A Word A Day Illustrations

Created for Anu Garg’s A Word A Day
other subcategories:

Ring up the curtain! Velutinous: Acrylic painting on canvas, 6x6"

Velutinous by Leah Palmer Preiss

It’s showtime! Welcome to another week of illustrated words for A.Word.A.Day. As always, Anu offered me a wonderfully diverse & evocative selection of words, beginning this year with “velutinous.”

This one appealed to me instantly, as I’ve always loved the luxurious texture of velvet, & I immediately thought of cats with their velvety fur & their natural affinity for claiming the most voluptuous spot in the house. Not to mention their convenient ability to pose in an elegant V shape, complete with volute tail! (Yes, all those lovely V words appear in the background text of this painting, scanned from one of my antique dictionaries.) I threw in a few volute accents on the Victorian armchair in the background, just for extra visual rhythms & because I’m a maximalist by nature.

The original painting & prints thereof are available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab. I’ll be adding more A.Word.A.Day paintings there as they appear this week, & you can also find past A.Word.A.Day words here.

And if you’d like to see work-in-progress pictures such as the one below, along with the occasional process video, please follow me on Instagram!

Velutinous Tassel in Progress

Transpicuous Acrylic painting on text on canvas, 6x6" by Leah Palmer Preiss

Acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss, depicting jellyfish & other undersea life

When I saw this week’s final A.Word.A.Day word, transpicuous, I first thought of old chemistry glass, perhaps because my father is a chemist & his lab was a mysterious & slightly terrifying wonderland to me as a child. (Hence my shop name, Curious Art Lab!)

Curious Art Lab Logo

But as much as I love curious flasks & beakers, I love painting living things even more, so I was very pleased when the idea of jellyfish and other transpicuous sea life drifted into my head.

I’ve long been an avid admirer of Ernst Haeckel, especially his Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of Nature),1904. An astonishing polymath, he was a highly original & influential scientist & philosopher as well as a brilliant artist, & one of the reasons I fell in love with seemingly-infinite variety of life forms on this planet. His drawings may not be entirely accurate by today’s scientific standards, but they are intricate, elegant & mesmerizing. I was definitely inspired by his style as I worked on this painting!

And of course, my heartfelt thanks once again to Anu Garg for a magnificent collection of inspiring words, not only this week but always!

Leaping Lizard! Xeric, Acrylic Painting on text on canvas, 6x6" by Leah Palmer Preiss

Xeric Final 1

Thursday’s word for A.Word.A.Day is “xeric.” I was born in Texas, so I had no trouble envisioning cacti & lizards, but to get them to form the letter X, I needed an acrobatic member of the lizard family. Luckily the collared lizard fulfilled that requirement with elan. The cactus is (very loosely) based on the xique-xique of Brazil. I doubt the two species ever share the same natural habitat, but I never claimed to be a realist!

Painting all those little scales & spines wasn’t quick or easy, but it put me into a sort of trance-like state. I imagine trekking across the desert would be a similarly ponderous & meditative experience. Unless of course you’re a collared lizard!

Xeric WIP

 

This painting is now on display at GreenHill NC as part of their Winter Show through 18 January 2019.  Prints are now up in my Etsy shop! 

Kludge Acrylic Painting on text on canvas, 6x6" by Leah Palmer Preiss

Kludge, Acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss of a kea (parrot) interacting with a curiously haphazard construction. Wednesday’s word, “kludge,” was new to me when Anu offered it, but I took to it right away. It seems so onomatopoetic, somehow, & so useful to describe the mess that results when you just have to grab whatever is at hand & do the best you can.

Despite my fondness for the word I ran into trouble immediately– it’s quite a modern coinage, so none of my antique dictionaries included it. In true kludge fashion I’d be forced to wrangle it in somehow. I decided to do it inelegantly, à la ransom note, with letters sourced from old circus posters. The definition I snagged shamelessly from Anu’s email. Now, how to illustrate it? My mind went first to circuit boards, then to Rube Goldberg machines. (And both of those sidetracks remain faintly visible, like palimpsests, in the background.) But I wanted something alive in there.

