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.
The main subject for this years series of monthly miniatures will be my favorite kind of butterfly, the swallowtail. With over 550 different species, they appear in a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes and I will have no shortage of inspiration. For this painting, I chose the Pipeline Swallowtail. This butterfly is found in extensive areas of North America; in the United States, it’s mainly found in the south and southeast, plus an isolated pocket in central California.
I paired my swallowtail with thistle flowers, which are a favorite (of mine and of the butterfly). The flowers on a thistle stalk don’t usually bloom all at once, but I’ve taken some liberties. I was inspired by the compositions of the Dutch still life painter Jan van Kessel. Van Kessel worked in the mid 17th century, at the height of the golden age of Dutch still life painting. It was common practice during this time to create paintings that were seasonal impossibilities, pairing blooms that appear months apart in nature, or all of a plant’s blooms open at once, as I’ve done here. I wanted to create this simple moment, full of plenty for my butterfly. I love the contrast of a vibrant thistle in bloom. Thistles have the perfect pairing of soft flowers and spikey leaves and stems.
Some of you are squeamish about insects, and I hope you’ll indulge my love of these delicate creatures. Rest assured, I will be creating work for the gallery in the upcoming year, both with and without insects. 😉
After my crazy, overloaded 2022, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have this painting finished by the first week of January! I wish you a Happy New Year, full of deadlines met ahead of schedule.
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.
In 2018, the Portrait Society of America added a new category to its annual Members Only competition: “Animals as Subject”. Since then I’ve entered every year and have been incredibly fortunate to have my work selected either as one of the winners, or as a finalist (top twenty).
My painting of Harrison was selected as a finalists in this years competition. Thanks so much to the Jurors for selecting my work and thank you to the Portrait Society of America for their dedication to furthering the traditions of fine art portraiture. Congratulations to all of the winners and finalists in the competition!
What do these two paintings have in common? They’re both finalists in the Richeson75 Animals, Brids & Wildlife 2020 Competition! Visit the online exhibit to see all of the work included in the show.
Jack Richeson & Co. is a fine art materials manufacturing company and part of their mission is to directly support the visual arts community. They operate the Richeson School of Art & Gallery and have created a series Richeson75 International Art Competitions.
“The Richeson75 competitions are meant to offer a venue in which established and emerging artists may show their latest, best work to a wide and appreciative audience. The 75 finalists for each regular contest will exhibit their work in our beautiful Richeson Gallery and in the online exhibit. The Richeson75 online competitions also reach a wide audience with online exhibits of the 75 finalists’ work.”
All Richeson75 competitions are accompanied with the publication of a collectible, limited-edition, full-color, hardcover exhibit book which includes the artwork of the finalists and other meritorious entries from the competition.
The competitions showcase artwork made in the realist tradition. I’m honored to have two pieces among such a technically well-crafted mix of styles and subjects. Congratulations to everyone in the show!!
I’m in love with the subject for my latest pet portrait commission. Harrison is a flame point rag doll Siamese and those eyes!! Harrison is 10″ x 8″ and is made with oil on aluminum.
During my tiny thanksgiving gathering we talked about things we were grateful for. My clients that commission me to paint their beautiful furry friends came just after friends and family. Thank you. ❤️
I worked as a picture framer during my college years and have continued to frame my own work since then. I frame most of my clients commissioned works and for Harrisons portrait we choose this georgeous bronze colored carved frame. My client has synesthesia and she loved this frame in particular because the swirls looked like how Harrison’s meows sound. Sounds like a pretty incredible experience with the world.
Ahhhh!!! It’s BEAUTIFUL! I feel like you totally and perfectly captured his essence. It’s wonderful! I love how the background brings out his eyes and various fur colors and textures. His little nose is so cute!! And he looks so fluffy!
Thank you so much!!!
Traditional Techniques: Layer by Layer
I made a short video that shows how my paintings evolve, using the time tested technique of “lean to fat”. The first layer starts with big shapes and paint thinned with odorless mineral spirits (Gamsol). This is the lean layer. For the oil, I use Galkyd slow dry painting medium. As the detail increases with each layer, so does the oil content added to my paint mixture. By working in this way, the paint has ideal conditions to adhere to its substrate. It also ensures that the bottom layers of paint will dry more quickly than the top layers which prevents cracking in the future. I also find that this technique gives painting a luminocity and depth that is essential for capturing fluffy fur and pearlecent eyes.
If you’re interested in a pet portrait of your own, please visit my commission page to lean more.
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 was commissioned to make two paintings for Jason. The first, a gift for his sister of her beloved dog Hazel. Hazel was a golden retriever that had given a lifetime of love. The other was of Turbo, his own dog. We have a lot of personality packed into a miniature 4″ composition.
I composed both of these painting with classical dutch portraits in mind. There were so many great photos for me to choose from of these two. I was especially inspired by the warmth in Hazel’s eyes and the intelligence in Turbo’s.
I was sad to hear that both Turbo and Hazel passed between the time when we designed the portraits and when they were completed. It really reinforces my mission of creating pet portraits though. And I love that their portraits will live on for hundreds of years to come.
I got them today! We are in love! Thank you so much, such talented work!!
To learn about how to commission your own pet portrait, please visit the Commission’s page.