Endangered Beauty

“A power of Butterfly must be –
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky -”
― Emily Dickinson

I have some very exciting news to share, but before I get into that, I wanted to talk about how important butterflies and moths are to life on Earth, and to humanity as a whole. You might be curious as to why I have dedicated so much time and paint on butterflies and moths, and why I find them so fascinating. First and foremost, butterflies and moths have been around for at least 50 million years, and first evolved around 150 million years ago. Their transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis is truly one of the miracles of nature. Butterflies and moths are an important group of organisms that have been used for many years for research in navigation, pest control, embryology, mimicry, evolution, population dynamics and biodiversity conservation. They are also indicators of the health of an ecosystem and the environment. They are important pollinators, so are important in the maintenance of our food supplies. Butterflies and moths are chock full of natural chemical defenses that are currently being studied for their potential value in medications such as antibiotics. To top it all off butterflies and moths are beautiful!

Sadly, there has been a worldwide decline in many butterfly and moth species due to habitat loss, climate change, pesticides, disease and invasive plants.

I recently completed a piece called “Flight at First Light” which features 12 different species of butterflies, plus a few pulled out of my own imagination. The butterflies in this painting include:

  1. Common Red Glider (Cymothoe coccinata)
  2. Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
  3. Red Agrias (Agrias claudina)
  4. Peacock Swallowtail (Papilio ulysses)
  5. Blue banded morpho (Morpho achillies)
  6. Purple Emporer (Apatura iris)
  7. Rhetenor Blue Morpho (Morpho rhetenor)
  8. Giant Blue Morpho (Morpho didius)
  9. Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)
  10. Small Cabbage White (Pierus rapae)
  11. Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus)
  12. Yellow Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Of these species, the Blue Morpho’s are the most severely threatened, and some, like the Purple Emporer are medium priority species for conservation. Still others, like the Small Cabbage White are predicted to become extinct by 2050. These statistics serve as a poignant reminder of the consequences of our industrialized world, the dangers of climate change and our growing population.

Now for my wonderful news…I am so very excited to share that I have been chosen as one of the featured artists at the Saanich Municipal Hall for 2016! My exhibit is slated for the month of August. When I first applied for consideration, I had grappled with the content of my exhibit. I have been itching to finally have an outlet for my Equus series, but decided to save that for a later date. This exhibition will be the final outlet for my Lepidoptera series with a few orchid and water lily pieces for good measure. I’ve named the exhibit “Bloomin’ Lovely” (of course), which I believe is very fitting given the fact that Victoria is famously known as “The Garden City!”

With my piece, “Flight at First Light” shown below, I created the illusion of depth by putting texture on the entire canvas (using light molding paste), by layering the paint and using metallic shimmer in the background,  adding iridescence to the butterflies, as well as layering the butterflies themselves. I wish the photo really captured the iridescence that I attempted to add to the butterfly wings, but the full effect is only captured when the audience walks around the painting. I love and am truly fascinated by the iridescence of butterfly wings! In fact, the iridescence in a butterfly’s wings is a miracle of nature in itself. The iridescence is caused by the presence of biological photonic crystals called ‘gyroids’ found in the wing scales, only seen with the help of scanning and transmission electron microscopy (as far as I know). Very difficult to capture, but iridescent medium helps me to create a similar effect. I believe the movement in the piece is captured with the swoop of the entire flock. I really tried to make the colors mimic that of the rising sun at dawn. And of course no butterfly migration piece of mine would be complete without my token dragonfly and scarab. Do you see them in the painting? They are my son’s favorite aspects of the piece!

The Root Art Emporium is awesome!

Have you ever been to one of those wonderful, artsy cafe’s with amazingly delicious food and a relaxed, casual atmosphere that makes you instantly feel hip and with it just by sitting and having coffee there? Well the Root in Lloydminster is one of those places, a must visit if you are playing tourist in this area of the world. Not only is the food delicious, but they host live music weekly, and have art (by artists like you and I) for sale…here’s the link to their website, and a link to a beautiful music video showcasing the art and jewelry they sell by local artists and artisans. You may recognize some the paintings on the walls….


