I’ve been planning this still life painting since April when I made a special In Season larger work of citrus fruit. A common pairing to citrus fruit is the pomegranate, and although you can find some citrus growing in early spring, the pomegranate’s growing season is limited to September through December.
Seattle Art Museum Porcelain
The Seattle Art Museum has a beautiful bowl in the Porcelain Room with pomegranates that I’ve really wanted to paint, but I’ve had to wait for months for pomegranates to be in season. You can’t see it in the painting, but this SAM page shows the four-toed dragon that decorates the center of the well of this piece. Four of the eight panels are decorated with pomegranates, the other four with precious objects. You can also see it on display in the Porcelain Room in the museum.
I’ve paired the red fruit with Cara Cara oranges and three spectacular Yuzu lemons from my friend Hiromi’s garden in Seattle. She took me into her unique and magical garden and handed me a pair of cutters with instructions to watch out for the huge thorns that grow on the Japanese trees.
I’ve loved working on this series of still life paintings and hope you enjoy the final miniature of “In Season”. See them all on my Monthly Miniatures page! And sign up for my monthly newsletter to see new painting for 2020.
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!
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!
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.
In art school I was known as the “bug girl” because almost all of my painting had insects in them. Insects were a huge inspiration, and though they are no longer the primary focus on my work, they have continued to appear in my paintings throughout the years. I find that the closer that I look at the insect I’m painting, the more I feel a sense of empathy for it. I imagine a personality in there, and wonder about the history of it’s life.
My insect collection has been with me since my art school days. Some of my insects were gifts from Cincinnati Zoo entomologists, while others I sought out myself. I learned to pin insects from a friend I met at the frame shop where I used to work.
The insect specimens in this painting are from a very special part of my collection. These creatures came from three prized boxes put together by photographer Anita Douthat when she was a girl in Northern Kentucky. I knew Anita through her husband Cal Kowal, who was my photography teacher at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Still life paintings can tell a secret story through the symbolism of their elements. These pale raspberries grow in my garden and are symbols of kindness. The shell came from my husband’s pocket (he’s always collecting shells and rocks on his adventures) and are a symbol of birth and fortune. Insects are all around us, yet their forms, life cycles, and social structures couldn’t be more different than our own. Dragonflies symbolize change, and grasshoppers luck. Bees have had close ties with humanity and throughout the ages have variously stood for power, love, and industry. All of these types of insects can be found in the Northern Kentucky region where my models were originally collected over forty years ago (I exaggerated the blue in the dragonfly which was quite faded).
This painting is 5″ x 5″, oil on copper. Go to the Monthly Miniature page to see more of the paintings from the series, In Season.
Jan van Kessel the Elder, Flemish still life master that inspired this months painting
Jan van Kessel the Elder had big shoes to fit into. He was the great-grandson of Pieter Bruegel, who is cited as the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. His grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, was a close friend and collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens and the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century. Not to mention his uncles and great uncles… Let’s just say, he came from a family that made a big and lasting impact on the art scene.
Starting his training at the age of nine, he was particularly influenced by the work of his grandfather and was quite versatile. He worked in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes.
I was drawn to his insect still life paintings by his playful compositions that fill every section of the page, while carefully balancing color and shape in a seemingly effortless manner. The results of his carefully painted tiny subjects do not come across as cold scientific illustrations, but instead are warm and lively portraits. And if that weren’t enough, he also painted these miniature still lifes on copper (my hero!).
I have a quarter acre garden, and strawberries are one of my top crops. This month’s strawberry still life painting features my June Bearers (one of two types of strawberries). At the height of my amateur gardening career (before having my son), I picked three quarts every day for a month! If you knew me then, you ate my strawberries.
Now that Isaac is three, I have more time to spend in the garden. The strawberries are slowly making a comeback after some intensive weeding (come by if you want some!). I wanted this painting to be a bit of an overload of warm colors, with slight touches of green. Pairing strawberries with this Japanese bowl from the SAM collection and a Painted Lady Butterfly did the trick.
This bowl is perfect, not only for its colors, but also because the imagery is relevant for this series. The bowl was made around the same time as the famous Dutch still life paintings that inspired the In Season Monthly Miniatures, and the Japanese artist has depicted European traders, very likely Dutch. The figures are as exotic to me as they likely were to the artists who first painted them.
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Read the text by SAM’s former Curator of Asian Art, Yukiko Shirahara, to learning more about the porcelain bowl:
“Southern Europeans, primarily Portuguese and Spanish, arrived in Japan in the 16th century. The Japanese called them nanban, or “southern barbarians,” because they came through a maritime route from the south. The term nanban, however, was used to refer to almost anything foreign in 16th- and 17th-century Japan. Images of Europeans proliferated in response to the curiosity of all things foreign, and became common motifs to adorn ceramic wares such as these bowls.
European figures were popular motifs in Japanese art during the Edo period, particularly representations of the Dutch (called komo: “red-haired people”) because of their direct contact with Japan through trade during a time of national isolation. It was the Dutch East India Company that exported Japanese products, including Imari porcelain, to Europe. Dutch motifs were favored not only for exports but also for the domestic market, to satisfy the Japanese taste for exoticism and curiosity about Western culture. The familiar design of “five-ships,” depicting five Dutch vessels with Dutch figures, is the best example of the popular theme, which appeared from the eighteenth century onward.”
