Friday, January 7, 2022

Insects in Textiles

 Insects have been used as adornment and recreated in textiles for centuries. I'm sharing a smattering here of some beautiful contemporary textile art of insects.

Check out the sensitive textile nature art of Dutch-born Australian artist Annemieke Mein here. She works in various media including textiles, and the textile art includes these beautiful insects:

Butterfly textile art by Annemieke Mein

Dragonfly textile art by Annemieke Mein

Butterfly textile art by Annemieke Mein
Textile insects by Annemieke Mein

Born in England and based in Kenya, artist Sophie Standing uses textile art to portray the wildlife she sees. I absolutely love this bee:

Sophie Standing Bee
Bee textile art by Sophie Standing

She does a lot of the African megafauna, but this dung beetle is charming:

Dung Beetle textile art by Sophie Standing
Dung Beetle textile art by Sophie Standing

Michele Carragher is a London costume embroidery for film and TV who has done extraordinary work (for shows like Game of Thrones). Some of her insect-themed work: 

The Head Artefact, Hairpin
The Head Artfact, Hairpin, (c) MCE 2021

The Hand Artefact, Gauntlet
The Hand Artefact, Gauntlet detail cicada motif, (c) MCE 2021

Cicada detail from Game of Thrones costume embroidery by MCE
Detail of Game of Thrones costume embroidery by Michele Carragher

You can find the delightful work of UK embroiderer Humayrah Bint Altaf on instagram and Etsy as The Olde Sewing Room. 

The Olde Sewing Room butterfly
She wished for wings, Papilio Demoleous Swallowtail Butterfly with Goldwork Embroidery

Goldwork scarab beetle by The Olde Sewing Shop
Goldwork scarab beetle with crystals and antique wires

Goldwork dragonfly by The Olde Sewing Shop
Madelaine (n.), something that triggers memories or nostalgia - gold work dragonfly embroidery

Friday, June 18, 2021

Historical physics and astronomy as .gifs


Galilei, Galileo, 1564-1642. Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti, 1613.
Galilei, Galileo, 1564-1642. Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti, 1613.

Put Galileo's 1612 drawings of sunspots together and what do you get (via Houghton Library, Harvard University)? 

Gifs taken from a 1929 film by Nobel laureate William Lawrence Bragg demonstrating his research into surface tension and spectroscopic analysis of light reflected from a soap film. (via the Royal Institution tumblr)

NASA imagery of Pioneer via the US National Archives on GIPHY

This work from the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology,  Celestial scenery, or, The Wonders of the planetary system displayed (1845) was written by Thomas Dick, a Scottish minister and science educator.
This work from the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology,  Celestial scenery, or, The Wonders of the planetary system displayed (1845) was written by Thomas Dick, a Scottish minister and science educator. (via the Smithsonian)

And of course Eadweard Muybridge:

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Mildred Thompson and the Art of the Cosmos

Mildred Thompson 'Magnetic Fields' 1990, oil on canvas, 70.5 x 150” (triptych)
Mildred Thompson 'Magnetic Fields' 1990, oil on canvas, 70.5 x 150” (triptych)

American artist Mildred Jean Thompson (March 12, 1936 – September 1, 2003) worked in many media, including printmaking, sculpture, painting, drawing and photography, as well as a writer. Critics see the influence of German Expressionism, West African textiles, Islamic architecture, spiritualism, metaphysics music and particularly jazz as her work grew increasingly abstract and improvisational. All these things are important, but her interest in physics and astronomy also shines through in the art about music and sound, to the later work specifically about mathematics, magnetic fields, radiation, particles and planetary systems. Thompson said, “My work in the visual arts is, and always has been, a continuous search for understanding. It is an expression of purpose and reflects a personal interpretation of the universe.” 

Mildred Thompsn, String Theory Series, 1999, acrylic on vinyl, 61.5 x 46”

Finding her ability to show as a Black woman in the US was hampered by racism and sexism, she spent a decade in Germany. She had studied at Art Academy of Hamburg and returned to live and work in the Rhineland town of Düren in the 60s. By the 70s her work had become completely abstract. From 1975 to 1986 she lived in Tampa, Washington D.C, Paris, before settling in Atlanta, where she wrote for the periodical Art Papers, taught at the Atlanta College of Art and worked as an artist for the rest of her life. Thompson explained, "My work has to do with the cosmos and how it affects us," to Essence magazine in 1990.

