Happy holidays! I give you a portrait of a chocolate cake and propose a toast to the hearth, a place of warmth and closeness and to all things chocolate. Let us find cheer in our creature comforts and appreciate the time we can spend together.
For this painting, I’ve pulled together different things that make the time of year special to me. The holidays are a little different for me because of all the December birthdays in my family, and chocolate cake is a birthday tradition for me. This portrait of a chocolate cake summs up my perfect birthday. The three glasses of port are a tribute to dear friends.
My sister recently moved into an old farmhouse, among its charming features are several large hearths. My fireplace is humbler, but when my son and I gather around it to sing songs, it feels perfect.
As the year concludes, I remember how hopeful I was at the end of 2020 for a year with vaccinations and the return of a more normal way of life. But the world is still in flux, and our plans with it. We have to adjust, to find a way to stay warm and find cheer through the long winter.
Please enjoy the last painting of my Creature Comforts series of Monthly Miniatures, and I hope it helps you find your own sense of warmth and cheer.
I framed this painting in a handmade Dutch Ripple frame with a unique wavy ripple. Tom Matthews created 12 custom frames for this series and each one had a unique combination of ripples. I love this wave pattern – it reminds me of icing. 🙂
September has been a crazy month. As you may have noticed, my little garden gives me a lot of produce, and I’m a bit obsessed with not letting it go to waste. I feel like I jumped from a plum roller coaster right into an ocean of pears! I’ve canned 50 jars of pears (underestimate), eaten a million pears (overestimate) and baked a decadent French Pear Tart.
My mom gave me my pear tree 12 years ago, and it’s getting really big. Since our cherry tree came down, the pear is the new favorite for the birds. Our resident Steller’s Jays like to nip at the fruit on the top of the tree, so it felt perfectly natural to invite this Jay to the French Tart party.
Speaking of a crazy month, my own little bird (five your old son) started kindergarten, and talk about roller coasters. My emotions keep going up and down with excitement and fear. Except for a few school bus mishaps in the beginning, it’s been a pretty smooth transition. He is such a sweet little guy, and he really appreciates special homemade treats like this. He loved the tart, but he REALLY loves the canned pears. I have every faith that we’ll go through those 50 jars! The tart was incredible, but with a 21 step recipe, it’s a once-a-year occurrence.
I haven’t quite accepted that fall is already upon us and plan on staying in denial for as long as possible. I hope you enjoy the sunshine and warmth while it lasts and take some time to enjoy a special treat too.
Thank goodness I love plums. I have a Shiro Japanese plum tree in my backyard that gives me 2,000 plums most years. I work really hard to use as many as I can, and my refrigerator is comically filled with around 1,000 plums. If you need a plum recipe for anything you can possibly imagine, let me know—I’ve probably tried it! Better yet, stop by if you’re in the neighborhood and I’ll give you some fresh plums or some homemade jam.
I paired the plums with my favorite kind of butterfly, the Tiger Swallowtail, which is a frequent visitor to my garden. I also referenced an image of one of my favorite porcelain bowls in the Seattle Art Museum collection.
It’s surprising to me how happy it makes me to look at these plums, given the countless hours I spend peeling and pitting them. They really are delicious, but it’s also the beauty of the plums themselves. They’re just bursting with life, and the difference in color between the white, powdery bloom and my bright yellow fingerprints just dazzles me.
These little joys are more important than ever right now. Little obstacles and conflicts that used to be so easy to brush off now have a way of feeling insurmountable. Our son is five and is supposed to start Kindergarten on September 7th. We’re worried about the new Delta strain that is more likely to harm children than previous variants of COVID, and we just don’t know what to do. It’s not always possible, but I’ll give you the advice I’m trying to give myself: give yourself some slack and some time to just relax and breathe.
I hope this painting inspires you to go outside, close your eyes to all your troubles and enjoy a bite of summer.
Ask my 5 year old son his favorite food and his answer is “ice cream in an ice cream cone!”
I’ve always thought of my “real” age as being 5. Having an actual 5 year old around brings lots of fun but also some harsh realities. I don’t have half the energy that he has and struggle to keep up. I can’t even keep up on ice cream consumption! He’s definitely an inspiration though, full of creativity and adventure. It’s impossible not to smile when I see the all-consuming joy he experiences in the simple act of eating his ice cream in an ice cream cone.
Though these two paintings are far from typical for a 17th century still life, my initial inspiration was actually a portrait by Jean Ranc from 1729. When I stumbled on a detail of his portrait of Barbara of Portugal, my mind immediately replaced the flowers in her hand with an ice cream cone.
We spent the first week of July visiting my family after a long COVID separation. For the first time, my son and husband experienced lightning bugs, something this Ohio-raised gal has missed since moving to Washington. Sharing that magical part of my childhood with my boys meant so much to me. The concept for my painting began to evolve as I watched them chase flashes around in the dusk, and the result is a combination of midwestern summer, childhood magic and love.So why the daytime version? Creativity comes at unexpected moments. As I played hide and seek in the backyard with Isaac, I laid along the fence line, behind a row of daylilies. Gazing up at the sky, I was filled with the desire to paint that color. I knew that for my July painting I needed to capture the brightness of the summer sky. Isaac posed for me at Carkeek Park in Seattle, and the daytime version was born.Then I had a delima. I couldn’t decide which painting to make! They both felt perfect for my July creature comfort so I made them both. Happy summer!
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!