“Pensive” is complete!


Pensive is now complete. Acrylic on 3×3 foot canvas. I admit, I had to get used to the quicker drying time of the acrylic paints, even when mixed with slow-DRI. I love the ease of cleanup with acrylic paints, and at the end of the day, I like that the painting is dry so quickly. I named this painting “pensive”, because the orchid looks so thoughtful…if you could call a plant thoughtful! The final step is to varnish it, and it will be ready for the show.

Suminagashi Recipes


Finally the perfect viscosity and dispersion

Finally the perfect viscosity and dispersion

I decided to post some Suminagashi “how to’s” or at least the methods and recipes that I found successful. Suminagashi is the Japanese art of floating ink on water and then transferring the design onto paper. It is similar to paper marbling, and Turkish Ebru. I’ve adapted this tedious process for easy to access modern acrylics and canvases.

The first important “ingredient” is alum, or aluminum sulfate. It is a “mordant” that is very important if you will be marbling onto fabric or paper. Its purpose is to make the paint adhere to the paper or fabric. I found that I didn’t really need it on gesso primed canvas, and whether I sponged it on the canvas beforehand and allowed it to dry before using, didn’t seem to make a difference as to whether the acrylic paint was going to adhere to the canvas. The recipe is 2 TB per pint of water. Just stir it together and sponge it all over the object you want to marble. I had a heck of a time finding alum in my grocery store. I finally found it with the spices as people use it to harden the starch in pickled vegetables so they remain crunchy.

The second important ingredient is “size”, or the medium upon which you float your paint or ink. Suminagashi traditionally used plain water for size, but Turkish Ebru uses thickened water. The water can be thickened with carrageenan, methyl cellulose, or corn starch. Some people even use liquid laundry starch right out of the bottle, although die-hard marblers will use either carrageenan or methyl cellulose. Carrageenan doesn’t keep well, and tends to degenerate in heat or humidity. It is made from sea weed. Methyl cellulose is best, but a little more pricey. Corn starch is harder to wash off the final marbled product. Surprisingly I couldn’t find liquid laundry starch anywhere in my local vicinity! Here are the recipes for carrageenan, methyl cellulose and corn starch size:

Carrageenan size

Marblers say you can get the finest, most detailed marbling from using carrageenan. It must be prepared in a blender. For a half-gallon:
Put 1 level tablespoon plus 1 level teaspoon of carrageenan powder into an empty blender cup. Fill it up to the top with cold water.Blend it on the highest speed for one minute. Then pour this foamy mixture into a half-gallon container (such as an empty plastic milk jug) and fill it on up to the top with water.
Shake it a bit to mix it. Let this mixture stand overnight in the refrigerator, or for at least 4 hours. This is to let the bubbles pop; it comes out of the blender as a mass of foam, and has to sit many hours before it all becomes liquid again. (adapted from marble art.us)

Methyl Cellulose

Methylcellulose Size
• Place 4 Tablespoons methylcellulose in a clean 2+ quart bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over the powder and stir gently to completely disperse powder. Do not create bubbles or froth.

• Add 4 cups ice water (can be all or part ice cubes). Stir gently to blend. Within 10 minutes, the liquid will quickly become thick and clear. Pour into clean tray, to a depth of 1-2″. It can be used immediately and, covered with plastic, will keep indefinitely. (Adapted from danielsmith.com)

Cornstarch Size

The following recipe will yield one gallon of stock solution that can be thinned as needed.


* Powdered cornstarch * Mixing bowl

* Stove or hot plate

* Measuring cup

* Water

* Slotted spoon or metal whisk

* Large saucepan


1. Add 1 cup cornstarch to 1 cup cold water in the mixing bowl.

2. Stir until completely dissolved.

3. Bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil.

4. Add the boiling water to the cornstarch mixture in the mixing bowl.

5. Stir the mixture with a slotted spoon or metal whisk until thick and smooth.

6. When cool, pour into a gallon jug for storage (milk container works well).

7. Add water to equal 1 gallon (about 2-3 cups). The mixture will thicken as it cools. Add water for correct consistency before using as size.