That’s when being bird-brained came in handy! I was thinking about crows & how they are able to improvise tools, so I started researching “bird intelligence.” And there, like a gift from the Kludge gods, arose the magnificent kea.

Not only is it reputed to be the most intelligent bird on earth, it’s quite a handsome creature, & the only bird thought to exhibit contagious laughter. What’s not to love? It even has the consideration to begin with K! Moreover, its penchant for creative mischief has driven the humans who have invaded its territory to kludge a device to distract it from meddling with everything man-made in the vicinity, including traffic cones. Thus was born the kea gym, a variation of which forms the letter “K” in this curiotype.

I’m not sure where all the red paint splatters came from… it’s not like my studio floor looks like that or anything. Ahem. Anyway, as I was about to say, Kludge turned out to be the most troublesome, yet the most fun of all this week’s words. And of course you can find the painting & prints in my Etsy shop!

Eldritch Evocation Acrylic Painting on text on canvas, 6x6" by Leah Palmer Preiss

Eldritch Final 1

Tuesday’s word for A.Word.A.Day is “eldritch.” I have a bit of a Gothic streak, so this one definitely intrigued me. I sketched out the two ghosts & the background forest in advance, but as I painted over the dictionary text, I was additionally inspired by the alphabetical proximity of El Dorado, the legendary land of gold. I thought perhaps these spirits had been greedy in life, & had made their fortunes at the expense of others. Thus they are condemned to an eternity of obsessively striving to hold on to their gold, while it trickles endlessly away….

So I used metallic gold paint to render the gold dust, as well as their avidly glowing eyes. Unfortunately I didn’t capture that part of the process, but click here if you’d like to see a very boring, but mercifully short, video of me in the process of painting ghostly hair!

And the finished painting & prints are in my Etsy shop, of course!

To continue the theme of serendipity, while I was painting this I was looking for some ambient music to inspire me, & quite by chance the site I was using recommended a band called Palmer Eldritch! I thought their music was interesting, if a little forceful for the mood of this piece. Researching the band, I found they were named after a Philip K. Dick novel called The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, so I listened to the audiobook. Frankly, it wasn’t my cup of tea for many reasons, but it did explore some interesting themes.

You just never know where the rabbit hole of words will lead you. There may be many dead ends, but then again you may discover a golden wonderland!

 

Quaggy Ecology Acrylic on text on canvas, 6" x 6"

Acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss of blue heron with fish in wetlands    My parents live by a pond (with very quaggy edges) & for a while they were regularly visited by a magnificent great blue heron. So when Anu gave me this word, I instantly thought of “Oscar” (as he was named by my grandmother, though I’m not sure why). I doubt Oscar ever landed a fish as large as this, nor could his neck bend in quite such a conveniently Q-like fashion, but he was an intrepid fisherman & a gorgeous creature, so this is my tribute to his majestic beauty. North Carolina (where most of my family lives) is the home of wonderful wetlands. As with many such areas across the country, they are very much in danger from over-development, so I thought of this dilemma often as I was painting this. Let’s hope generations to come will still be able to experience the wonder & awe I felt when Oscar came to visit. 

Acrylic painting in progress by Leah Palmer Preiss, great blue heron head, miniature painting detail

Acrylic painting in progress by Leah Palmer Preiss, miniature fish detail

 

True Confessions of a Bibliomaniac Acrylic on text on canvas, 6" x 6"

Acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss of a bookworm with favorite books    I’ll admit it, I’m a lifelong book addict. I love reading them, but I also love looking at them, touching them, talking about them, hoarding collecting them, & simply enjoying their beautiful & comforting presence all around me.  So when Anu Garg offered “bibliomania” as one of this year’s words for A.Word.A.Day, I was ecstatic. I scanned the definition from one of my collection of vintage dictionaries. (Please don’t ask how many I have– it’s a fraught subject in this household!) It took a little while to figure out how to illustrate the concept in the form of a letter “B,” but when I sketched out a twisted bookworm with a precipitous stack of books, I knew I was on my way.

Here’s where the true confession comes in. (You thought it was the book-hoarding part, didn’t you? But that doesn’t embarrass me in the least!) My real transgression? I illustrated the wrong word!

