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.
For this latest monthly miniature, I knew I wanted to make a camellia painting. One of the few blooms you can find here in the PNW in winter months, their stunning color helps brighten my mood with our grey winter skies.
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve studied hundreds of still life paintings made in Northern Europe from the mid 1500’s through the late 1800’s. It’s fascinating to see how one artist influenced the work of another, and then another, often from parent to child.
Inspiration by female artists from the Past
German artist Maria Sibylla Merian is one of my favorites. She was trained by her step-father Jacob Marrel; the influence he left on her work is apparent, but it was merely a springboard for the work she accomplished in her lifetime. When thinking through the composition for this camellia painting, I immediately thought of her work and that of another female artist, Barbara Regina Dietzsch.
These two women were born almost almost 60 years apart, but I suspect something in the work of Merian informed the work of Dietzsch. Merian is known for her etching and engraving, while Dietzsch composed her work similarly but used gouache and watercolor. In this way, Dietzsch created dark and rich backgrounds that lift the subject off the page.
Now here I am, hundreds of years later, looking at their works and trying to learn as much as I can about technique and composition. But I am also trying to get a grasp on just what it is that fascinates me in this work, and how it can inform my own work, just as the long chain of artists before me have done.
I hope you enjoy this new painting, and if you’re a fan of scientific illustrations, you should take a peek at Maria Sibylla Merian’s book, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. The book was originally published in 1705 and it’s been beautifully reprinted recently.
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.
As the flowers and trees fade and die back, fall is the perfect time for a miniature vanitas painting. Vanitas paintings were created long before and after they became a common genre in Netherlandish art of the 16th and 17th centuries. They are symbolic and are meant to remind us of the inevitability of death or change.
My grand show of color and life punctuates the shift toward winter, one last “Hurrah!” from the warmer seasons. The hint of the coming winter is found in the tiny, almost hidden hummingbird skeleton. But if you dig into the meaning of the items in the painting, you’ll find that both the cut flowers and skeleton symbolize the same things – death or transience. The cut flowers are preserved my painting in full bloom glory, but they began to fade even before I’d finished the paintings. But don’t worry, the butterflies are a symbol of regeneration, resurrection and the cycle of life. Everything’s going to be fine.
Hope you enjoy my newest miniature vanitas and I hope you’re keeping warm and healthy. Thanks to the flowers of my garden, to the dahlia garden at Volunteer Park, and to my sister-in-law for the hummingbird skeleton and the biggest dahlia I’ve ever seen. And a big thank you to you for your continued support.
My English Spot rabbit, Harriet, makes her debut in my newest monthly miniature painting. I was inspired by the forest still life paintings of Otto Mardeus van Schrieck a Dutch painter from the 1600’s.
Otto Mardeus van Schrieck
Van Schrieck’s paintings juxtapose light and dark. A sinister snake might lurk in the gloomy foreground while a radiant bloom or a moment of light glows from the background. The New York Times published an article about a new book that explores his work last November. It’s a really colorful read, and I highly recommend taking a look, if only to see some of his fascinating paintings.
Though some elements in my painting come directly from the careful study of a work of van Schrieck’s, I definitely took a lighter approach to my painting. I told my husband that, “I didn’t have such severe subject matter in me.” But after the painting was finished and signed, filled with flowers that reminded me of my family, a mountainous landscape that reminds me of my Pacific Northwest home, and insects, frogs and rabbits that remind me of my childhood, I had a miscarriage. It was the fifth since my son was born three years ago. After finding out, I picked up my paint brush and added a snake. I’m doing fine and my spirits are higher by the day. It’s just interesting, after all these years of painting, to recognize how much of myself I put into each one, however subtle or unconscious.
I hope you enjoy this month’s painting. Take a look below for some detail images. The Silvery Blue butterflies were particularly trying on the eyes!
The paintings in my new Monthly Miniature series “In Season“, are inspired by still life paintings from Northern Europe that were at their prime from around 1600 – 1800. Each painting is influenced by a different artist from within the genre. My first painting in the series is inspired by the German artist Jacob Marrel. He primary made floral paintings and you can almost always find an insect somewhere in his work. He studied still life painting in Utrecht under Jan Davidsz. de Heem who is a major representative of that genre in both Dutch and Flemish Baroque painting. Later Jacob taught painting to his own students including his stepdaughter, Maria Sibylla Merian, who became a scientific illustrator and one of the premier entomologist (scientist who studies insects) of her time.
Paintings from this genre can get quite complicated both in composition and in subject matter. Marrel could compose an intricate composition to rival the best of them, but I was drawn his paintings with only insects and flowers. This fit the mood I was wanting for my first painting in the series. Since this series will only feature produce, flowers and insects that are in season, I wanted to start simply to demonstrate how sparse it is in winter. Look carefully at Joseph Marrel’s painting below and you will find my simplified take on his composition.
Please visit an earlier blog post for an introduction to this series. You can also find previous Monthly Miniature series by scrolling down on the Monthly Miniature page.
Jacob Marrel, “Still Life With A Yellow Iris, A Parrot Tulip, A White Rose And Insects”, oil on Canvas.
Happy New Year everyone! I’m celebrating the new year by starting a new Monthly Miniature series. For each month of 2019, I will create a miniature still-life painting in the Dutch Still-Life tradition and I hope you will enjoy following along. As a newsletter subscriber, you’ll be the first to see them, and they will be available for sale as soon as they are announced.
The Historic Still-Life tradition with a modern perspective
Still-life paintings from Northern Europe were at their prime from around 1600 – 1800 and they often feature blossoms, insects and food that could not be found out of hibernation or in season at the same time. They are constructs of seasonal impossibility, pieced together from earlier studies, signifying impermanence and the perception that earthly life is transitory.
In Season pays homage to Northern European still life, while also contrasting modern and past experiences. Expectations have changed; perennial availability is the norm now, and seasonality is hardly acknowledged. In Season features combinations of fruits, flowers and insects that occur together naturally, in appreciation of the beauty of the cyclical and ephemeral.
The first painting of “In Season” features the camellia flower and cave cricket. The camellia is one of few flowers in bloom here in January, and you may also be startled to find a cave cricket in your basement. Most insects are dormant this time of year, but these little creatures are actively scurrying around ready to frighten unsuspecting people in cool dark places.