“Monarch Migration” Painting Story and Process Photos

Over the course of this month, we will be sharing some of the stories behind the paintings and songs in the Becoming series.
You can purchase prints of this piece here.

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“Monarch Migration”
15X30  mixed media on canvas

The farm I grew up on is in the heart of the prairie in Kansas. It is a 30 minute drive on dusty dirt roads to the nearest civilization. My parents apple orchard is surrounded by 180 acres of native prairie and forests. Their driveway is over a mile long – and because the county maintenance trucks won’t maintain driveways, it was usually in pretty rough shape – horribly muddy in the spring, treacherously icy in the winter, and full of sand pits in the summer. Our mailbox was at the end of the driveway and a daily ritual was to walk and get the mail.

On this particular day in September, when I was probably about 8 years old, I remember turning the corner at the mailbox and feeling like something was different. There was a quivering energy to the air. I looked up and noticed hundreds of monarchs in the sky above me. And then, as I looked closer at the trees lining the roadway, I gasped, because what I had first thought were leaves fluttering in the wind were actually wings. Thousands and thousands of wings. I had happened upon the migration of monarchs.

I’m not sure why the butterflies ended up in KS that year. It’s out of their normal migratory path. After I left home, my parents had them come through one other year. But I have never seen them again.

We are losing monarchs. There are less and less every year. Their main source of food, the milkweed plant is being displaced by fields and housing and mowers. The older I get, the more I am becoming aware of how fleeting everything around us is. How delicate the beauty of these tiny wings. How necessary it is to pause and notice the flutters hidden in the branches.

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Featured Artist: Chris McLean

Chris McLean

Bio: Christopher McLean is an artist who works mostly in oil, ink and mixed media. His work incorporates a precise technical style that is influenced by Art Nouveau and Pop Surrealism.  The goal of McLean’s art work is to create images that are captivating from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, but also contain much to ponder in terms of content. He sees his art as successful when it comes together to create a complete visual identity without presenting his subjects as closed. Perhaps most importantly, while some very specific ideas can be culled from his images, McLean is careful to leave a generous depth of space for the viewer to explore and develop their own interpretations of the work, resulting in art that can be viewed again and again, always offering some fresh insight.

More of Christopher McLeans art work can be seen and bought at

From Chris:

Painting My Tiger Gold

I can tell you what went into making this piece of art for the September almanac.  I could tell you that I painted it on reclaimed wood from a platform, which sat at a home that housed all of my hopes and dreams.  I could tell you that at the time of its commission, I knew that the meaning would be quite significant.  I could tell you that as I stained each stripe and carefully drew each line, that I was in the process of figuring out how to become just what the theme was meant to be.  Because of this, it is easier to explain this piece by sharing my journey while creating it.

This year has been the most difficult time of my life.  It is almost impossible for me to figure out how I have been able to get through what I already have, but almost equally impossible to figure out how to walk down the road ahead.  For a while, I thought that the answer was being tough.

I tried looking tough, keeping an even demeanor, acting as though nothing was wrong.  If anything gets in my way, I will simply be…tougher. Toughness, as I came to know it, was rooted in my fears. I was scared of what was happening to me, to my life.  Hurt by the things I could not control. Moving into unknown territories and having everything I had loved and become familiar with evaporate.  I was, I am scared.

In this dark place I found out that this heavy armor of toughness was not going to help me find my way, and in fact, it was wearing me down.  I had placed myself on mute and coasted across the landscape afraid of company. I had begun to rely on being something that would never allow me to heal.

You see, while I wanted to hurt, trying to simply be tough forced me to extinguish my emotions, my problems, my mistakes and my pain. Tough wanted me to be scared, because the second I let my guard down, well, that is when life gets you…or so I believed.  Tough wanted me to be scared and all the while brave let me be scared and I learned the difference.

Here’s the truth about bravery.  It makes you want to throw up. It makes you cry. It makes you lose sleep and weight.  Being brave means you are scared. It’s ugly and messy and not at all heroic looking when it’s happening. Most of all, brave wants you to heal past pain and find joy again. It helps you reach each problem, turn it into a puzzle and with a deep breath, solve it.

In the end, this golden tiger represents my fears, my doubts, my restless nights and it was while I was painting it that I was learning about bravery.  I still have a long way to go on my current journey, but there are a few things that I know I must do.  Sing into my most terrifying moments. Avoid being alone, because we need each other.  Use the currency of joy wherever I must pay my tolls, but most important, be brave.

By Christopher McLean