Thistledown Studio : Nan Wilson : Rochester, NY






| new works | shows | making of a life cycle painting | newsletter

The Making of a Butterfly Life Cycle

To me, painting just an adult butterfly is like presenting only the last act of a play. Researching a butterfly's complete lifecycle is about piecing together a puzzle. I chase after elusive pieces -- observing in the wild, connecting with a network of naturalists, combing through libraries. Every butterfly has a host plant to which it is connected and must have access in order to develop

These plants too have lifecycles, and observing them is often the starting point of what I do. Only when I have each of six elements in place -- habitat, host plant, egg, caterpillar, chrysalllis and adult, can I finally begin painting. We’re talking months, even years in elapsed time.

I start out by painting a loose abstract background--setting the composition and palette of colors I will use in the rest of the work. I then overlay, element by element, the host plant and lifecycle of the butterfly.

I carefully pick perspectives to bring out distinctions between butterflies in flight, and at rest; males versus females; and so on. I regularly include small hidden elements that make each lifecycle distinctly interesting. Some people have asked why there is not a subject at the center of my works. This is by design--I am painting a cycle and creating a path which the eye follows around the painting, seeing the growth and change, the metamorphosis,along the way.

Some butterflies I’ve raised from egg to adult--detailing their development through close-up digital photography. An example is the Common Mestra, a small tropical brushfoot butterfly with about a two inch wingspan. It’s found in South Texas and Mexico. Known also as the “Noseburn Wanderer” because it strays northward, its caterpillar feeds on the noseburn plant. The tiny white hairs on the stems and leaves of this plant are irritating so the caterpillar is somewhat protected from predators, but not from gardeners who pull it out because it is irritating to the skin -- and can get overgrown and unsightly. A discriminating eye however might see its small but beautiful white blossom - and peering through a handlens, a tiny caterpillar or miniscule egg on a leaf.

With the help of digital photography,we can see the entire miracle from the egg to the emerging butterfly, literally unfolding and coming to life as a winged adult.

The last image is of my life cycle. My aim is to attract people to natural subjects through my art, and to share interesting information about both the creatures and the host plants that sustain them.

Common Mesta (Mestra amymone)

what's new? | new works | shows | newsletter

Home | About the Artist | Galleries | Mat Colors | Shows | News | Contact

Upstate, New York

Adirondack Mountains