Photos by Collin Richie

The Creatives: Painter Mitzi Ferguson of ThistleBee Art

Mitzi Ferguson

Hometown: Mobile, Alabama
Age: 46
Artistry: Painter, ThistleBee Art
Online: @thistlebee on Instagram, ThistleBee Art on Etsy

With verdant tail feathers falling in gentle curls like ornate ceremonial robes, a neon-splashed sky shimmers in sherbet waves melting behind the gold leaf circling the quetzal’s head. Beak poised. Eyes knowing.

The halo crowning this avian saint is unmistakable.

Long fascinated by religious iconography, Denham Springs-based artist Mitzi Ferguson endows the brightly rendered birds of her flock with symbols more commonly seen at mass than in a magnolia.

“I really want a sense of reverence to come across in my work,” Ferguson says. “That awe that I feel looking at birds is what I want others to feel.”

Watching her grandfather race pigeons—a bird she proclaims is woefully underrated— Ferguson first fell in love with birds as a child. Today, every image she completes—be it a vivid cardinal, feather-festooned egret or common mallard—evokes strong memories and feelings of her youth.

After years working in retail while cataloging sketches and paintings that few people ever saw, Ferguson felt stifled and unfulfilled. A little more than a year ago, she decided to put her creativity into a more “serious space,” as she puts it.

The shy artist who studied fashion design and fine art at Auburn knocked out dozens of paintings and began signing up for local markets as ThistleBee Art. “No matter how fearful I was, I knew I had to do it,” she says. “I told myself, I don’t want this to just be a hobby.”

Now she draws inspiration from walks through her neighborhood, local parks and daytrips farther afield. Using a bright and warm palette, her work reflects the excitement she has for close encounters with the incredible birds around us. “If you’ve ever been driving across the Causeway and had a pelican flying along with you, you know it’s the most amazing feeling.”

Ferguson has been embraced by the local makers community, which she says helped her through all of her “firsts” as a branded artist. Her advice for those just starting is simple: “Believe in yourself, and work in a sketchbook every day.”

Ferguson’s brand name points to firm belief, too. Her thistle and bee imagery were taken from the tartan and crest of her Scottish family clan. The Ferguson motto is even more relevant to creatives—especially in our post-COVID-19 landscape. Dulcius Ex Asperis, the Latin saying goes. “It means ‘Life is sweeter after difficulties,’” Ferguson relays. “And you can’t get any better than that.”