Moths, Big Magic and Our True Colors

Is it a coincidence that I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and also made time to investigate a Moth exhibit this week?

Ist es Zufall dass ich Elizabeth Gilberts Buch, Big Magic, lese und zur gleichen Zeit zu einer Nachtfalterausstellung gehe?

Io Moth by Deborah Davis

Io Moth by Deborah Davis

Gilbert encourages us to move beyond our neurotic fears into creative living (you know, questions like “Am I good enough?” “Do I have anything important to say?” or “Am I ready to reveal myself to the world through my art?”). I love how Gilbert shares courageous vignettes of her personal struggles as a writer.

Gilbert ermutigt uns durch unsere neurotischen Ängste durchzubrechen und ein Leben der Kreativität zu gestalten (du kennst sie ja, diese Fragen: “bin ich gut genug?” “habe ich etwas Wichtiges zu sagen?” oder “bin ich bereit mich durch meine Kunst der Welt zu zeigen?”). Ich liebe es wie Gilbert mutig Vignetten aus ihrem persönlichen Kampf als Schriftstellerin mit uns teilt.

Tussock detail

The creator of the moth paintings, Deborah Davis, is similarly bold about her moths. These are not little bitty paintings. Her large breath-taking canvasses show the most intricate details: hairs on legs, fuzziness of antennae and the furry texture of the wings. Davis invites us to really look at these intriguing creatures, as she has done down to the tiniest hair.
How does she do it? She collects moths as they flutter around her porch lights at night, places them in the refrigerator to make them placid for the photo shoot, and then releases them. Afterwards, she gets to work and paints them far larger than life-size turning them into mysterious moth people, each with a unique personality.

Die Erzeugerin der Nachtfalterbilder, Deborah Davis, ist ebenso mutig mit ihren Motten. Sie malt keine kleine, winzige Bildchen. Ihre große atemberaubende Bilder zeigen die kleinsten Details: Haare an den Beinen, struppige Antennen und die pelzige Textur der Flügel. Davis lädt uns dazu ein, diese faszinierenden Geschöpfe genau anzusehen, so wie sie es gemacht hat, bis ins kleinste Häarchen.
Wie macht sie das bloß? Sie sammelt Motten die nachts um ihre Verandalichter flattern, steckt sie eine Weile in den Kühlschrank, damit sie zum Fotomodell dienen können und dann werden sie wieder freigelassen. Hinterher macht sie sich an die Arbeit und malt sie weit größer als life-size. Die Motten verwandeln sich zu geheimnisvollen Nachtfalter Personen, jede mit ihrer eigenen Persönlichkeit.

Banded Tussock Moth by Deborah Davis

Banded Tussock Moth by Deborah Davis

Unlike butterflies, moths are creatures of the night – which adds a certain mystique to their existence. Moth antennae are fuzzy and thick, while butterflies tend to have thin, slender and smooth antennae.

Im Gegensatz zu den Schmetterlingen sind Motten Geschöpfe der Nacht – das gibt ihnen eine gewisse Mystik. Die Antennen von Motten sind struppig und dick, während Schmetterlinge meist dünne, schlanke und glatte Antennen haben.


Butterflies can fold their wings back, while moths keep their wings spread out. Moths typically have more modest coloration (there are exceptions) while butterflies often display vibrant colors on their wings. But there is nothing modest about Davis’ moths.

Schmetterlinge können ihre Flügel zurückfalten, während die Motten ihre Flügel immer ausbreiten müssen. In der Regel haben Motten eine mehr bescheidene Färbung (es gibt Ausnahmen), während Schmetterlingsflügel oft mit leuchtenden Farben geziert sind. Aber die Motten die Davis malt kann man überhaupt nicht als bescheiden beschreiben.

luna moth by Deborah Davis

Luna moth by Deborah Davis

Symbolically, we love to use butterflies as signs of transformation (overused even as a cliché). Moths, on the other hand, are much more mysterious. They are masters of disguise and adaptation. Folk tales associate white moths with death. And, yet, some moths are pollinators of the night, and contribute to new life.