Mildred Thompson, Helio Centric III, 1993, intaglio vitreograph, 40" x 30" each
(image size 30" x 24")


For me the Helios Centric series evokes the swirling chaos of the nascent solar system, as masses spun in a disc around our sun, colliding and aggregating over time into a string of planets and smaller bodies. She did not make literal interpretations of sound, forces, space or any underlying physics of the universe but expressed these concepts imagination, emotion, colour and rhythm. There's a great deal of joy to be found in her work. She explored the universe from the smallest scales of her Wave Function, Radiation and String Theory series to the astronamical scale of our solar system and beyond and what she saw and expressed was quite beautiful.

Mildred Thompson
Radiation Explorations 8, 1994
Oil on canvas
87.5 x 110.1 inches (222.3 x 279.7 cm) overall

Wave Function III, 1993, intaglio vitreograph, 30" x 22.5" (image size 20" x 16")

References & Further Info

Deanna Sirlin, Melissa Messina and the Mildred Thompson Legacy Project, interview on The Arts Section

Mildred Thompson, on 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Owl, Pussycat, Scientific Illustration and Other Nonsense by Edward Lear

owl illustration by Edward Lear

Edward Lear's illustration of a cat, Private collection promised to the Ashmolean Museum

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 

In a beautiful pea-green boat, 

They took some honey, and plenty of money, 

Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 

The Owl looked up to the stars above, 

And sang to a small guitar, 

‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 

What a beautiful Pussy you are, 

You are, 

You are! 

What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

illustration of a lioness by Edward Lear

Poet Edward Lear (1812–1888), remembered affectionately for his delightful nonsense poems like 'The Owl and the Pussycat' or 'The Jumblies' is less well remembered for his exceptional, carefully observed scientific illustration but he was a talented and sought-after natural historian and illustrator. He believed in working from life, if not in the field, at least observing animals in zoos and menageries, rather than basing drawings of flora and fauna on museum collections of dead animals. He wrote “I am never pleased with a drawing unless I make it from life,” in 1831. He befriended zookepers to gain access and make measurements of animals; his work was praised by Charles Darwin and John James Audubon. He apprenticed with scientist Prideaux Selby, gaining confidence in his bird illustraions. His work shows a real understanding of how animals move and their 'personalities'which can be missing from work produced from drawing dead specimen. His first publication was a book about parrots, Illustrations of the Family Psittacidae or Parrots, published when he was only 19. It was the first book published about a family of birds. Then he worked for scientific illustrators John and Elizabeth Gould, helping him illustrate the birds of Europe and her illustrate birds for Darwin’s Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, as well as producing illustrations for William Buckland, Thomas Bell, and William Jardine. His careful observation and illustrations lead Lear to identify several new species and several are named after him like Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), a large blue Brazilian parrot.

Culminated Toucan, Ramphastos culminatus (mid 1830s).
Plate 1 in Lear's Monograph of the Family of Toucans.

A Stanley parakeet, one of 42 plates in Edward Lear's Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots. Biodiversity Heritage Library/CC BY 2.0

His nonsense poems came after, and in a sense, out of his scientific illustration. He was commissioned to illustrate the collection of parots in the menagerie of naturalist Edward Smith-Stanley, the 13th Earl of Derby at his home Knowsley Hall near Liverpool. He was treated like the help, and ate with the servants in the basement, but became a great hit with Lord Derby's grandchildren and began entertaining them with cartoons and limericks and this was how he began creating work for children. The Earl began inviting him to eat upstairs with guests and other nobles. He meanwhile gained a real reputation for his painting and even became the personal drawing instructor to Queen Victoria. So when he first began published Book of Nonsense, in 1846, he used a pen name to avoid tarnishing his reputation as a serious painter and scientific illustrator. He revealed his name only after his poems became a great success, a great surprise to him. This was a great boon to him as his ailing health and eyesight meant he could no longer work as a zoological draughtsman, and this new success came when he really needed it.

His scientific illustration and nonsense come together delightfully in his “Nonsense Botany” series, like this Piggiwiggia Pyramidalis! (Image courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University. MS Eng 797.1 [20])

Edward Lear's Cockatooca Superba from the Nonsense Botany series

Edward Lear's Crabbia Horrida from the Nonsense Botany series


Beth Marie Mole, Poetry and Pictures, circa 1830, The Scientist, November 2012.

GrrlScientist, Edward Lear featured at the Royal Society, The Guardian blog site, 2016 

Donna Ferguson, How Edward Lear's artistic genius led to the Owl and the Pussycat, The Guardian, Sunday, 31 January, 2021. 

