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"saint joshua" a joshua tree painting

"Saint Joshua," my Joshua Tree Painting is a story that starts way back at the beginning of 2019. This was before murder hornets, war, and pandemic shutdowns there was another type of pause in normalcy; the government shutdown. One of the unintended consequences of our two-party system is their throwing fits instead of problem-solving. Government shutdowns are when the national parks went unfunded, unstaffed, and often abandoned. Some people took the opportunity to hop some chain link and visit a park for free, while a few decided to have a free for all.

What Inspired The Joshua Tree Painting

I remember watching a news clip about Joshua Tree National Park, where ancient, endangered trees had been toppled by, you guessed it, people. There I was, horrified and angry! I own a jeep, I like hitting the trails as much as anyone, but the stupid, senseless destruction of the park and its trees felt like one more instance of humans leaving things worse than when they arrived, and it disgusted me. I won't get into the gory details, but here's a link to a New York Times article from that January if you want to read a bit more about it.

As an artist whose mind works like a movie screen, playing scenes of whatever I happen to be thinking about, I felt like I should do something, however small that something might be. I wanted to represent the beauty of the Mojave desert and the Joshua Tree's unique part in that particular ecosystem. Maybe if I could help people connect to the trees and raise awareness about them, more people might see them as something great instead of target practice. I had recently traveled through Southeastern Oregon, California, and Nevada on my way to visit family in Arizona and remembered the peace and beauty of the desert.

What Are Joshua Trees?

Joshua trees are a type of yucca plant and a member of the agave family. They grow very, very slowly. A young plant might grow up to five inches in its first few years, but a mature plant grows between 0.5 and 3 inches per year. During drought-driven years, they may not grow at all.

This slow, steady existence provides stability to other desert life forms. Joshua Tree flowers are some of the only available wet food for insects, ravens, and squirrels in the spring. Their limbs serve as shelter and shade to desert creatures in an otherwise sparse landscape. The relationship between the yucca moth and Joshua trees is a unique and ancient partnership, dating back millions of years.

Joshua trees produce pollen but no nectar, so they are not attractive to most pollinators. The yucca moth has specifically evolved with Joshua trees, though, and each is dependent on the other. Yucca moths collect pollen in their tiny mouths, depositing it onto different flowers, and they then lay their eggs in the flowers. When yucca moth caterpillars hatch, they eat the Joshua tree seeds, which are their only food source. They then crawl to the ground to form cocoons, and the cycle begins again. The trees need moths and vice versa, which is different from the usual pollination system. Generally, plants have something pollinators want, and pollination is a beneficial side effect. Joshua trees and yucca moths work together in perfect harmony, each necessary for the others' survival.

Where To Get A Joshua Tree Painting?

I hope to share Joshua Tree's importance with people who might not have a connection to the desert. Its beauty is different from the verdant foliage of the pacific northwest or the colorful flowers and fruits in tropical landscapes. It's full of complex, slow-growing life that can calm your soul if you sit with it. The open sky and land can also bring a sense of freedom and adventure from inside a jeep. Nothing beats crawling over rocks and steep grades (but stay on the trails, people!).

With that in mind, I will be donating $10 of all print sales from this painting to Joshua Tree National Park.

"saint joshua" a joshua tree painting

  • Writer's pictureCaitlynn Abdow

I love to paint and draw mythological themes (apparent in my Medusa art). The magic and intrigue they contain are endlessly inspiring. My illustrator’s mind sees pictures as soon as a combination is described: a mermaid in space, a goat-headed man, a woman with snakes for hair. If you can think it up and name it, I can picture it. That’s part of why I do what I do. I love the combinations and the challenge of trying to make a concept come to life. It's a challenge to check all the boxes while also being aesthetically pleasing.

Medusa Art Origins

Sometimes the mythological stories, like Medusa's, are rough to read and based on stereotypes. Personally, I’d prefer not to fuel with more repetition. There is a moral to the story with many folk and fairy tales. Sometimes the cautionary tale is still relevant today, helping us understand that the woods can be dangerous at night and that home shouldn’t be built out of something flimsy and impermanent. In Medusa’s case, I can’t parse the moral of the story in a way that’s useful to me. She had an affair with a sea god. Athena became so angry that she transformed her from a beautiful maiden with long flowing hair into a dangerous monster. I won’t get into concepts of beauty, ugliness, hag versus maiden, etc., but it’s not an encouraging story even without that. Who knows how much the account has been changed and transmuted through retellings, translations, and religious and historical overlays. Given the overall flavor of Greek mythology, however, I don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence that the story was about anything other than the lady getting blamed when it takes two to, you know.

