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 find a healthy dose of silly shenanigans is good for me. And after a long difficult year, we all deserve some. 🙂
I usually know what kind of mood I’m going for when I plan a painting, and I seek objects that work together to tell a story that fits. For my final painting of the series, I wanted to make something lighthearted and playful. This one makes me smile every time I look at it, and I hope you enjoy it!
Since I started making still life paintings last year, I am always on the lookout for subjects. Anything that catches my fancy is studied, posed, photographed, then added to my growing reference library. The parts of this painting fell into place by scrolling through those images and intuiting which pieces of this puzzle would fit together.
Meyer lemons are an annual treat for the exhibition crew at SAM. Each year the head Exhibit Designer, Paul Martinez, would visit his family in California and pick lemons from their abundant orchard. Last year I took dozens of photos of them, just in case I wanted to use them in a painting. The squirrel visited us during one of our lunch breaks on a park bench in Volunteer Park while reinstalling the Seattle Asian Art Museum last summer-another batch of “just in case” images. And the dish was too hard to pass up when I noticed it in the conservation studio – more photographs. As I collected each of those images, I had no idea what they would become together.
Because I’m using pieces from the Seattle Art Museum collection as my models, I can’t actually place fruit inside bowls or plates. Instead I use something of my own that’s a similar size, shape and color for my mock ups. That helps me get a good idea of the shadows and light sources. Then I merge everything together, first in my imagination, with sketches, and then digital compositions. It’s still pretty rough at this stage, but finally through the process of making the painting, the scene starts to come to life.
It’s been such a privilege have a “day job” that has put me into direct contact with so much beautiful art. The museum has been closed for almost all of 2020, and it feels so fitting that I’ve made this series of paintings as a tribute to its collection, and to my experiences with the people there who have become very dear to me.
This body of work is my “thank you” to all of the past artists that worked to perfect their craft and push the limits of their artistic pursuits, to all of the countless people that have cared for these objects for hundreds of years after they were created; and to those that continue to care for these objects, ensuring that they will be treasured and viewed by countless people to come. I found the passion museum workers have for the preservation of objects for all of us to enjoy is contagious. I hope I’ve been able to pass a little of it on to you.
DISH WITH PHOENIX AND FLOWER MOTIFS, Collection of the Seattle Art Museum
Chinese, early 14th century Porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration , Diameter: 18 3/4 in. (47.6cm), Purchased in memory of Elizabeth M. Fuller with funds from the Elizabeth M. Fuller Memorial Fund and from the Edwin W. and Catherine M. Davis Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota, 76.7 Provenance:Purchased for Seattle Art Museum with funds from the Elizabeth M. Fuller Memorial Fund and from the Edwin W. and Catherine M. Davis Foundation, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 6, 1976 Photo: Paul Macapia
From the Seattle Art Museum website:
“Brilliant cobalt pigment and a refined porcelain body are essential to the striking beauty of blue-and-white wares, which rose in Chinese ceramic production in the fourteenth century largely as a result of huge demand in the central and western Asian markets. This large dish manifests the taste for elaborate designs derived from Islamic art, and its massive size was intended to accommodate communal meals customary among Muslims.”
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
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.
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.
Taking the time to smell the roses (or peach blossoms) is making a big comeback this year. One of the unexpected benefits of our isolation is finding time to connect with what’s growing and living outside our front doors. I have five fruit trees in my garden that I spend time with every year while I prune, mulch, and harvest the delicious bounty they finally bring me. Yet I rarely get the opportunity to marvel at the beauty they bring me each spring, when they are covered in a plethora of delicate fluttering blossoms. This year, I’ve been able to take that time. There’s are so many things still to be done, but now simple enjoyment is on that list.
My fruit trees were the first inspiration for this painting, and since the Seattle Art Museum is now closed, I searched their online database for my SAM inspiration. I choose this lovely piece, one of my favorite treasures of the porcelain room. It’s just as much a sculpture as it is a vase, and the masterful painting recalls the delicacy of the garden. Filling it with the branches from a fruit was an idea that came from a recent commission (pictured below) for Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art at the Seattle Art Museum.
The violet-green swallow can be found all over the western coast of North America, but you’ll most likely find them near open evergreen and deciduous woodlands. In the Seattle area, keep an eye out from March to September to spot one!
Wishing you all warm, healthy regards and some time to smell the roses.
JINGDEZHEN WARE VASE
1736 – 1795, Qinglong period, Qing dynasty (1644-1912) Chinese Hard paste porcelain 8 1/4″ x 13 1/2″ stamped Qinglong reign mark in seal script Seal mark of Ch’ien-lung on base Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection Photo: Paul MacapiaCollection of the Seattle Art Museum
The Qianlong emperor’s love of antiques inspired porcelain imitations of ancient lacquerworks and bronze vessels. The burnished dark green appearance of this vase recalls an ancient bronze.
My work as a mountmaker at the Seattle Art Museum has brought me into contact with some pretty extraordinary people. Curator of Chinese artwork, Ping Foong, is one such person. I’m very grateful that she and her partner choose me to make a special portrait of their cat Lila that reflects her love of Chinese porcelains.
I’m excited to share my first 2020 Monthly Miniature and announce the new “Flight of Fancy” series. I hadn’t done a still life painting for more than 15 years until last year’s series, so studying the Dutch masters for insight into the genre was crucial to that project’s success. This year I will continue in the spirit of Dutch still life and featuring birds together with items from the Seattle Art Museum collection, with which I’ve worked for the last 13 years. It’s too early for me to understand how the two relate to each other over a series of twelve, but that is the fun of the monthly miniature, to see where the journey takes me.
Inspiration From SAM
The first featured Seattle Art Museum object is a Square Serving Dish. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the collection, and I feel it’s the perfect piece to open the New Year and the new body of work. The piece gives me contrasting feelings of chaos and grace, yet feels so perfectly balanced. I have installed this piece numerous times, including twice in Japan. Most recently, I helped install it at the Asian Art Museum, scheduled to reopen February 8th after a recent renovation and expansion.
Pacific Northwest Gardens and Birds
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you are likely familiar with the Anna’s Hummingbird. I used to have 6 hummingbird feeders all around my house, and at any time of day I could see an Anna’s feeding from some window or another. Once feeders are up in winter, though, Hummingbirds become dependent on the feeders for the season; after one very cold winter of continually defrosting a feeder for several weeks, I have given up the practice. Instead, I have filled the garden with plants that will feed them through the winter, including an Oregon grape outside my bedroom. I love waking and going to the window to watch these territorial birds feed from the yellow blossoms. My Oregon grape has become huge over the years, but that doesn’t mean anyone is willing to share.
Along with a sprig of Oregon grape in this month’s painting are Yuzu lemons my friend Hiromi let me pick from her tree in Seattle. (I also used these fragrant lemons in last month’s painting.) The beauty of these two plants comes at a price though. Both the Yuzu and the Oregon grape demand careful attention when you’re near them as they hide painful spikes. And yes, both these plants are also in season, a theme I enjoyed from the last series and will continue.
SQUARE SERVING DISH
Edo period (1603–1868), Japanese, Stoneware with underglaze decoration, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in.
Collection of The Seattle Art Museum Photo: Paul Macapia
Written by Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art:
“Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity. This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top: Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.
Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.
The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.
The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.”
I hope you enjoy the new Flight of Fancy series!
How to Purchase
Subscribe to my newsletter to get an email when each Monthly Miniature is finished and the chance to purchase the latest painting. I usually announce when the newest painting will be released for sale on Instagram and Facebook within 24 hours before sending the newsletter.