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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Shipman

A Deeper Dive about Plant Folklore and Herbal Medicine in my Paintings

My current paintings reflect my own fascination with herbal medicine and our ancestors' relationship to wild plants and cultivated herbs for health, remedies, folklore, and magic. In this first blog post about this aspect of my work, I'm going to look more deeply into one of my newer paintings.

Loose mandala of medicinal herbs with a black and white leopard moth in the center - oil painting, loose mandala of herbs, elderberry, rosehips, rose petals, yarrow, ginger, and reishi
A Healing Winter Tea, 24" x 24", oil on canvas with oil on paper and antique photo collage

My inspiration for this painting came from a recipe I found online (here) when I went looking for ideas for my healing tea painting series. I gathered the ingredients and made the tea, sweetening it with raw honey from my husband's bee hives. It turned out it makes a tea that is a deep earthy red that looks pretty in my antique tea cup.

Drinking any hot liquid makes me feel calmer, warmer, and accepting of life as it is at the moment. I love that the herbs in this tea have the wisdom of generations of our ancestors to attest to its healing qualities.

The way I worked on this painting was to lay down a background first, in this case a light turquoise with an amber center. Once that was dry enough to paint over without muddying the colors I start layering in the plants. (Here is an Instagram reel with a hint of that happening.)

I need to look at an example of the things I paint. So for visual reference on this series, I look at 19th century botanical illustrations and pictures from seed catalogs to make sure I'm getting things right.

It usually takes about one studio day (for me 6-8 hours) to paint 3 - 4 examples of each kind of herb on a painting this size.

Once the plants are painted I start adding text; insights about the medicinal qualities of each plant and the folklore with magical uses, as well as songs and poems.

Next I create some pollinators to live with the plants. Always there are honey bees, because I see them all summer flourishing in our gardens. I also add other creatures for their beauty, here I included a Leopard Moth. These I paint separately on paper and I collage them in by stitching them into the canvas.

I add antique photos to a lot of my paintings because I like to think about the plants in our gardens and the wild ones too. I'm enchanted by the idea that they remember us. That they have a concept of the people who walked there before and cared for that piece of land.

I have just a few more tidbits to share about this painting. I created a PDF download of the recipe that inspired me. It is available along with a year's worth of other free downloads I have designed on a hidden page of my website. Sign up for my once a month e-newsletter for access to them all.

This painting is on the wall at Peter Haven's Restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont until the beginning of March. But it is available to buy now. Follow the link to visit it and other paintings available on my website.

Thank you so much for your interest! Please let me know if you have questions about my work or my process. I'd be delighted to talk more. ~ Margaret

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