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.
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!
Today’s word for A.Word.A.Day is “Inquiline.” The word was new to me, though I did know about cuckoos laying eggs in other birds’ nests (thus the derivation of “cuckold”). My first few sketches went in that direction, but then a cat jumped into the picture, & I was helpless to resist. I like to think this kitty just likes to hang out with the chicks & eat worms… but still, if I were Mama Bird I don’t think I’d appreciate it much.
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!
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.