So, here’s an alternative story about a relaxed, self-assured version of Medusa. The Medusa who just wants to hang out with her snake friends:

"Each Snake's Story" A Tale To My Medusa Art

Pt. I - The Setting

Medusa was sitting in her cave next to the craggy cliffs overlooking the sea. She had everything she needed. A warm fire was burning in the hearth she and her sisters built from coral, marble, and living rock. Above her head, dried herbs hung from the ceiling for tinctures, teas, and flavoring soup. The back of the cave held a cozy pile of blankets with books like buried treasure to discover when the fire died down and the stars came out to hear bedtime stories. Outside, the ocean was full of fish, and the garden held strawberries, tomatoes, and tiny green onions.

Medusa was lonely, however. Her sisters were away teaching humans philosophy and how to keep bees happy (sometimes the lessons were the same for both topics). Her horse was busy. He was always busy, and she wanted someone to talk to about the particular texture of the slate grey sky and how it mirrored the waves. This was important to her. Sometimes she thought she saw a man in the distance, but it always turned out to be a marble statue. She wondered vaguely about who kept bringing them.

She decided to go for a walk through the garden, kicking pebbles and letting her long, wavy hair flow out behind her like the curling slate grey clouds. Then she picked purple hellebore for luck in the afterlife while eating strawberries. As she bent down to pluck another strawberry from the garden, she heard a small voice say, “Please let me climb into your wavy hair, and I’ll tell you a story.” She looked closely at the ground and saw a little dust-colored snake tilting its head up at her. The snake looked harmless, not like the ones who tell other people’s secrets. She shrugged and carried the snake up to her shoulder, where it wound around a lock of hair, nestling its head near her ear.

Pt. II - What The Snake Said

The snake told her a story about a sea god, an angry goddess, and a woman caught in the middle. Medusa looked out at the slate grey sea and laughed. She asked the snake if he had any other stories because this one was ok, but it could have a better ending. He didn’t know any offhand but suggested she meet his sister, who also lived in the garden.

The first snake’s sister was small and green with dust-colored markings around her eyes. She wound into Medusa’s hair and whispered stories into her other ear. She told the story of the constellations and how they reflected in the slate grey sea on calm nights. Medusa loved the little snake’s stories but eventually wanted to hear others.

Some came to tell Medusa about their dreams, and some told her about her nightmares. Some slithered away in rebellion against snake expectations from snake parents, and some took refuge from jealous lovers. Eventually, there were so many snakes in Medusa’s hair that it looked like it was made from snakes, and the noise of the slithering and story whispers scared visitors away. Medusa didn’t care. She had the sea with its fish, the garden, her books, and her snake friends.

Eventually, her sisters returned to the cave on the edge of the cliffs. They were surprised about the snakes but quickly adjusted to their presence. Even they were curious about where all the marble statues came from, but didn’t worry about it too much. They used marble for useful things like hearths and garden walls.

Where To Purchase My Medusa Art

If you enjoyed this tale and would like to purchase my Medusa art as a way to say thank you, please feel free to do so below:

caitlynn abdow's medusa art

  • Writer's pictureCaitlynn Abdow

Happy Spring!

The sunshine is finally here, and everywhere flowers and soft green leaves are budding.

I'm coming out of my Winter hibernation in time for a busy summer with lots of shows!

I hope to see you at the opening nights, and the shows run throughout the following month. I like to go to opening nights for the party and then see the art again on a quiet weekday without the crowd.

Here's what I have coming up:

  • May Show, The Remains Gallery, Opens this Friday May 3rd, 6pm-midnight at 13 Oak Street, Hood River, OR (new location!)

  • Women's Show, Redux Gallery, Opens Friday June 7th, 6pm-9pm, 811 east burnside #116 PDX OR, Portland, OR

  • Big and Small, Columbia Center for the Arts, Opens Friday, July 5th, 6-8pm, 215 Cascade Avenue, Hood River, OR

  • Upcoming Solo Show at Wolff Gallery, March/April 2020, Portland, OR

Here's a detail of Brigid, goddess of inspiration and craftsmanship. The Celts in their epic stories sometimes described inspiration as "awen" or "a fire in the head". This concept is so relevant to me, and I'll be painting more characters in a state of inspiration in the future.

Brigid will be on view as part of the Women's Show at Redux in June.

If you're looking for me in the meantime, I"ll be here:

Progress on Ivy Mind/ Morgan Le Fay for Columbia Arts in July

Thank you for all your support!


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