Anna Lena Phillips, Serious Nonsense, American Scientist,.com

'Edward Lear', illusrtaion History resource from the Norman Rockwell Museum

Art, Nonsense and Science, The Biologist 64(6) p24-27

Friday, May 21, 2021

Make like a cicada and scream! Cicadas in and as art.

I have been following the prompts for #mathyear, created by mathematician/illustrator Constanza Rojas-Molina and computer scientist/illustrator Marlene Knoche. For the "prime number" prompt earlier this year I was reminded of how cicada lifecycles famous employ prime numbers. 

Prime cicadas by Ele Willoughby
'Prime cicadas' by Ele Willoughby


I printed the first 25 natural numbers with primes in green and non-prime numbers in pink with a cicada. Periodic cicadas lay dormant for years. Then in the spring of either their 13th or 17th year, mature cicada nymphs emerge from underground synchronously, in huge numbers and the males fill the air with their droning chorus. It’s been postulated that lifecycles in prime numbers of years have an evolutionary advantage. It may be predator avoidance by making it impossible for predators to boom at a divisor of their lifecycles. Or, it may be that prime number lifecycles prevents hybridization between broods (who emerge in different years), and that this was particularly important during the Pleistocene glacial stadia when there was heavy selection pressure. We've just now seeing the Great Eastern Brood (Brood X) emerge this year! It has the greatest range and concentration of any of the 17-year cicadas.⁠ ⁠ (A small confession: the specific cicada in my print is a dog-day cicada, an annual cicada and not a member of the Magicicada genus of 13 and 17-year periodical cicadas. I’m taking a little artistic/entomological liberty.)⁠

 I've been seeing that this amazing or overwhelming event, and the beauty of cicadas, has definitely inspired many artists, so I thought I would do a round up of some I enjoy. 

Cicadas Print by Rachel E Lettering on Etsy

Cicada oil painting on wallpaper by Emily Uchytil. Archival prints available here.

Angels diptych by Chloe Ashton

Eugene Alain (E.A.) Seguy’s insect illustrations from the 1920s

Kitagawa Utamaro,
Grasshopper and Cicada, 1788

Cicada, late 19th to early 20th century China, via the Met

Otani Haruhiko, 1941, Stylized Cicada Suiteki

There are also, of course, artists inspired to make art from cicadas and their sloughed off carapaces. Some Japanese high schoolers even built action figures and Godzilla from cicadas shells.


Defense mechanism by Adrienne DeLoe


“Velo de luto (Mourning veil)” (2020), magicicada wings, sewn with hair, 32 x 47 x 2 inches. By Selva Aparicio, Photo by Robert Chase Heishman.


Monday, April 26, 2021

Anatomical heart clutches

In this strange and challenging time personally and globally, I realized that I have sadly neglected magpie&whiskeyjack. So, I have resolved to make several smaller, simpler posts, since I would prefer to share than to disappear. So, without further ado, I would like to direct your attention to the gorgeous anatomical heart clutch worn by Celeste Wait on last night's Oscar's red carpet.

Celeste Wait in Gucci arrives on the Oscar's 2021 red carpet (photos: Getty Images, via here)

Celeste Wait's outfit and clutch are from the Gucci Fall 2021 Aria Collection. The collection also includes a silver and yellow coloured rhinestone versions of the clutch and a turquoise enamel version with text.

Detail of Gucci Fall 2021 clutch, with silver anatomical heart (image by Gucci via

Detail of Gucci Fall 2021 clutch, with yellow anatomical heart (image by Gucci via

Detail of Gucci Fall 2021 clutch, with anatomical heart in red, violet, blue and gold (image by Gucci via  
Detail of Gucci Fall 2021 clutch, with anatomical heart in turquoise with text "SAVOY club" in black (image by Gucci via 

According to NSS maganize these are not merely clutches, but minaudières, a sort of small rigid container made of soft material origianlly used as makeup cases. So, I am amused to note these are in fact, heart-shaped boxes, which in the Nirvana song was an allusion to another organ.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

May the Fourth Be With You

Cut Paper Darth Vader iconography artwork by London-based Lobulo Design

Some Star Wars themed art for you today.

One of a series of ukiyo-e style Star Wars themed woodblock prints made for Rhythm Force
Jan van Genderen's Star Wars travel poster for Alderaan

Jan van Genderen's Star Wars travel poster for Cloud City

Jan van Genderen's Star Wars travel poster for Endor

Oliver Jeffers' Darth Vader Phrenology head created for the Vader Project


Related Posts with Thumbnails