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The Wild Color of Insects

Born and raised in New Orleans, Cynthia Padilla was an adult before she told her mother about the way a grasshopper tastes like spearmint. 展e had a fence full of spearmint back then." She caught them and popped them right in her mouth. 的 thought grasshoppers tasted like wiggly spearmint. The only reason I ate a bug was because it tasted like chewing gum."


Padilla started illustrating insects in 1979 while an art major living in southern California. 的 would go out to a nature center, just sketching. Two guys, botanists, asked me to draw the bugs there. I made them beautiful. They told me they had to be to scale," she says.

的 try to do mine to scale and all the colors match to what the insect is. My personality has to be in it also. Generally when I see something done scientifically correct, they leave me cold. I might admire the skill, but I don't feel dedicated at all to save the grasshopper. I want my work to touch the ordinary person, not just the scientists and botanists who need the information." She draws on French paper, using acrylic guache and colored pencil for tight detail.

Padilla earned a BA from California State University, Los Angeles, and studied surface design at UCLA. After college, she got a job as a textile designer. 溺ost patterns are florals - it was the only way I could paint flowers and bugs and make a living. No matter what the trend was, there was never a down time for florals in the textile business."

She painted 300 originals a year and sold them to a mill or fabric house. They transferred the paintings on fabric and made yardage out of it. 的 knew what I was doing because those dog-gone botanists taught me how to draw a rose. They gave me the training. How would I know that because of where I volunteered, it turned me around and sent me on my path for life?"

Her eye for color brought her further into the fashion industry as a 田olorist" for retailers with a color direction. 典hey wanted everything in their line to look good in the store. I can see a color and turn my head and remember what that color looked like. If you give me an apple I can mix colors together to look just like that apple."

After moving to Dallas with her husband, she found there were not many places to sell her art. 的 got out of the edge that I needed to keep up with the trends. Texas was not on top of things enough, but I learned people here would love the high-brow aspect of botanical art. I knew they collected antique maps and had big expensive books on botanical art on their coffee tables."

Padilla has been teaching 典extile Design and Naturalist Illustration" at Southern Methodist University for eight years and in public gardens, arboreta, museums, garden clubs, universities, art centers, and plant societies all over the world.

的 don't paint for myself. I have to have something coming up - like in Cape Cod. Now I'm in full gear painting bugs, flowers, and seashells. I have to start researching what dragonflies visit Cape Cod." When people buy art to decorate their homes, she says, they are more inclined to buy the familiar. 的 have to become an expert in the flora and fauna of places that I visit. I'm very commercial. I only paint what I'm going to sell."

At exhibitions, she groups her paintings to give the viewer a sense of scale. 的 want people to see the whole group of things and how they relate outdoors. I get weepy. I say, 'Oh my god, this is a mushroom and this is smaller than a mushroom.' You have to see things all together to get that sense of awe. I've got so many bright beetles.

Padilla's survival side does not interfere with the artist within. 的 want to see the big picture with rolling hills and sweeping vistas and I also want to jump off the boulder and crack open a seedpod and see what falls out. I'm in awe of everything. People love to take my classes because I'm so enthusiastic I'm like a dog-gone preacher."

But that's not all. Padilla dreams about writing a book on illustrating nature, and beyond while she sells, teaches, and exhibits around the country.

的'm thinking, 'Man, I probably could use a good old grasshopper.' I wonder what they taste like these days. I have chocolate mint growing."

* All images Courtesy of Cynthia Padilla.





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published February 15, 2006

Photos to enlarge


Grasshopper


Gulf Fritillaria


Spotted feather


Sketching on location in CT


Warbler


Sketching in New Mexico


Grouping


Slipper Orchid

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