Friday, April 28, 2017

Of Birthdays and Butterflies, Part 2

And now to begin at the beginning of my birthday project (a weekly 5-inch square on a tan/brown background somehow related to my insect investigations).

Week 1
Ever since I discovered a Brown-hooded Owlet caterpillar on the golden rod in our field in PA, I wanted to translate those colors onto fabric. The moth it becomes is basically all tans and rusty browns but the caterpillar has visual impact, as the art jurors would say:

 And here is my first attempt at translating the insect world into fabric and thread:

And whether or not this piece succeeds artistically, it did accomplish another of my goals--to spend some time carefully looking at a creature and then translate my discoveries into something tactile, using my hands as a way into my aging brain.

Week 2
Displaying the end result of this week is an exercise in humility.  The Horned Spanworm has quite a distinctively shaped caterpillar but is a very quietly colored moth that got more beautiful the more time I spent with it.

Being short on designing time, I decided to just do a sort of crop of the wing. I wanted to include part of that brown splotch at the bottom that looks like the wings were dipped in mud, a contrast to the web-like patterning that becomes like some ancient writing moving from deep brown to a ruddy gold that almost shimmers in the background.

Perhaps I will like this better in a few weeks.

Week 3
So I moved on to another moth that has a hidden surprise as so many moths do. The Modest Sphinx--I love the names (here the juxtaposition of a mythical beast known for its strength and even viciousness with modesty is a surprise in itself)--is a somewhat unassuming gray moth until it spreads its upper wings a bit revealing regal purple under wings.

Since my goal had never been to reproduce the insects realistically and I felt the problems with the Horned Spanworm may have been from my following the photo too closely, I moved toward the abstract, toward trying to capture an element I found significant. 

Week 4
While I was working on the Modest Sphinx, I happened upon what looked like a lightning bug on the back of our house that puzzled me as it seemed to have arrived much too early. Since it was content not to move around much in the cold temperature of the day, I got to look very closely at it. Later I identified it as a Winter Firefly, a species of firefly that is around all year, is active in the daytime and does not flash. But what interested me most was its tiny feet that ended in what looked like heart- shaped toes. Sure enough those heart shapes are one of the characteristics of fireflies.

But all this investigating got me interested in insect legs and the proper names of each part that end up being similar to ours. The largest and often strongest part at the top is the femur, the lower leg that is sometimes the longest is the tibia, and the "foot" is the tarsus, made up of varying numbers (usually 4 or 5--but the numbers and their variations between the three pairs of legs is significant in identification) of tarsomeres, the last of which is heart-shaped in fireflies. And I could go on--the top of the leg attaches to a hip joint called a trochanter which fits into the coxa.

The legs can be the ickiest part of insects for insect avoiders so I wanted to de-icky them somehow.

And there is a month of my life laid out in the space of a blog post. Thanks for sharing the month with me!

I'm linking this with Off the Wall Fridays--Take a look!


  1. I can see why you were intrigued by this caterpillar. He is beautiful and I think you have captured his essence very well.

  2. Great interpretations of such beautiful, visceral moths. Love the approach and especially the scientific inquiry. Brilliant! Susan