For the Month of May, I’ve made a still life painting of birds of the Pacific Northwest. I’m paying tribute to the painter George Flegel. He was born in what is modern day Czech Republic and did his training in Austria and Germany but ended up in Holland in the early 1600’s. His strange compositions, bursting with life are a study of technical perfection. I love how he incorporates birds in his still life’s in such a natural way. Between looking at his paintings, spending more time out in the yard, working on chicken paintings for a show in August, AND having a Stellar’s Jay nest in the eaves right outside my bedroom window, birds have been on my mind lately.
Georg Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637
I’ve made a painting that is heavily inspired by one of his most unusual composition filled with birds and insects. I’ve chosen birds and insects that can be found in my backyard in the Seattle area. My dad always knew what birds were in the yard when we lived in the farmhouse in Ohio. I never studied them enough to be encyclopedic about the different species like he was and I had trouble identifying the different little brown ones. My friend, Chris Keenan (who also helped identify the nest in last months painting) helped me figure out more species than could possibly fit into one painting. I did my best, though!
In this Months Painting:
I have 8 birds in the 5″ x 5″ painting; American Crow, American Robin, Anna’s Hummingbird, Dark-Eyed Junko (Oregon), Northern Flicker, Plaited Woodpecker, Red-Breasted Nuthatch and a Stellar’s Jay. Insects are: Darkling Beetle, Painted Lady Cocoon and Butterfly (did you find the Caterpillar in last months painting? They transformed!), Grasshopper, and a Pholcid House Spider (also called a daddy long-legs). Also included: black sunflower seeds and a Blue Flag Iris I plucked the from the garden.
Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5″ x 5″
It was incredibly challenging to figure out such a complicated composition. Getting that many birds in there, meant I had to paint them at a very small scale. I have some detail images below to help you get a sense of the size of this painting. It took a lot of careful consideration to try to make the painting look right upon careful close inspection, but also from even a short distance away. Some of the details are lost, even from two feet away!
I hope you enjoy this painting as well as your own backyard birds! Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see all of the paintings in this series. And join my mailing list for a Monthly Miniature Preview, to get a chance to purchase them before before they go for sale on the website, and to see what’s new in the studio.
Spring has officially sprung and i hope that my newest Monthly Miniature floral painting reflects that. You may have noticed that my first four paintings in this series all have a slightly different feel (see them all on the Monthly Miniature page). Part of the change is the increase in plants and insects awakening to populate each months painting, and for April, I wanted to pack the painting full of new lush blooms. I have included seven types of plants (some in different colors), three insects and the nest of a Dark-Eyed Junco that my husband found in our yard. You can find a complete list at the end of this post.
In addition to changing the subjects in my paintings, I’m also changing how they are composed. For each of my twelve miniatures this year, I’m studying a different master of still life paintings from Northern Europe (1600-1800). I’ve long admired paintings from this era and this series is giving me the opportunity to luxuriate in the detailed little worlds created by so many different artists. See the inspiration behind all of the “In Season” miniatures in previous posts.
Abundance of blooms: Gerard Van Spaendonck
Flower still Life, oil on canvas, 22.5″ x 16″
Gerard Van Spaendonck (1746 – 1822) was an influential Dutch painter, who settled in Paris early in his career. He is known for his fabulously dense oil paintings filled with a wide assortment of flowers and a variety of other living creatures. Gerard was a master at creating an explosion of color and texture.
I’m generally drawn to simple compositions, but I wanted to go in a different direction with this painting and he was the perfect muse. I’ve been excited to change the subjects of each Miniature and highlight what is currently in season. It’s been an interesting challenge to also think of creating a mood that is reflecting the sparsity or abundance of things available as well. I have each month sketched out for the rest of the year already!
I carefully choose each of my blooms, but heavily referenced his composition from the painting, “Flower Still Life”. My plants came from a variety of places; some I found online, others were purchased, and some I picked from my garden which is starting to explode! The Seattle Growers Market is a great resource, with public hours on Fridays, 10 am – noon. I took photos and mixed everything together on the computer for the composition (Pixelmator for Mac). I posed as much as I could in a Frankenstein taped up heap to reference from life but used my digital mock up as a primary reference for plants. The birds nest with egg and caterpillar were painted solely from life (my three year old son got caterpillars for his birthday!)
What’s in my painting?
Birds and Insects:
Painted Lady Caterpillar
Dark-Eyed Oregon Junco nest and egg
Anemones – white and yellow Euphoria
Ranunculus – red, white and pink
Tulips – rainbow parrot, flaming white parrot, Absalom, mint green parrots
The inspiration for my March Monthly Miniature is artist, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (18 January 1573 – 1621) who was a still life painter of the Dutch Golden Age. He was among the founders of the tradition, the height of which dates to around 1600-1800. I’ve long admired paintings from this era and this series is giving me the opportunity to luxuriate the detailed little worlds created by so many different artists. Each of my twelve paintings will pay tribute to a different artist form this era and Ambrosius Bosschaert is definately one of my favorites. I’m drawn to his symmetrical and simple compositions and tried to compose my daffodil painting with some of the grace and elegance he so carefully crafts into each small painting. Go to my Monthly Miniatures gallery to see all of the paintings in this series. Learn more about this painting in my previous post.
Oil on Copper
Ambrosius Bosschaert is also a fellow painter on copper. If you look at the image below, you’ll notice that this three hundred year old painting is free of cracks or paint loss. Aside form the luminous and smooth surface, meal is an ideal painting surface because it is such a stable surface. It doesn’t tear or suffer from expanding or contracting with humidity like canvas or wood.
Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621), Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover, and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle, oil on copper