and theme; usually they’re grouped by nationality, manufactory, or date. It was a pretty revolutionary idea, and it so clearly demonstrates our common search for perfection and beauty. My favorite niche is the green one. The color green simply makes me feel happy. Though I didn’t get to make the mount for this vase like many of the other works I have painted, it gives a feeling of contentment.
The pears are from my own little pear tree. There’s nothing like spending time harvesting in my garden for grounding me. It brings life, health and joy to my family and fills me with such gratitude for the bounty of nature.
I hope you enjoy this month’s painting. I’m sending you as much strength to hang in there as I can. Embrace uncertainty and change because it’s not over yet, but keep looking for the silver linings, and keep faith for better times to come.
From the Seattle Art Museum website: “This large flask-shaped vase features a special monochrome glaze that is poetically known as “tea-dust.” In Qing dynasty texts it was referred to as “imperial kiln official glaze.”
Hard paste porcelain, 19 x 15 (48.3 x 38.1 cm), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 37.109 Photo: Paul Macapia
I paired this exquisite Japanese vase from the Seattle Art Museum collection with Japanese plums from my back yard. The gold leaf complements the gossamer glow of the pears, while this month’s birds are nested in my depiction of another artist’s work.
I’m beginning to feel a bit like a captured bird myself. Now it’s not the pandemic keeping us inside but the dangerous air quality from wildfires raging across the west coast, with no end in sight. But we are making the most of our time with projects and creative play, and I try to think of my own netting as a shining protector, not just a restraint.
Vase Decorated with Flying Birds in a Net is porcelain with an enamel glaze, gilding and wire. Now think about that for a minute, how much skill must it have taken to make this object by hand! It was made in the late 1800’s, and the intricate perfection in the wire net is astounding.
I can’t look at this vase without thinking about the precise labor that went into its perfection. I’ve long admired it but never considered how intense it would be to paint such an object. It turned out to be a great challenge, but the effort only deepened appreciation for this splendid piece.
Different curators have different ideas over the years about the ideal front of the piece, and that means that sometimes a new mount is required. I’ve made two mounts for this piece myself, and it was the first that our new mount maker Ken Kelly made in preparation for the reopening of Volunteer Park (fall ’19). Sadly, VP wasn’t open long before COVID shut it down again.
I do have some good news though. The Seattle Art Museum is finally OPEN! Unfortunately, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, where this piece is on display, and the porcelain room in the downtown building, are still closed. I’ll keep sharing as many porcelains as I can in the coming months, though. 🙂
We all continue to survive this difficult year, and I hope my work brings you some peace and joy in these crazy times. I also hope you can look at your own situation and count your blessings from within your own gilded net. Some people are not so lucky.
Vase Decorated with Flying Birds in a Net
Japanese, Late 19th century
Porcelain with enamel glaze, gilding and wire, 6 1/8 in. (15.56 cm) Diam.: 4 5/8 in., Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, 66.71 Photo: Elizabeth Mann
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”