Psyche – Japanese Mage with Butterflies

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The Surface and the Easter Eggs in My Psyche Painting

The Japanese Mage in Psyche may not be as innocent as she looks. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating a piece of art purely as a nice picture, and there’s nothing wrong with liking art simply because of the way it looks. But I like to create layers in my work – some easter eggs for you to hunt out or read about, if you are that way inclined.

The Sinister Hiding in the Pastels of Psyche

While this might be the most feminine painting I’ve done to date, with its pastel pinks and blues, there’s a slightly sinister undertone if you peel back the top layer. The name, Psyche in ancient Greek translates to butterfly, which the Greeks thought to be the soul of the dead. Often butterflies were painted to represent the souls of the dead leaving the body.

In my painting, Psyche, I wanted to show a woman in control of souls, rather than her soul leaving – her arms are raised in command and the expression on her face is almost challenging the viewer with a wry smile. Like in Anime, where the cutest, fluffiest character is generally the most ominous, my Japanese Mage could be seen as the embodiment of Death.

On a slightly comedic note, painting Death in pale pink reminded me of an old episode of Murder Most Horrid, where Dawn French driving a Mini Cooper in a fuscia pink power suit wielding a hedge trimmer, plays Death – a slightly flustered, Bridget Jones-esque interpretation of a personification usually represented by a huge skeleton in a hooded cloak with a scythe riding a pale horse.

Dawn French Playing Death in Murder Most Horrid

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: they don’t make telly like they used to.

But unlike the bumbling character played by Dawn French, with her blonde bob and sweet but vapid smile, I wanted my version of Death to have a cunning look to her, and a general feeling of power and deftness. She is, after all, controlling four souls while looking directly into yours.

Folds of Fabric

I’ve been wanting to paint another kimono since I painted Medicine, a Klimt tribute painting of a young alchemist wearing a Japanese style silk dressing gown.

Medicine - Klimt Tribute

There’s something very calming about painting material, but what I really enjoy is adding the embellishments over the folds that I’ve painted. The kimono in Psyche is made of a much stiffer fabric to the kimono dressing gown in Medicine, which meant a much harder brush to form the deeper wrinkles. The pattern too had less sheen, which meant working with dryer brushstrokes and creating light and shadow with less contrast.

Unlike Medicine and most of my other witches, my Japanese Mage is not nude; in fact, she is completely covered in kimono material. In Poison, for example, my witch is topless – like Psyche, she has a wry smile, but there’s an element of temptation to that piece, which I didn’t want to be apparent in Psyche. Death is not something people are tempted to, but always marching towards regardless.


There is implied death in Poison too, but again there could be several meanings in this painting – is the model the poison, the liquid in the glass or the name of the animal lurking behind the curtain?

Psyche, however, doesn’t have any obviously hidden items, like a lot of my other pieces – the truffles are in the language behind the piece – they just need a bit of prior knowledge or research to sniff them out.

Purchasing and Prints

The original Japanese Mage painting, Psyche, is available in my shop and you can also get your mitts on prints, merchandise and downloads. Saatchi is your best bet for luxury canvas and framed prints, whereas Redbubble absolutely nail merchandise like clothing, stationery and home decor, as well as more budget prints and greetings cards. You can also download hi-res, print ready versions of this piece from the shop and make your own prints in as many formats as you like.

The original painting is available on the website.

It’s also available in all kinds of printing formats and across all clothing and home decor products on Redbubble.

Luxury framed or canvas prints are available from Saatchi.