I recently had the honor of creating an animal portrait of a long-time friend of mine, Mike Donenfeld, who lives in Hilo, Hawaii. Having once lived in Kalamazoo, and periodically flying back and forth between the two cities, migration and flight have always been central to Mike's life and being.
Mike originally requested a Red-Tailed Hawk as his animal, since he's spiritually identified with them for years, but after some consideration, he floated the idea of a Dragonfly. He had just finished a beautiful painting of an Orange Black Hawaiian Damselfly (in the same order as dragonflies) and was feeling an affinity for these remarkable creatures.
He was drawn to their ability to move in all directions, at any given moment. As a lay brother of Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing, Mike saw this aeronautic agility as a metaphor for the lucidity and detachment of the mind. The idea that our thoughts move here and there, come and go, and we should never cling to them; and yet we possess, as do dragonflies, the ability to hover over something, and keenly focus our attention. The dragonfly also knows how to rest. If you've ever seen a perched dragonfly, then you've seen profound stillness in an animal.
I loved the idea.
After working multiple versions of the collage, shifting the focus from the wings to the eyes, I discovered another, added dimension to dragonfly: they have those big, compound eyes, allowing them to see the world in all directions, at all times (that's why they're so hard to catch!). They can also see the world in ultra-multicolor, which means they can see ultraviolet light and even the polarized spectrum, all adding up to pretty remarkable vision. They can see things we simply can't*. I also liked the idea of the eyes making a dragonfly more personal - not always the easiest task with an insect. The eyes are of course windows to the soul.
*at least not without mechanical aids.