(Adapted from Donald Gruber, Ed.D., 2001)

Obviously, for the purposes of Suminagashi on my large-sized canvases, I had to make gallons of size.

The third important ingredient for Suminagashi is the surfactant, specifically for the acrylic paints. If you are using ink, I’m not sure that you need surfactant. Surfactant makes the paint disperse on the surface of your size, and keeps the colors separate so that they don’t become one muddy brown mess. You can use ox gall, or a couple of drops of dish soap in 1/4 cup of water. The use of soap is controversial, some say the soap breaks down the acrylic paint.

The final important ingredient is the paint! I used fluid acrylics, some swear by airbrush paint, and still others prefer actual marbling paints. I wanted a “dreamy” quality to my paintings, so the light pastel-type colors that I achieved were exactly what I wanted. Other artists prefer very vibrant colors, and those are best achieved with airbrush paints or marbling paints. The secret here is not to over dilute the paints with water or use too much surfactant. Flow Aid, or airbrush medium is a good idea so you don’t overly dilute the binders in the paint.

Well, that is it in a nutshell! All you have to do now is paint on your prepared size, and then transfer it onto your chosen marbled object! The rest is up to you! Good luck with this artistic process, and if you have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them!

Suminagashi Part 3

My first completed Suminagashi abstract.

My first completed Suminagashi abstract.

Well, I decided to add a little something to my “London Fog” painting as it didn’t feel quite complete. It is my first foray into non floral abstract art, and I feel quite content with how it turned out. It’s not quite like London Fog anymore, so perhaps I will have to rename it! Cosmic comes to mind…but I shall think on it. Naming a painting feels like naming a child sometimes, doesn’t it? Well maybe not quite, but the right name is very important. I am now inspired to do Suminagashi on even larger canvases. Wish me luck!

Insect Inspiration

Well, the weather has been really good here, so I haven’t been indoors much to write a post, nor have I felt the urge to paint despite having the Three Sisters, and my Funky Orchid paintings waiting to be completed. I found these little fellas in the yard, and on our bike trail. Bugs are cute as can be to me…. As long as they are not entangled in my hair! I hope to place these beauties in a painting some time in the near future.

The Gerbera Challenge is Complete!

Joline's Daisy

Joline’s Daisy

The Gerbera challenge is over, the paint is drying, and I’m feeling pretty good about how it turned out. The center took some imaginative brush strokes, and 5 layers of paint. I thoroughly enjoyed painting the bright crimson petals…. that said I will probably paint a few more Gerbera’s in pink, white and yellow. I am stoked to barter this red one for my friends’ wonderful knitting… Now on to a funky orchid for my portfolio!

The Gerbera Challenge Phase 2

So here is my Gerbera Daisy Phase 2. It never ceases to amaze me just how many paint layers it takes to express a certain idea. The above close ups show my attempt at creating the fuzzy, busy texture of the middle of a Gerbera, and to do it to my satisfaction, it took at least 5 layers of paint. I think once the painting is done in its entirety, the middle will make more sense (or at least I hope! Lol). Can’t wait to start on those petals!

The Gerbera Challenge Phase 1

The Thunder Rolls

The Thunder Rolls

The Gerbera Sketch

The Gerbera Sketch

The winning pose

The winning pose

Well, as quickly as the weather changes in Alberta, so do our weekend plans. Camping is now scrapped for putting in raised garden beds in the back yard, and general R&R. Took the opportunity to do my Gerbera sketch. I always find it hard to convey the feeling of my art without the colorful swooshes of paint I so love. At the moment, it looks to me like a glass half full, just waiting for the rainbow finish of paint.

Speaking of weather, check out the cloud formation above my house. What you can’t see (or hear) in the photo is the loud flock of waxwings that settled in the trees behind my house. The sound of their chirping is deafening, rivaled only by the sound of thunder rolling in, heralding the start of (well almost) summer on the Prairies.