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

One subject that interests me is metamorphosis—the gradual stages of growth and development of various living things. So when I was invited to participate in The Bee Show, a group exhibition intending to “put a spotlight on the disconcerting problem of worldwide bee populations and their connection to the larger issue of our environment,” bee metamorphosis instantly came to mind.

The various transformational stages in the life cycle of bees are visually exciting to me, in part because I use translucent painting techniques in my work, whenever possible. Bee eggs, larvae, and developing pupae all offer ample opportunities for painting translucently. To make this painting I employed a technique for using gouache (opaque watercolor) by stroking 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. Pupae developing into bees change ever so gradually from cool white to warm, golden hues.

I often begin my day with a yoga routine that was given to me by a yoga teacher, starting with a pranayama (breathing practice) called Brahmari Breath or Bee Breath. After each inhale, one hums on the exhale. In my teacher’s instructions to me for 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. Then I closed my eyes to meditate. I was sitting before a low table in my studio upon which I had placed a small framed reproduction from the Chicago Art Institute of a Tibetan painting, Thangka of Bhaishajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha. “Thangkas are intended to serve as guides for contemplative experience and to focus the mind during meditation. [The Chicago Art Institute Thangka] represents Buddha as the master of medicine and teacher of healers. As the patron deity of Tibetan medicine, the Buddha is a healer of both body and spirit.”

After meditating, I opened my eyes and my gaze fell upon the Medicine Buddha thangka. 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, to be 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 (candlelight) for human beings in cultures all around the globe for 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.

The weather was unusually cold when I was working on May Bee-ings All Live Happily and Safe. When I went outside for walks in the woods near my house, everything around me was articulated with frost, and ice crystals pushed up out of the once muddy, now frozen, ground. 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. But on my drawing board, in my painting, it appeared to be summer again, with images of budding and blooming passion flowers being visited by buzzing bees. Forming the grid of arches and hexagrams to represent the inner structure of a beehive was mesmerizing. Dazzling gold, copper, and silver metallic paints shimmered under my paintbrush as I worked, and I felt like I really was a bee, carefully and methodically painting each cell. I filled the top row of hexagrams with rich, yellow pollen, and then I was the Queen bee, as I carefully placed each tiny egg, or developing bee inside the dark hexagrams. I intend my Thangka of Bee Metamorphosis to be an expression of being a bee, being an artist, metamorphosing, and revering life.

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

© Rebecca Dvorin Strong

8 x 10 inch archival prints on Hahnemuhle German Etching paper $45.00.

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



8 3/4 x 7 1/16 inches


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

Display including a hand-painted color chart, painting palettes, and color samples at the exhibition Rebecca Dvorin Strong: Paintings

February 2 - February 28, 2024

Elisabeth C. Miller Library

University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture

Seattle Washington