The theme for my new still life series will be the idea of “Simplify”. I’ve been thinking a lot about simplifying my life and trying to learn how to set aside much-needed time for relaxation and contemplation. I’ve titled my series for this year “Simplify” and I’m hoping to bring that idea into my life in the coming year. Contemplating the idea in how I’m composing my work seemed like the perfect way to start (but it’s harder than you might think!).
Oranges are in season now, at their peak of flavor during these cold winter months. Beyond being delicious to eat and beautiful to look at, for me oranges have become a personal metaphor for pushing through and staying alert.
Years ago, I worked full time as a mount-maker for the Seattle Art Museum while also painting full time. I was also an avid hiker and practiced ballet and Iaido (a Japanese martial art). Each day was packed full. And each day around three o’clock my body would protest and demand that I take a nap. After trial and error with way too much coffee and chocolate, I found that oranges not only tasted refreshing but made my whole body feel refreshed. Oranges perked me up perfectly and gave me the second wind I needed to get me through until I could take a nice, long nap on the bus ride home. “Orange time” soon caught on with my coworkers and became a daily ritual.
I hope you enjoy the first painting of this new series! Sign up for my Newsletter if you’d like to see the series as it unfolds.
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.
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
I was invited to participate in a three person show at Antler Gallery alongside Thomas Jackson of Australia and Vasilisa Romanenko who is based in New England. It’s pretty incredible that three artists that come from all over the world have so much in common! It was great to see my work alongside such creative and beautiful pieces. The show is up from October 29th -November 22nd.
I think it’s important to see your work outside the bubble of your studio. It helps me understand my perspective better, when seen alongside other contemporary artists, especially when those artists are investigating similar topics (in this case, looking at the natural world). It’s particularly exciting to see the dazzling technical care put into the artwork. Some people may see the word “technical” and think it’s cold and uncaring, but when in context of painting, I find it to be intimate and incredibly tender.
Three New Paitnings
I’ve been working on miniature still life paitnings for almost two years now with my Monthly Miniature project. For this show, I have made three new larger pieces within the still life genre. I love making miniatures, but it’s great to be able to expand on my ideas. Both literally and figuratively! I’ve added some in-progress images at the bottom of this post so that you can get a sense of scale. Even though two of the paitnings are still quite small at 10″ x 9″, they’re just about twice the size of my miniatures! So you see how much more detail I can get into my insects and furit.
I hope you enjoy the new paitnings! Please take a look at Antler Gallery’s website. They have a great variety of beautiful and interesting work.
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 plums, 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.
This February I wanted some romantic imagery. This 18th century bowl with its imagery of lovers in a moonlit garden was just what I was looking for. You see a poor scholar, beckoning the aristocratic beauty he has fallen in love with, who is just behind a high wall with her maid. This story, “[Romance of] The Western Chamber,” was originally written as a tragedy, but was later altered to have a happy ending. The happy version seems to dominate and there’s no hint of tragedy in the synopsis written by the Beijing Tourism Bureau.
These little oranges are currently in season, and I loved the eye catching combination of the contrasting orange and blue. As I dreamed up this painting, I always imagined it with a parrot, never any other bird. I’ve had a fondness for parrots ever since my dad came back from Florida with a parrot named Charlie, when I was around 8 years old. I don’t know how my mom felt about it, but that was my dad. (My sister could tell you stories about bringing a baby cow home in the back of our station wagon.) Scroll down for a picture of little Rebecca petting Charlie.
Part of the fun of making still life paintings is to research historical symbolism and dream up my own hidden stories. Many objects have several meanings so the story can differ depending on who’s doing the dreaming. In this case, an uncaged bird symbolizes sexual freedom, and parrots specifically represent nobility, richness and self confidence. Oranges can represent abundance, longevity and beauty.
Everything was becoming a bit too sweet and easy for the lovers, so I added a fly to bring them back down to reality. I appreciate the description by Steven Connor in his article “The Painter and the Fly”, describing flies in art as the “embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen”. And if you want to see how symbolism can be scrutinized by scholars, take a look his article which discusses the fly in art over the course of 500 years.
Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view) Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722) Porcelain with underglaze-blue decoration, 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), height 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), diameter, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.42 Photo: Paul Macapia
“The fourteenth-century drama The West Chamber tells of a poor scholar, Zhang Sheng, seen here holding a fan, who falls passionately in love with Oriole, an aristocratic beauty. In this night scene, from behind a high wall and accompanied by her clever maid, Crimson, Oriole smiles at scholar Zhang, her hands raised in delight. Shining above them are constellations thought to determine the lovers’ fate. The scene appears to represent the two lovers by moonlight in the secrecy of the monastery garden.” Mimi Gardner Gates, “Porcelain Stories,” p. 118
The perfecting of the underglaze-blue technique made possible richer gradations of the blue color, seen particularly on wares from around the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and expanded the repertoire of design. Narrative scenes taken from lyrics, plays, and popular novels (like The West Chamber depicted on the bowl) became fashionable around this time, catering to the interests of the rising merchant class and the scholar gentry alike. These interpretive blue paintings told intimate stories to the viewer, and enriched the surface of the blue-and-white porcelain.
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Breakfast takes center stage in November’s miniature still life painting featuring waffles, apples, small floral arrangement and red dragonfly. I love breakfast. I believe starting every day with a nice leisurely breakfast is absolute perfection. I’ve spoiled my three year old son to believe the same. When asked what he wants for breakfast his reply is usually, “scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon”. And that’s usually what he gets. Special occasions substitutes the pancakes for waffles.
Dutch still life paintings of breakfast are nothing like the photos of food you see online. Photos of food never seem that appealing to me, but the paintings are delicious. Antoine Vollon’s painting of “Mound of Butter” from the 1800’s was on view at the Seattle Art Museum a few years and it was a feast for the eyes. If they could make a small mountain of butter look delicious, you have to see paintings of eggs and waffles.
Finding My Models: Waffles, Blooms and Insects
I knew I wanted the waffles to sit on one of the Dutch silver plates used in so many of my favorite paintings and my own waffle iron is very special to me. It’s an antique cast iron waffle maker from the 1800’s that my sister gave to my years ago, but my circular waffles just weren’t working. It had to happen, but it felt so wrong to buy rectangular frozen waffles to pose for the paintings when I love my own waffle maker so much. But for art, we suffer. I’m kidding, the waffles were delicious. 🙂
I was having a hard time finding flowers in bloom in November and was about to give up. I take ballet classes from The Ballet Studio in the University district in Seattle and I looked out the window while at the barre to see a flower box in full bloom. Kristen, my teacher gave me a pair of scissors after class and let me bring home some of her last remaining blooms for the painting. I’m amazed I found roses blooming in November, but Seattle is a pretty special place.
The red dragonfly is a frequent visitor to my backyard. I live near several likes north of Seattle in Lynnwood. One summer my husband wore red swim trunks while going for a swim and he was surrounded by dozens of them as he floated.
Hope you enjoy the painting and hope you have a happy holiday season!
Still life paintings, both universal and highly individualized
For my Into the Country monthly miniature series from a few years ago, I included one still life with plums and bees (pictured below) in the mix of portraits of animals. This was the first still life painting I’d done since art school, and it helped direct the focus for this years series, “In Season”. This is my eighth painting of this years still life series. I find the still life to be one of the most universally accessible genres of painting. I was amazed to find that still life paintings are also quite personal. Each item I place in my composition is carefully chosen and has personal meaning to me and I hope to my viewers as well.
From the Garden
My Japanese plum tree is the star of my little quarter-acre garden. Almost every August, I get around 2,000 plums from my one tree. Over the years my incredibly juicy plums have been eaten as is (watch out for juice going everywhere!), been made into jam, wine, sweet bread, liqueur, filled up my freezer for winter enjoyment and now they’re models for paintings.
The yellow of the plums make them the perfect companions to the equally golden and plentiful swallowtail butterfly. Swallowtails are found all over the world, and the Western Tiger Swallowtail I’ve featured in my painting makes its dazzling appearance in the Seattle area. And swallowtail butterflies are always fluttering around the garden. One friend said he’s never visited my garden without seeing at least one. This painting feels like distilling some of the beauty and magic of my garden.