A few new: *in which I attend a haiku/haiga program*

Last night I participated in an online program given by the National Gallery of Art called Virtual Studio | Haiku and Haiga: Transforming Poetry into Visual Art. Led by poet/artist/teacher Sean Felix, the program involved looking at a work of art, writing a couple of haiku about it, and then using one of our works to create a guided artwork (haiga being the artwork created from the poetry).

The image we used for our reference was Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871, by Martin Johnson Heade. I’m going to tell you right now that I found this painting vaguely disturbing, almost creepy. I felt I was looking at an alien world that was not too friendly. Also, I don’t much like orchids anyway – there is just something about them that I find kind of threatening. And hummingbirds? I’ve never felt the same about them since I learned about their true personalities.


We discussed the haiku form and then spend some time viewing the artwork, in the first quick session focusing on what we saw, and in another look, what other senses were evoked by the image. After each examination we wrote a haiku.

Then, taking one of our haiku, we focused intently on our words, and then, eyes closed, drew a continuous line around our paper to depict the elements or sensations of our words. Once done, we opened our eyes and added color.

Here is the haiku I wrote that I used for the haiga exercise. We had about 5 minutes to come up with something. My mind was full of feelings and speculations about the painting and I had a hard time focusing and paring down in that short of a time, so I think my work was pretty vanilla:

crushed leaves underfoot
release their scents to the air
I taste the warm mist

But so what? It worked fine for the next part of the exercise. Here is the artwork I made to accompany it:

I had a black-gessoed page already set up in a sketchbook, so I used that as my surface, and my drawing materials were colored pencils. As I drew the continuous line, using a white pencil, I consciously tried to include the visual elements I mentioned in the haiku. Each one is in here more than once (take my word for it). Once done, I went over the line in pink and then colored everything in.

Now that I understand the process, I would certainly do it again. I think almost any scene could work as the inspiration to start things off – it doesn’t have to be an artwork – but I liked the aspect of paying very close attention to the art a lot. I was forced to go much deeper than the usual passing glance an artwork might get as I flip pages in a book or walk along in a museum.

And, it’s a very contemplative process. You have to slow down and go deep into your mind to be able to come up with words and art. It felt good to do it.


I’m still thinking about the picture today. Here are two more poems inspired by this session. I think you will clearly see my feelings as I look upon this scene. (I guess the word “stink” kind of cues you in. Oh dear.)

Tanka 302

the stink of wet heat.
the pink orchid in the gloom.
the warm mist veiling
the frilled gleam held in the grasp
of bulbous alien leaves


Haiku 999

leaves trod underfoot
release their stink to the air
with each step I take


I encourage you to take a look at the National Gallery of Art’s site. There are so many resources there and like this workshop, they are free. This museum is another one of the institutions that I discovered during the pandemic when I was looking for online resources, classes, lectures, and activities. I thank them for their generosity to me, the average citizen. And I thank our instructor, Sean Felix, and my classmates for a great experience.

12 thoughts on “A few new: *in which I attend a haiku/haiga program*

  1. WOW this sounds like an awesome experience and something I would definitely like to try! Thank you for sharing it. Exploring new processes, especially ones that cross disciplines, is something I always find rewarding. Looking forward to seeing what you do next : )

    • You’re welcome. I really enjoyed this workshop and it gave me a new activity that combines both writing and art, and it was very focusing and kind of meditative. I think I could do this on my own and the National Gallery has so many images (as do most museums these days I think) online to choose from.

  2. I think your haiku beautifully conjures up the sensory experience of the landscape and also the sense of something unsettling – it is beautiful but there is also something decaying and foreboding about it. Because, yes, I agree with you about the emotional response to that particular painting. There is something about that looming stormy sky and the composition having everything cramped around the edges that is just discombobulating to me.

    Your course and the exercise remind me of a joint lesson plan I used to work on between my English department and the Art department. We would take students to either the National Gallery or the Tate in London, they would choose an art work to study, and then they would produce a poem inspired by that work of art. Then, back in school, they would choose a poem we had studied in class and then, in art class, they would produce a work of art inspired by it.

    Also, I used to get my own kids to draw (when they were preschoolers) to listen to music and then they would draw whatever the music was conjuring up.

    And now I need to go and learn the truth about hummingbirds because I am intrigued!

    • Thank you. I really enjoyed this and I think I could do this on my own, just choose an image, and we are so lucky to have images online now from so many museums. I think the thing I liked here so much was the art to words back to art sequence, and that the second art part is abstract and non-objective, so not competing with the original one.

  3. I love the image you made – a bit claustrophobic. Also, your 2nd and 3rd poems hone in on the mood of the original (1871) image. I don’t know if you are familiar with The Big Sleep (a film noir with Bogart and Bacall), but an early scene finds Bogey in a greenhouse with a disabled old military man. They commiserate about their dislike of orchids: “Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men.” (if I remember correctly).

    • Oh yes, now that you mention it, I do remember that scene. And I agree with them. There is just something about orchids that has always made me feel uneasy about them. I am glad you feel that I got somewhat close to the feel of the painting. It was so full of associations and connotations and just plain – ideas – that came into mind, that I found it hard to pare things down. I feel like I could have written a lot of poems just about this one painting, which amazed me.

  4. I agree – the painting is disconcerting but your poetry and the resulting artwork is lovely! It looks like a very fun exercise!

    • The workshop did all the thinking for me as far as setting me along the path. That helps a lot, leaves you free just to come up with ideas and write and do art.

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