Life has been a bit chaotic around here this year, but now that it’s time for my week with Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day, things are looking up!
Our first word, Cherubic, had me thinking literally for a while & getting nowhere, but when it occurred to me that a rather devilish kitty could also be a little angel, all the chaos came together.
And isn’t that the way life is? Things fall apart, then reassemble in new ways. Years can be brutal yet beautiful– full of new challenges, but also happy accidents & comforting constants. Oh 2022, I guess I’ll forgive you for all the mayhem & mischief you caused! I know you didn’t do it on purpose!
My husband Tony is crazy about tigers, so I was delighted to see that according to the Chinese Zodiac, 2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger. We’ve also traversed some rough seas lately, metaphorically speaking, & I wanted to express my gratitude for how he’s carried me through these challenging times. So this is the Lunar New Year painting I created in his honor. The little calligrapher mouse in the houseboat is my avatar, so to speak, as the steadfast tiger is his.
The mouse’s hat & curious whiskers were loosely inspired by a portrait of the Yongle Emperor, Zhu Di, below, which I discovered while researching Zheng He, a great Chinese explorer of the early Ming dynasty. I’m a hat person & the resemblance of the emperor’s headgear to the iconic Mickey Mouse ears was irresistible.
The Chinese character that mousy-me is writing is one of several that translate to tiger. I’m not really sure if it’s the most accurate translation, but it is the simplest to draw!
When I first sketched out this seraphic being, it had feathery wings that were fiery only in color, much like the phoenix in Fulgor. Although I do love to paint feathers, as I thought more about the word’s etymology–
“From Latin seraphim, from Greek seraphim, from Hebrew seraphim, from saraph (to burn).”
–I decided to try a rough sketch of a straight-up flaming version. Once it began to take shape, I never looked back.
As I was painting the face I tried to capture a sense of seraphic serenity, but also of empowerment & determination. I visualized a being capable of bringing light & comfort in dark times, like fire itself, but also holding immense power & mystery.
This was my second painting on panel after Daedal. The (slightly) larger size and smoother surface seemed to befit an angelic entity!
The original painting & prints are now available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab.
Even though I live in a city, a block away from a busy street, I’m definitely xylophilous! (In the etymological sense, that is– wood-loving.) My childhood home bordered on a forest, & my family spent many hours working, playing & wandering in the woods. But I’ve always said that I can’t see the forest for the lichen, because my favorite thing to explore & paint are all the tiny little life-forms that are overshadowed (yet also supported) by the overstory.
So when Anu offered this word, I jumped at the chance to create my own little peaceable kingdom of wood-loving flora & fauna. It’s certainly not an accurate sample of xylophilous species in the scientific sense, & it vastly under-represents the number of species that depend on trees– I couldn’t begin to show the tiny beetles and borers that live in & under bark, for example– but I hope it gets the point across that even dying or damaged trees can be teeming with life & potential & beauty in their own way. As William Blake said, “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” Or even a wise beetle!
I couldn’t resist hiding that quotation in the bark, & if you look in the background near the pendulous possum, you may find a rather dreadful math pun tucked in there too. Apologies in advance.
The original painting is sold, but prints are now available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab.
I’ve always had a weakness for curly green things…
…so when Anu offered the word Involute, my mind went right to fiddlehead ferns. And because I am probably part snail, I thought I’d throw in a little self-portrait as well! But then my alter-ego looked a bit lonely, so Fiddlehead Fernfellow was born. And what better place for the two to meet than on a magic mushroom in the moonlight?
The original painting is sold; prints are now available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab.
When Anu Garg offered me the word “Daedal” to illustrate for A.Word.A.Day, I knew it was bound to get complicated, & sure enough, it was a long & labyrinthine path from my first concept to the finished painting.
Originally we had intended it to appear in 2020, to complete my second A.W.A.D. alphabet, but it took me so long to finish that we decided to save it for 2021. Patience is one of Anu’s many virtues, for which I’m endlessly grateful!
Even though there were many times during the making of Daedal that I feared I might never escape its convolutions & complexities, there were also moments of serendipity and delight. Early on, as I was struggling through the construction stage, (3D architectural drawing is so not my forte!) I heard this amazing poem by A. E. Stallings on the Poetry Magazine podcast:
Not only was the poem literally titled “Daedal” (!!!) but it perfectly captured my feelings about creating this piece, and the journey of my artwork in general. I asked the author’s permission to include the above lines in the painting, & when she was kind enough to say yes, I felt I’d been given a magical talisman conferring the strength I needed to keep building!
Finally, the structure began to take shape. Then a group of dinosaurs came to visit. Then one of them morphed into a dinotaur (or is it a minosaur?)–this was starting to feel like my kind of adventure!
When I was finally ready to turn the drawing into an actual painting, I realized it just wasn’t going to fit on my usual 6″ x 6″ canvas. I ended up using an 8″ x 8″ wooden panel, a new experience for me that I liked so much I did it again for another A.W.A.D. piece this year. (Stay tuned!)
In the end, I was grateful for the lessons I learned from this “fractal branching of mistakes!” If you’re curious to see a snippet of my super-slow invisible-brushstroke painting method, (no joke, this is really what it’s like *sob*) check out this little video on my Instagram page.
The original painting is sold; prints are now available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab.
Despite covid19 restrictions, a broken furnace & serious carbon monoxide scare, unprecedented shipping delays & other seasonal difficulties, I’m feeling strangely jolly these days! Perhaps it’s the brush with death, or the thought that we’re almost to the end of the year & there’s a glimpse of light at the end of the 2020 tunnel.
I painted this ornament for my book club’s annual gift exchange, which didn’t end up happening, though we did enjoy a Zoom meeting. You may recognize the faux-antique text in the background from Yeanling… it seemed appropriate for this one too.
Let me know if you’d like a pdf with multiples of this image to print out for gift tags or ornaments. I’d be happy to send a link to a downloadable file!
Today’s word is almost as long as an aye-aye’s fingers. I’m not sure you could describe it as slender though. (Are there slender words? That’s a topic worth pondering.)
In any case, aye-aye fingers are long, slender, & dextrous, & the lemur relatives’ impressive hand spans would probably give them quite an advantage at the keyboard, though most piano teachers would suggest a shorter manicure. More importantly, they are natural percussionists, with highly sensitive touch & hearing. So it is only slightly insane to imagine them tickling the ivory.
Today’s word, ursiform, immediately conjured the vision of a teddy bear, along with the constellations Ursa Major & Ursa Minor. The honey bear & gummis invited themselves to the party much later on in the sketching process, whispering sweet nothings into my subconscious mind until I painted them in. I think in the end the teddy was happy to have more ursiform friends around!
Prints of this image (along with the original painting while it lasts) are available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab.
2020 has been strange, difficult, terrifying, at times surprisingly delightful, but above all, unpredictable. That makes me all the more grateful for one favorite tradition that has remained unchanged: my annual week of illustrations for A.Word.A.Day! Many, many thanks to Anu for inviting me into his wonderful world of words once again.
Our first word for the week is Yeanling, which of course brings to mind cute, frisky baby goats & lambs, springtime, & a freshly blossoming… pandemic!? Coincidentally the background text included definitions for “year,” so I couldn’t resist tweaking it a bit to reflect this particular year. I had thought it would be fun to hide a few Easter eggs in the background, along with other youthful fauna of various species, but as I sketched, those too began to get a little weird!