Last First Friday I overheard a conversation outside my studio door.
"Is there anything else on the second floor?"
"Yeah, that butterfly lady."
I've been called worse.
Almost ten years ago, I was a member of CORE New Art, had a show coming up soon, and had absolutely no new work. When in this situation most artists probably just go to the library and look at books, or hit a museum for inspiration.
I buy things. I surf the internet looking for cool things and then I buy them. Maybe it's a new tool. Maybe it's new materials. But that night, almost ten years ago, I found a website in Australia that sold butterflies. I was amazed by the variety of colors, shapes and patterns. I carefully selected $100 worth of bugs, then painfully put $60 of them back. I waited three weeks until the box of dead bugs appeared in my mailbox. And then.... nothing. I still had no ideas, and now I had no ideas and a box of dead bugs.
I had been working with scanography for several years at that point, so I ended up throwing them on my scanner. I'm not real sure what happened next, but I do remember fighting with Photoshop for a long time, until I had something that was a somewhat symmetrical mandala made from a butterfly wing.
This is one of my favorite moments as an artist. You've just made something. It's raw, and ugly and full of imperfections, but you know there's something there. You're not sure what it is, but you know you need to find out what it is, you need to resolve it. For the next several months I left work as early as possible to come home and work on these butterfly mandalas. I had little to no experience doing more complicated work in Photoshop, so creating a mandala involved coming up with an idea, then researching how to make the Photoshop do what I wanted. It also involved a lot of waiting, as my computer was about ten years old (this was 2009), and each move or layer took about five minutes to render.
I had my show at CORE that summer, sold over half the pieces on the wall and a handful of prints. And the bugs went back into their box on my bookshelf and I forgot about them.
I've been working with these bugs a lot over the last year, and have even placed two more orders for dead bugs from Australia. And now I'm that 'butterfly lady'. Have I pigeonholed myself? Maybe. Am I working with one of them most over used symbols in art? Definitely. Am I still finding ways to make them 'new' and 'exciting'? You decide. I'll be showing two new mandalas made of butterfly wings this month at my studio. Hope to see you there.