Ellen and the Peacock, or “What if?”


Here’s Ellen and the Peacock, a piece I did a while back. (See the full image below). It’s story-ish looking (as most of my paintings tend to be) and so people naturally assume there’s a story that goes with it.

There’s not. At least not yet. Ellen first appeared back in 2006 or 2007 when I painted her walking through the woods with a bear. I finished the piece and I wrote a little story that went with the image. Back then she was just “the girl.” But somewhere along the way “the girl” showed up again and she was Ellen, and this time she was carrying a suitcase through the woods on a dark and snowy night. I began to wonder if there was a bigger story here. I began to ask myself who she really was and what she was about.

And then came the peacock. I’ve always been fascinated with topiaries and so I decided to paint one, and shoot, Ellen wasn’t doing anything so I decided that she wanted in on this too. And the piece began to come together. As I was painting the peacock topiary I thought, “What if this thing was also somehow alive, or almost alive, or both a real bird and a bush?” So I painted its neck blue and gave it a big ol’ liquid eye, but left its feet firmly rooted to the ground. And there was Ellen, calmly looking up at it with her lantern held high, probably understanding the situation better than I.

There isn’t a finished story here yet, but it’s forming with every Ellen painting I do. These paintings all, to one degree or another, turn out differently than I expect. As I paint, I’m asking those “What if?” questions that steer the emerging narrative in unexpected directions.

My goal is to eventually get her story down, but in the meantime I enjoy this painting for what it is without a story: mysterious. I like it because that mystery is fertile soil for the imagination of the viewer, and an invitation to join me in the creative process. As the viewer looks at the painting, his or her mind is stirred with possibilities, just as mine is. My hope is that these elements—this walled garden, this girl bundled against the cold, this freakish peacock/bush thing that might just be alive—will trigger the imaginations of those who see it, and they’ll also be brought—just as I have been—to a place of wonder, asking, “What if…?”

Stories have kindled Jamin Still’s imagination since he was small. As a child he drew and painted and dreamed, and the power of those things in his life never diminished. He went on to study painting in college and now he paints and writes for a living. Jamin works and lives in a little stone house with his wife and three young children in Wichita, Kansas.


  1. LauraP

    I love art that leaves room for me. I love stories too, and sometimes I want someone to tell them to me without ambiguity. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned not just to make peace with, but to be excited about, entering into mystery. I’ve come to really appreciate art that lets me be a participant in imagining the story it is telling.

    Thanks for this contribution, Jamin!

  2. Laure Hittle

    Oh, i love everything about this. The art style, the colours, the freakish peacock-bush, the idea of discovering a girl and her story by letting her show up and be mysterious without feeling the need to hunt her down and demand she explain herself. i hope you do discover what her story is, because i love her already—but if you don’t ever properly understand it yourself, i hope you publish a nice coffee-table book with your discoveries of her appearances, and we can be mystified with you and imagine her story for ourselves.

  3. Jonathan Fiedler

    Just a thought… what if the rabbit room community came up with stories for the image? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see your image be a catalyst for different writer’s imaginations. I’d personally love to hear Jonathan Roger’s take on this image (I’m sure there is a feechie in there somewhere!) or maybe open it up to the community at large. Enjoy your work Jamin, keep it coming!

  4. Jamin Still


    Thanks guys! Laure – oh, Ellen’s story will come, trust me. It must. And Jonathan – that’s not a bad idea. I wouldn’t mind hearing some different takes on this picture at all. Anyone want to try it in 100 words or less?

  5. Jonathan Fiedler

    If the act of art and writing is anything it’s about courage, so here is my humble shot at a story. I tried to get the story under 100 words but 250 was the best I could do. Hope some of the many talented fiction writers in the Rabbit Room show what writing is really about by topping this, which should be easy enough. Jonathan Rogers, Pete Peterson, Andrew Peterson and Jennifer Trafton, where are you? Or how about any of the community members who write such eloquent posts? 🙂

    Ellen’s Dreams

    She closes her eyes and breathes a tired sigh, exhausted from a day at play. Tucked in by mother and kissed on the forehead by father, Ellen sleeps. Her adventures complete for the day or have they just begun? For adventures are more grand in our dreams. Last night Ellen, suitcase in hand, ventured into the woods of Narnia and had a conversation with a bear called Aslan. He roared a baritone song and Ellen giggled in delight. The night before Ellen traveled across the sea in a hot air balloon pulled by a sleek swan and flew up through a blue sky to kiss the man in the moon. Then drifted back down to have a tea party with her dear feechie friend from the land of Corenwald. Tonight is an adventure with a chocolate, edible topiary peacock named Pete in the backyard garden. Ellen slowly peels off a chocolate peacock leaf and smiles as the sweet, smooth confectionary melts in her mouth. Ellen hopes this dream lasts long enough to fill her tummy, but alas the peacock stirred and gave her a wink indicating her dream is complete. All must wake from their dreams however wonderful they may be. But a new adventure awaits tomorrow night. Maybe she’ll make music with Leeli? Sail the seas with Fin? Or climb a giant mountain with Persimmony? Anything is possible in Ellen’s dreams.

  6. Laure Hittle

    (Was that cannibalization comment okay? i know i haven’t been around here long enough for people to really know me yet, and there’s such a fine line between weird and uncool in online forums. i hope it wasn’t offensive, and i’m very sorry if it was.)

  7. Jessica B.

    Wow, was this fun! I know the focus is primarily on Ellen, but I kept wondering what was going through the peacock’s mind as his garden space was broached by this tiny intruder.

    Broken Vigil

    The night was dark and silent. And then it wasn’t.
    A light snapped into existence, immediately illuminating the area around a creature of red and gold. All I could do was stare.
    The creature appeared startled, its eyes rapidly moving up and down, silently perusing me and those who slumbered beneath my care. I regained enough of myself to blink, heard a gasp of indrawn breath, and saw the creature move towards me by lifting up part of its trunk! The light drew closer, the creature leaving strange trunk prints in its passing. It stopped, lantern held high. What now?

  8. Jessica B.

    Thanks, Jamin! I so appreciate the feedback. Thanks, also, for introducing us to Ellen and a few of her comrades. 🙂

  9. Jessica B.

    And, thank you, Jonathan for the comment about courage. Like Laure, I’m fairly new here, and it’s SO much easier to lurk than to post. 🙂

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