I painted three of the other words before I started on this one (don’t worry, no spoilers here), & by the time I came to this painting, I somehow focused on another definition from the dictionary page I’d scanned, & got it in my head that I was illustrating “bibliophile.”

I’ve always said that I can’t see the forest for the lichen. I may be meticulous in many ways, but alas, I’m very far from methodical, or I would have had the sense to double-check my word list before plunging ahead. Instead I obsessed for days over choosing the books for the stack & painting all the tiny titles. The worst part is that “bibliophile” is even involved in a sort of puzzle element hidden in the art (that’s a hint), so it’s not just the background that’s off-key….

Painting in progress, work in progress by Leah Palmer Preiss

Ah, well. The whole thing reminds me of a painful anecdote I once read, about a printer carefully proofreading every little town in a highly-detailed map of the Untied States… ;-)

In any case, I hope you can forgive me for getting lost in the dark & disorienting forest that is my brain, & focus with me on the fascinating lichen of teeny tiny thumbnail-sized books!

The open book on the floor is the one that started my own case of bibliomania,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  I scanned & reduced the “Mouse’s Tale” spread from a beautiful vintage copy given to me long ago by one of my oldest, best & most bibliomaniacal friends. (Yes, you, Natalie!)

As for the books that the bookworm is clutching so fondly, many of Anu’s fans will recognize the titles, though I’ve taken some liberties with the cover designs to fit the old-school style. Thanks & apologies once again to Anu & all of my fellow bibliomaniacal logophiles!

Alice on floor

Update: This image is now available on mugs in my Zazzle shop!

Bibliophile Mug by Leah Palmer Preiss depicting a bookworm with books

 

 

Ostentatious Acrylic painting on text collage on canvas, 6"x6"

Ostentatious: acrylic cat painting by Leah Palmer Preiss. A cat dressed to excess in red carpet finery.

Appropriately enough for the grand finale of my week on A.Word.A.Day, here’s an ostentatious feline showing off her most opulent finery as she slinks down the red carpet to the opera. If her over-the-top style looks a bit familiar, maybe it’s because of a certain bird with a similar fondness for white furs & flamboyant feathers. Birds (& cats) of a feather flock together, & it tickles me that the two side by side spell out “NO!”

Thanks once again to Anu for another year of wonderful words. I’m already looking forward to 2017!

Original & prints in my Etsy shop.

 

Peregrinate Acrylic painting on text collage on canvas, 6"x6"

Peregrinate: Acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss of peregrine falcon hiking a mountain trail with an antique suitcase. "Not all those who wander are lost."With a peculiar predilection to pack up & perambulate, this peregrine has picked an impractical path perhaps, but peregrination needn’t be practical to be pleasurable.

As someone who often chooses curious & circuitous pathways over direct routes (both literally & figuratively) I can attest that getting there really is half the fun! Painting the meadow in this piece for instance… possibly a slightly mad pursuit considering its tiny size & peripheral importance, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. And if you look closely at the finished piece, you may find an appropriate message from Tolkien amidst the foliage! (There’s also a bit of a nod to one of his aptly-named characters on the suitcase… can you spot it?)

Detail of acrylic painting in progress by Leah Palmer Preiss

Thanks once again to Anu of A.Word.A.Day for the inspiration!

Original & prints available in my Etsy shop.

 

Afflatus Acrylic painting on text collage on canvas, 6"x6"

Afflatus: Acrylic painting by Leah Palmer Preiss depicting an angelic muse breathing inspiration to Shakespeare

I didn’t know this word until Anu suggested it for A.Word.A.Day, but once I looked it up I knew it would be great fun to illustrate! There’s something delightfully Shakespearean about the definition of “afflatus” in the old dictionary I used for the background text– any word that could evoke both “an exaltation of soul” & “belching” would appeal to the bard, don’t you think? Still, I hope his expression conveys that it’s divine inspiration he’s receiving here & not digestive vapors, however angelic. It was a technical challenge even to get a likeness since his face is barely the size of my fingernail!

Here’s a work-in-progress shot showing the scale of the painting. (If you’d like to see more of this sort of thing please follow me on Instagram.)

Afflatus-In-Progress

Original & prints available in my Etsy shop, Curious Art Lab!