May Bee-ings All Live Happily and Safe: A Thangka of Bee Metamorphosis

May beings all live happily and safe, and may their hearts rejoice within themselves.

Whatever there may be with breath of life, whether they be frail or very strong,

Without exception, be they long or short or middle-sized, or be they big or small,

Or thick, or visible, or invisible, or whether they dwell far or they dwell near,

Those that are here, those seeking to exist—may beings all rejoice within themselves.

Let no one bring about another’s ruin, and not despise in any way or place,

Let them not wish each other any ill from provocation or from enmity.

The Buddha, Sutta Nipata

I was invited to participate in The Bee Show, a group exhibition. The gallery's goal in choosing the theme was to "put a spotlight on the disconcerting problem of worldwide dwindling bee populations and their connection to the larger issue of our environment." The show would "celebrate the bee as a symbol in art and craft." (Silverwood Gallery, Vashon, WA)

One subject that interests me is the gradual stages of growth and development of living things. So when I was invited to participate in this show on the subject of bees, I naturally looked into bee metamorphosis. Photographs of the various stages of bee metamorphosis were instantly exciting to me, in part, because I use translucent painting techniques in my work wherever possible, and bee eggs, larvae, and developing pupae all offer ample opportunities for painting translucently. 

Since pupae developing into bees change ever so gradually from cool, translucent white to warm, golden hues, painting bee metamorphosis offered an ideal opportunity for me to practice gradually introducing color into a technique I developed of using gouache (opaque watercolor) in which I stroke layer upon layer of white paint, from milky translucencies to white opacities, onto black paper, allowing the image to emerge gradually from darkness to light. In this painting technique, I do not mix various tones of grey with black and white; greys are instead dependent upon how much black paper shows through diluted white paint.

I sometimes begin my day with a yoga routine that was given to me by a yoga teacher. I start with a pranayama (a breathing practice) called Brahmari Breath or Bee Breath. After each inhale, one hums on the exhale. In my teacher’s instructions to me on how to practice Bee Breath, she wrote the words: “Be a Bee!” One day, after receiving The Bee Show invitation, the idea of making a painting on the subject of bee metamorphosis flowed in and out of my thoughts while I was practicing Bee Breath—and being a bee—feeling the hum of the sound of my own breath and voice vibrating inside my chest with each slow exhale.

Later on, I closed my eyes to meditate. I was sitting before a low table in my studio on which I had placed a small framed reproduction of a Tibetan painting, Thangka of Bhaishajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha.[1] "Thangkas are intended to serve as guides for contemplative experience and to focus the mind during meditation. [The Medicine Buddha] Thangka represents Buddha as the master of medicine and teacher of healers. As patron deity of Tibetan medicine, the Buddha is a healer of both body and spirit."[2]

After meditating, I opened my eyes and my gaze fell upon the Thangka of the Medicine Buddha. I perceived each of the tiny arched compartments containing deities as being something like the tiny hexagonal cells housing eggs, larvae, and pupae inside a beehive. The framework of gently curving arches in which the Buddha sits appeared to me, at that moment, something like the shape of a beehive. I contemplated how the fate of all life on earth is connected with the fate of bees—a fate which now seems uncertain. Bees pollinate flowers. Flowers provide beauty and fragrance. Fertilized flowers yield nourishing fruit, nuts, and vegetables. If bees languish, how will we survive? The products we collect from beehives—honey, pollen, and wax—have provided sweet sustenance, health, and light for human beings in cultures all around the globe for thousands and thousands of years. Thought after thought and image after image came to me. In this way, the Thangka of the Medicine Buddha guided me in the development of the concept for this piece.

It was wintertime when I was working on my painting May Bee-ings All Live Happily and Safe. When I went outside for walks in the woods near my house on those clear and cold winter days, everything around me was articulated with frost, and ice crystals pushed up out of the once muddy, now frozen, ground. But back in my warm studio, I drank hot tea sweetened with honey (produced by bees), and snacked on toasted English muffins spread with the taste of summer: homemade blackberry (pollinated by bees) jam. On my drawing board, in my painting, it really was summer again, with budding and blooming passion flowers being visited by buzzing bees, and it was mesmerizing, forming with my paintbrush the grid of arches and hexagrams to represent the inner structure of a beehive. The dazzling gold, copper, and silver metallic paints shimmered under my paintbrush as I worked—I felt like I was a bee, carefully and methodically painting each cell, and then filling the top row of hexagrams with rich, yellow pollen. And I felt like I was the Queen bee, placing each tiny egg, each larvae, each developing bee inside the rest of the dark hexagrams. I intend my Thangka of Bee Metamorphosis to be an expression of being a bee, being an artist, metamorphosing, and revering the lives of bees. 


     1. Thangka of Bhaishajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha, Tibet, 14th century, colors and gold on cotton, 104 x 82.7 cm., Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, The Art Institute of Chicago.

     2. The Art Institute of Chicago Poster Packet, Department of Education, Division of Student and Teacher Programs, The Elizabeth Stone Robson Teacher Resource Center. 

May Bee-ings All Live Happily and Safe: A Thangka of Bee Metamorphosis



8 3/4 x 7 1/16 inches