Western Sunflower


Melissa Blue Fine Art

Have I told you my Swink & Wilhelm story? It begins in a wonderful little bookstore in a nature center in Peoria. This was the gathering place for all of us volunteers embarking on a new venture~habitat restoration! Professional ecologists had their offices upstairs, and they would come down to mingle with us. It felt wonderful to be included, and treated as colleagues.

One day there was a buzz about a book that had “finally” come in. “Plants of the Chicagoland Region”, by Swink & Wilhelm. I forget which edition. Wow! I thought. I love books…but this thing is a monster. If I were of a technical nature I would now go measure and weigh it but I’m an artist so I’ll just say it is about 4″ thick, weighs a ton and costs a fortune. When I peeked inside its cover, I confess I was disappointed. No pictures! Keys, and brief descriptions~frankly, it looked indecipherable to me. I put it out of my mind at the time, little suspecting what a talisman it would become for me. Back then our focus was mostly on habitat, and we picked up plant ID on the fly but it wasn’t our focus.

A move to the northeastern corner of Illinois and a botany class later, things changed. Our wonderful instructor, and my dear friend, would exhort us to read our Swink & Wilhelm. We all laughed. It was a joke, right? And yet, something was making my fingers tingle. I looked again, and realized, it is like a puzzle, and she’d given us the first few pieces. For each plant, the authors gave a list of companions to look for. If you know one or two, you can begin to intuit another. And another. Suddenly it felt like it does when a camera lens pops things into focus. I could “see” the plant community a plant lived in, the soil conditions, etc, just by what was listed to grow with it. It was like a giant orienteering game! That book has been directing my footsteps ever since. I find the focus on my inner camera lens switching from wide-angle to take in the lay of the land to close-up to count stamens. Forest for the trees, flowers for the prairie, and back again. Kind of dizzying but exciting, too.

Journeys encompass more than one dimension, of course. You are already familiar with my struggle with myself over whether I am more scientist or more artist. It is a real relief to be able to look in the mirror and accept yourself for exactly what you are. And know that it is enough. While I’ve hiked over dunes and under oaks and splashed through wetlands, looking for the “next” one to draw, I’ve learned a great deal about myself as well.

But I can’t wait to see what the next plant will be….

Bird in an Autumnal Sumac



I haven’t made up my mind about this one. It is in oil. The new Earth Paints are a joy to work with but of course there are ways in which they behave much differently than my acrylics. I think this doesn’t match my desire to paint wild abstract-y interpretations but I really wanted to highlight the gorgeous shades of red of sumac leaves in the fall. Plus, I couldn’t resist the little bird🙂  I’d love to hear what you think!

Autumn in the Woods

autumn-in-grant-woodsMelissa Blue Fine Art

Grant Woods was the first forest preserve I became aware of. It has been in the capable hands of its stewards Joyce and George Proper for quite some time now. It is filled with surprises and when Joyce takes me for a walk I am always in for a treat, no matter the season. We came across this spot last fall, a lovely little savanna at the edge between an interesting meadow and a forest. The jewel like colors make my heart sing~ I hope they lift your heart as well.

Pickerel Weed


Melissa Blue Fine Art 

Pickerel Weed is such a wonderful plant, standing tall right at the edge of water where I like to hang out. Frogs lurk here, snakes sometimes slither, herons stalk while dragonflies hang in the air taunting us mud-bound creatures.

For years I have been playing it safe with my paintings. The occasional expert would look quizzically at me and ask why I was holding back. I would pretend I didn’t know what they meant. However, the more I enjoy all of the amazing blogs I find here, the more I realize that simply recording the wonders and beauty of nature can be done far better with a camera. Oh, there is photorealism, of course, but I always found that a bit pretentious. And so, it is time to take a deep breath and jump into whatever pools of creativity my heart and paintbrush can take me to. My best college professor would stand at our elbow, urging us to push ourselves, and then push further. At the time I felt it was all I could do to generate a good composition and overall image. Every canvas was like leaping into a deep lake and swimming across. I’d get to the far shore panting, relieved just to have made it, let alone worried about the style with which I got there. You don’t want to know how long ago that was! Well, you might but I don’t want to tell you🙂 At this point I feel I may well drown, or retreat back to the muddy shore I’m so fond of. But I’m going to try being brave, pushing myself into expressing whatever it is that my soul wants to express about the natural world. It’s wordless, so don’t ask me to explain!

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~ Anais Nin



Red-Spotted Purple


With a title like that I bet you were expecting red spots, weren’t you? Well, they are there, but hidden on the underside of this large butterfly’s wings.  I’ll try to photograph one with his wings raised so I can show you how pretty they are. Hopefully you  share my delight in this side of things as well. I love this dramatic black butterfly with its electric blue markings. The larval food for these butterflies is the black cherry tree. I’ve never seen an adult get nectar on flowers~I only ever see them hanging out on trees. I suspect they get sustenance from sap, as do Mourning Cloaks and a few others.

I started this painting 2 weeks ago, but have been busy with a commission, so I finished him today while sitting outside for a classic car show going on in our town. I had no delusions that anyone there for the cars would be interested in paintings of butterflies, but  I did think it would be fun to sit out there and admire the classics and it was. We had a dragster (Do I have that right?) start up to drive away~my, was it loud! Most impressive.

Yesterday I attended a meeting for a new artist coalition forming in my little town. This is exciting news. We’ll have painters, a circus performer, jazz musicians, and authors. How cool is that? I never thought Grayslake was capable of such coolness🙂

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent

Melissa Blue Fine Art

These little butterflies are quite zippy and skittish. I see them fluttering low along the trail and moving restlessly from flower to flower. When I began monitoring, in Peoria, they were quite plentiful but up here they aren’t as numerous. It is interesting how digital photos can see right through layers of paint~this week’s image is a case in point and I have to say, a bit disappointing. I almost didn’t post it but then I didn’t want to lose my momentum of a a butterfly a week🙂




Eastern-tailed Blue

EAstern-tailed blueMelissa Blue Fine Art

I’m partial to these small powdery blue butterflies. I saw this little fellow along the trail at St. Francis Wood in Libertyville. They are similar to spring azures, but much easier to study as they will settle down for you. Azures are very skittish, in my experience, and difficult to sneak up on.

The little tails off the hind wing resemble antennae. In fact, when at rest or nectaring, eastern-tailed blues rub their hind wings together so it looks like the “antennae” are moving. This confuses predators long enough to allow the insect to escape in the other direction. It seems to work for them, as I have often seen them with a beak-shaped holes in their wings where the tails used to be. I’ve painted this one a bit larger than life.