For the month of April, I have made a botanical painting with swallowtail butterflies. The two lovely butterflies in my new painting look like completely different species, but they are in fact both Papilio lowis (Asian Swallowtails). The great difference in appearance is present in the male and the female of this species, which is called sexual dimorphism. Often the male has brighter colors to attract the females’ attention, like this dark butterfly with iridescent blue/green scales; the males are also smaller.
Scientists attribute this to differing pressures on the sexes, but the reasons for dimorphism seem to be as diverse as the species themselves! In the case of this pair, the females mimic a type of poisonous butterfly, discouraging predators. The males meanwhile kept their brilliant iridescent colors, which apparently the females find quite attractive.
Inspiration from Art History
The inspiration for the composition on my botanical painting and the background goes back to my 14 years installing artwork for the Seattle Art Museum. I installed countless Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, and even went to Japan a few times as a courier to oversee the installation of various asian masterpieces for the exhibition, “Luminous Jewels”. One of my favorite scroll paintings in that exhibition was, “Sixty-Four Butterflies and Moths”. The mass of insects flutter evenly throughout the painting, each with its own label. While this painting didn’t directly influence the composition for my painting, the delicate rendering of the butterflies always stuck with me. Thinking of this painting helped set the direction of how this painting would develop.
I hope you’re enjoy this month’s painting, and I hope you’re beginning to enjoy some warmer weather. I’m looking forward to the season when I see more butterflies outside the studio than inside it! Follow my newsletter to see the new monthly miniature and for exhibition updates.
My newest miniature is a botanical daffocil painting. Daffodils are my favorite herald of the arrival of Spring.
It’s interesting how each painting I make inspires the next work. This miniature originally had five companions to acknowledge my March baby’s sixth birthday. I was so sure that this would work! But much like my six year old, it was wild and chaotic, and it didn’t say “simplify” like I’m going for with this series. Instead of rejecting the idea completely, I ran with the wildness in an even more complicated composition. But that is a work for another day, and it will be a far cry from “miniature” or “simplified”.
With that mockup resolved, I took my favorite bloom from the bunch back to the drawing board. I embraced the spirit of springtime and growing days of sunshine. The bee heads toward the glowing flower like we are headed into a beautiful and glorious summer! I can vividly picture him landing and wiggling into the warm and welcoming bloom.
This painting is for me a lesson that constantly needs to be relearned. Things don’t always work out how you think they will, but by staying flexible and letting some ideas go, things can turn out even better than expected. It’s almost the end of daffodil season, but I hope you are able to take some time to enjoy the world in bloom around you.
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.
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.