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The secret life of tigers and roses

 One day back in May I was going through the bathroom cabinet looking at my jar of tiger balm and for some strange reason I got the urge to paint a tiger in my next project, whatever that would be. Perhaps I needed to be inspired by its strength or courage, I don’t know. Funnily enough, the project that came along in my MATS class at the time was to draw roses.  What followed is a mini gouache painting of a tiger chilling in a rose garden.

Actually, he kind of reminds me of another tiger who likes to smell the roses, Hobbes 



Then the “big assignment” came along, which was to design a journal cover with roses and any quote from the historical garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. She was also an artist and writer, and said things like “the love of gardening is a seed once sowed that never dies“, or “a garden is a grand teacher… above all it teaches entire trust.” Tigers were entirely optional, but I really wanted to fit one in.

When stumped I love to read about symbolism… I guess cause it gives me a different angle. So, I got out my big book of symbols and looked up tiger.


“In dream images such as great cat prowling in the house or backyard, psyche warns us that physically or affectively we are identified with big cat libido and need to get some distance. 

To respond to such urge by killing, caging, or degrading the great cat is to brutally repress one of nature’s most extraordinary incarnations of creative aggressiveness and sovereign instinct. The resolution seems to be in balance and boundaries.”

– Taschen, Book of Symbols


That scary tiger in the Japanese painting by Kishi Ganku kind of reminded me of Richard Parker in the life of Pi. The dangerous tiger that helped Pi fight for his life and survive his ordeal, the one he feared yet left him heartbroken when he disappeared without a goodbye.

Why would Pi feel this way? I think maybe Richard Parker was a side of him that needed to be expressed but came out in a dangerous state. And conditioning it into submission with food and seasickness only made the tiger leave once freed from the boat. So what was Pi to do? What would be the balance and boundaries that would make him a helpful friend able to sticks around?

I got no direct answer to these questions, but instead an accident pointed me toward an idea for my design… opening my book at a random page I saw this intriguing image of a garden with a rose growing inside the symbolic container of the Grail.


“In this simple, elegant form, the artist of some five centuries ago has conveyed the ideas of wholeness, center, vessel, and source.”

“While the Grail has often been portrayed as a cup, it can take many forms… [it] participates in the symbolism of the night-sea journey, the treasure hard to attain and the alchemical stone that is elixir and panacea.”

– Taschen, Book of Symbols


Maybe you’ll think that image has nothing to do with a tiger, but… if I want to put a tiger in that garden I will find a way! And I did… in my imagination the container became the tiger itself. And that way he is wrapped around the roses by choice, not because he is forced to.



I let my color choices be inspired by the trend board given in the class (which had no yellow), and the cool thing about that is in the dark the tiger took on a blue color. Blue is the color of trust, and reason. In that way he’s more reasonable than Richard Parker, able to distance himself from his wild side. And a blue tiger is also kind of magical, isn’t it?

In the light version I gave the tiger his regular yellow color.


 To me planting a garden means I have to decide which plants to buy, get my hands dirty to put them in the ground, regularly water, and trim dead leaves and flowers. And it also means not watering too much, giving the plants time and space to grow, and letting the sun do its thing. That's love...

 Every time I pass by my garden I'll pick a dead leave, check to see if the soil has gotten too dry, or if the leaves are yellowing. It's the garden equivalent of sending a text to a friend or sharing something cool just to say hey. Nothing big, no expectations. Just the joy of connection. In the case of the garden, that's the joy of a beautiful flower or shade of green. It feels like friendship...


You may have noticed I dropped the Gertrude Jekyll’s quote. I do agree with her that a garden teaches entire trust but I can’t help it, much prefer coming up with my own words.

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