Symbolisch lieben wir die Schmetterlinge als Zeichen der Transformation (bis hin zum Klischee). Motten sind mehr geheimnisvoll. Sie sind Meister der Tarnung und Anpassung. Folkssagen verknüpfen weiße Motten mit dem Tod. Und doch sind einige Motten auch Nacht-Bestäuber und machen damit ihren Beitrag zu neuem Leben.

Banded Tussock Moth antennae

Banded Tussock Moth antennae

Moths seem to worship light and are drawn to it to the point of extreme vulnerability. Perhaps they are way showers nudging us to come out of the darkness, turn towards the light, and to show ourselves fully? That’s how they remind me of Liz Gilbert’s message.

Es sieht so aus als ob Motten das Licht verehren; so sind sie vom Licht angezogen, dass sie völlig verletzbar werden. Vielleicht zeigen sie uns damit den Weg aus der Dunkelheit, ermutigen uns in die Richtung des Lichtes zu gehen, und uns vollständig sichtbar machen? Das erinnert mich wieder an Liz Gilberts Botschaft.

Yes, stepping into the light of our creative fire makes us vulnerable. Showing our true colors can be scary and exhilarating all at once. The alternative is hiding in the safety of the night’s shadows.

Wenn wir in das Licht unseres kreativen Feuers treten, werden wir schon verletzbar. Sich völlig zeigen zu können ist sowohl angsterregend als auch anregend. Die Alternative wäre dann sich in der Sicherheit der Nachtschatten zu verstecken.

What do we choose?

Was wählen wir?

wing fold

Deborah Davis’ moth paintings are on exhibit through the end of February 2016, at the Frances Plecker Education Center, at the James Madison University Arboretum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

About Beauty Along the Road

A blog about discovering beauty in all its ordinary and extraordinary manifestations.
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37 Responses to Moths, Big Magic and Our True Colors

  1. I love this. I would much rather be a moth…and I love Deborah’s paintings. I imagine they are so much more magnificent in person. Thank you for sharing.


  2. jamborobyn says:

    Beautiful! I am truly enamoured of the insect world. It’s pretty interesting that she doesn’t kill them to keep them still. Lots of macro photographers kill them first and while I love their results, I’m horrified by their techniques.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely post! I really enjoyed the images of the moth paintings, and the perspectives on moths that you’ve related. Very enjoyable.


  4. Maria F. says:

    I’d love to see it, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. de Wets Wild says:

    The exhibit must be such a fascinating place, Annette! The fine detail shown is amazing!


  6. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    These paintings are amazing! The detail! I would love to see them in person. Thank you for sharing this big magic!


  7. wildsherkin says:

    Isn’t her work amazing?! Thank you for sharing. P


  8. shoreacres says:

    Both the paintings and your photos are exquisite. I was quite taken with the detail about refrigerating the moths to slow them down. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that was possible, but, on the other hand, I once gave 5,000 ladybugs to a gardener as a birthday present. He put some into the garden, and then refrigerated the rest until they were needed to replace the ones that had flown off.


  9. bythebriny says:

    What beautiful work.


  10. A beautiful thought provoking post….those paintings are stunning….and I love your thoughts on the symbolism….perhaps I’ll let myself be drawn out closer to the light this year….😊✨

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Gorgeous paintings. I have a Luna Moth tattoo on my shoulder. One night under the full moon, a Luna moth lit on my shoulder. I took it as a sign and had to have a Luna moth and a full moon tattooed on my shoulder. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Michael says:

    Davis and Gilbert seem quite an inspiring combo. I love how much there is to learn in nature. Everywhere we focus attention it just opens up into such rich detail. I like the moth antennae in particular– such exquisite instruments. It reminds me also of the scenes in Lord of the Rings when the moth arrives, and carries the message to the eagles…


    Liked by 1 person

  13. Rajagopal says:

    Some fine paintings and an entomological peep into significance of moths and butterflies, affording, for me, a flying sortie from ignorant darkness to radiant knowledge. Thanks Annette, for liking one of my posts, in turn connecting me to your world.


  14. Great post and nicely presented!


  15. I absolutely love the idea behind your blog, and I was having a great time reading through it, and this post in particular just arrested me. How extremely beautiful. I love finding other bloggers who have such a love for detail as I do


  16. Pingback: What Was It All About – 2016 Review | The Beauty Along the Road

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