The creative process for different artists vary wildly, and even my own creative process varies. I believe that keeping myself open to new ideas and inspiration so my work stays fresh and exciting and avoid blocks;(we’ve all heard of “writers blocks” but it’s something visual artists experience too). Having a yearly theme to my monthly miniatures has proven to tap an exciting torrent of ideas; something about creating constraints, even something so loose as a theme, helps me really engage with what is still possible. As the year progresses, I get ideas for paintings in the months to come from all sorts of directions. The idea slowly becomes more and more clear, until, joy! I get to make it. 🙂
I have dozens of June bearer strawberry plants in my garden. After years spending an hour each morning picking strawberries, I can’t think of June without my strawberries. They are incredibly delicious and remind me of all the friends that have helped me make my garden over the years, by sharing ideas, plants, or coming over to get in the dirt.
The idea of strawberries was the seed for this painting. But my second inspiration came by thinking about different flavors and tastes. What did I want to eat with the strawberries? Angel food cake and whipped cream popped into my head at once. Then the image of these coupe champagne glasses. It might be a rose wine or champagne that fills them; you can help me decide, but it’s refreshing, pairs well with strawberries, and just begs to be finished too quickly!
When it came time to make the painting, I picked the strawberries, baked the cake (a dozen egg whites!!) and whipped up the cream into stiff peaks (the way I like it). But the painting needed couple glasses, and I had only flutes. So I did what I always do when I need help, I called my sister. I mocked the painting with martini glasses, and she sent back a shot of perfectly-posed coupe glasses.
I couldn’t make a series of paintings about creature comforts and not include pancakes and coffee. Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day. I’ve always been a fan of having a big breakfast and smaller meals throughout the day. I like to take my time and savor the meal while planning the day. As for my favorite breakfast foods, I’ve been on a pancake kick since I can’t remember when. But I’ve never been able to indulge my love of pancakes on a daily basis until the onset of the pandemic.
When things get tough, I believe in seeking comfort in simple pleasures and in counting your blessings. This series is about seeking comfort in food. The “covid 19” unwelcome weight gain has affected people globally as we’ve indulged in stress eating. I’m not encouraging stress eating with this series. I’m encouraging that we remember one simple pleasure that the pandemic didn’t take away: yummy foods and drinks!
Now we’re starting to get vaccinations and venturing back out into what’s become a sort of scary world. Some of you are afraid to get vaccinated because of already compromised immune systems or other issues, which keeps the pressures of the pandemic heavy on your shoulders. Either way, remember the comfort of good food. Not junk food, or even take out. Remember something you made over the last year with your own two hands, something you were proud of making that brought you joy. Now get your vaccinations if you’re able, go out into the world, and do something else to bring you joy. Help out friends and neighbors, give great big hugs to family, and show off that smile.
Spring brings brighter days, and like many of us I’ve eagerly anticipated it coming. For my April painting, I’ve shared some of the signs of spring that I find outside my window. Robbins are playing around in the garden, and my tulips are putting on a beautiful show. I didn’t have the heart to cut my tulips to bring them inside for painting models, so I had Isaac help me out and hold up a sheet of black mat board behind the tulips while I photographed them in place.
Despite welcome signs of spring, it’s still cold! Today in the Seattle area it might just break 60°, and there’s nothing like a fresh baked loaf of bread and warm baked brie to take the chill away. Homemade bread has made a serious comeback over the last year. I got a bit of a head start on the trend because I got a bread maker for Christmas just before the pandemic started. My husband is gluten-free so his intentions were a bit selfish but that’s OK–I love baking! The machine has gotten some serious use to the benefit of all of us.
I hope you’re enjoying the signs of spring outside your own window, and I hope you enjoy this month’s painting.
Little did I know when this series began how painful it could be. We’re not quite doing parties yet, so when my son turned five, one third of the cake-eating responsibility fell on my shoulders. It hurt, but you do what you have to do for art and family. This newest monthly miniature, a carrot cake still life celebrates my son’s March birthday and the first blossoms of spring. Isaac has had a carrot cake for all five of his birthdays. This year’s cake started out as rendered here, but once photographed, all evidence of nuts was removed and replaced by dinosaurs and a volcano.
The daffodils come from our garden. The happy sign of warming weather was more welcome than ever this year. This is my third year of still life miniatures and each March has brought a new daffodil painting. I’ve shared my favorite poem by Wordsworth, which is about daffodils, for the past two years. You can find it again this year it at the bottom of this newsletter, and I hope you enjoy it.
When designing the composition, I first just had the cake and flowers and even more insects. For the theme of creature comforts, though, less insects and more wine seemed appropriate. It has been a long year and a short year. It has been a strange year, but brighter days are coming. So for today, let your heart fill with pleasure and dance with the daffodils. And maybe even induldge in some cake.
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