Your recent work features enchanting illustrations of moth and butterfly fairies inspired by vintage scientific illustrations. Can you share more about your artistic process and what drew you to combine natural science, art, and fantasy in this way?
When I was young, I wanted to be a scientist. I loved reading about how the world around us worked. I would look at pictures in encyclopedias, catch bugs to observe their behaviors, and was awed at the workings of nature. I’d often drag my parents to the dinosaur exhibits at the Natural History Museum. I was a total dinosaur kid. I think I’m drawn to the infinite variation within nature – there’s endless creativity there. You can look at a butterfly and marvel at the perfection of the wings, and then under the gaze of a microscope be struck by the tiny, iridescent scales that compose those same wings. I remember learning that the color is an effect that comes from the structural shape of the scales, and not from their color! It’s so incredible! Organisms are so complex. I like to paint fantasy, but going back to the natural world gives endless inspiration for more imaginative works.
You mentioned that working on the fairy prints has been one of your most joyous experiences. What specific aspects of the creative process brought you the most joy, and how did this project stand out from others you’ve worked on?
It’s fun because it feels so much like I’m going on a quest for discovery. These fairies, they’re based on real creatures that I can study. The reference-gathering itself is so much fun! There’s so many different kinds of insects out there – so many WEIRD ones! Those ones are my favorite, because I’m reminded of how surprising and magical the world we’re living in is. Being drawn to details, I strive to get the patterns accurate to the original insect, even though I’m painting something that doesn’t exist in real life. I think it fulfills my inner child’s wish to be a scientist. It also feels so playful to me, as these fairies aren’t serious or pretentious at all. I struggle a lot with the creative process about making something look “perfect”, but that kills creativity. The fairies remind me to free myself from that burden, and to have fun again.
How did vintage scientific illustrations of butterflies influence your artistic approach, and were there specific scientific illustrators or styles that inspired you during the creation of these prints?
I wanted to paint something that could have been an encyclopedia color plate illustration of various fairy species. I looked at the butterfly/moth encyclopedia illustrations of Adolphe Millot frequently, mainly for ideas on the composition. I enjoy how he organized the insects in his paintings in this almost symmetrical way.
You express a sense of connection with the fairies, feeling like they’re fluttering around your head, urging their story to be told. Could you provide insights into the narrative or story you envision for these moth fairies?
I was lying in bed one day, and the phantasms that played in my head were of a tiny fairy being devoured by a towering black dragon. I was struck by the fairytale imagery. I realized that these fairies need to be freed. Fairies symbolize a lot, but I think for most people they represent purity, playfulness, and the inner child in us. They’re delicate and fragile, but we appreciate them for the joy that they bring us. To sensitive beings such as fairies, the world can seem very threatening. I think we need the lesson from the fae more than ever: to be able to embrace that sweet nature that we hold deep down within us, and to share that vulnerable aspect with others. I’m not sure what form it would take, but I have ideas bubbling in my head of a story I hope to tell one day of fairies being able to thrive and find happiness in the face of a cruel world.
You’ve specified that the moth fairies are based on real moths like Nuttal’s Sheep moth, Giant Leopard moth, and Zaddachi’s Emperor moth. How did you select these particular species, and what significance do they hold in the context of your illustrations?
Most of the moths I chose are saturniidae (silk moths), I found so many to be extravagant, yet recognizable. It was also important for them to have a somewhat limited color palette since I wanted most of them to be warm and neutral colors, so that the central green fairy could really stand out. I wanted a moon moth to be the “queen” of the moth fairies and a yellow butterfly of some sort to be the “queen” of the butterfly fairies, to really cement the night/day dichotomy.
As an artist, what themes or subjects are you eager to explore in the future, and are there any new challenges or techniques you are excited to embrace in your upcoming projects?
Right now I still feel excited about painting fae while studying nature more! I’ve been exploring other species of insects to take inspiration from as my fascination with them is still there. I want to keep pushing the fairy theme for now, until I feel that I’ve freed them all from my mind. Who knows what I’ll find then!
For aspiring illustrators who admire your work, what advice would you offer them as they embark on their creative journeys, especially those interested in blending scientific elements with fantasy in their art?
I feel like creating for yourself, and measuring your progress in terms of who you were yesterday versus some other artist is always healthy advice. Making art is for everyone, I believe we all have that desire to create in us, and maybe to harness that fairy-like vulnerability and not be afraid to show the world what you make. As far as blending science with fantasy, just going out in nature and slowing down as you observe it all – the child in you will easily find the magic.