Crooked Creek Questionmark (oil on canvas 12 x 16 in.) Sold

On 15 August, on the north bank of Crooked Creek in the Caledonia Gorge PNA, I sat on a rock to look for a composition among the rocks in the Creek and an orange butterfly with scalloped, hook-tipped wings, frosted on the edges, sat down beside me, holding its wings open and pressed to the rock. I thought that this would make a nice painting - the dark red freckles in the smooth greenish-grey rock and the dark freckles on the orange wings. The white dot beside
the white comma on its hind wing gives it away as a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) - the first record of this species in this Protected Natural Area.

I moved a little and the butterfly took off. It's a very fast insect - darting over the creek and around birch boughs. I watched it, tracking it dizzily for a while until it settled on a stone, and I tried to approach it to see if I could collect it to paint. It was very shy, as has been my experience with all butterflies. Then I got my camera and began to follow it around, taking pictures and trying to get closer.

It seemed that our relationship as potential predator-prey began to change at one point - when I backed away and crouched down to get a lateral shot. The butterfly seemed to pose for me! Soon I found that I could get as close as I liked, and actually had my fill of reference photos - some nice macro shots! It returned frequently to lap up juices from a split in the shell of a marine crab leg, one of several tossed aside by visitors to the creek. But then I remembered that I wanted to do an oil of the creek, so I went to retrieve my paints and easel from back towards the bridge. The butterfly flirted with me then, swooping around in front of me and nearly bumped me!

 As I sat to paint the rocks and water, a Bumblebee alighted on one of my paintbrushes.

I have always wanted to paint insects on a large scale, and this is the first time I've followed through! A near-reflection of itself in a different pose seemed a good way to show both the inner and outer wing surfaces of the same butterfly. Since this painting came next in chronological sequence, I've delayed posting the others I have done at the Bio-blitz since I took the photos of my Question Mark. Since I've been painting it from the photos, I could drop it while I began and finished other more paintings. Two of these are "waiting in the wings" to be posted.

This painting is now in the collection of the New Brunswick Museum.


  1. hi Aleta,
    just love this painting of yours - and i love the commentary - just what i feel most paintings need. needless to say i am not a painter. Coming from Australia i don't know anything about the butterfly either, tho' it does look similar to some over here. i always feel so privileged to get up close to these lovely creatures. Rae Smith

  2. I love the balance of the composition and the unexpected crab legs. I thought I had enough 30 Years Later paintings, but maybe not . . . ;-)
    Mary Alice

  3. It was exciting to do something playful with a painting. This one has been spoken for by the New Brunswick Museum - but keep watching!

  4. I love this, Aleta. What an interesting composition with the crab legs, and I love the story of the butterfly accompanying you once you stopped tracking it. And a bonus bumblebee on a brush!

  5. This is a very neat painting, Aleta! I like seeing the butterfly "up close" and think it really worked well. I too have had interesting encounters with butterflies while photographing them - also odonates, bees and other insects. I think we have a tendency to assume that insects regard us solely with suspicion, but their behaviour sometimes suggests curiosity, aggression, and even opportunism, as in the case of dragonflies which perch on one's shoulder to watch for a unwary deerfly to bite an arm.

  6. Because the wings of butterflies have always been regarded by people as nature's art, I have tended to just leave the painting to Nature and not depict butterflies in my own art. But as I learn more about the lives of different kinds of butterflies I'm thinking of the animal now, not just the pretty wings. It's great to have had even a brief relationship with one, and gratifying to have made a painting of the experience!

  7. ...and for those who haven't twigged, this is a surrealist painting, since it's a mirror image of two views of the same Butterfly, sitting on the same Crab leg, surrealistically transported, itself, into a Decapod-free highland where only a very few Salmon parr in the creek remind one that one is only 10 km from the Bay of Fundy, where the Moon works so hard to bring the sea so far up the shore twice a day.


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