Monarch Butterfly: #1

Well, I am often too hard on myself when it comes to my paintings, but today, I finished a painting that I am happy with. Actually, I am very happy with this painting. I’ll go so far as to say I’m proud of this painting.

One of the things that I think makes this painting successful is that I took the time to try to understand the markings on the butterfly, instead of just drawing what I saw without really thinking about it. This helped me understand the structures that the butterfly is made of, and helped me get things in a more accurate configuration at more appropriate proportions.

I won’t go into great detail, but here’s a drawing trying to show how I understood the butterfly. I don’t know if any of this is true to the butterfly anatomy, but it helped me make sense of the markings.

Identifying the markings on each wing as a series of “segments” helped me make sure both wings were symmetrical, without copying and tracing the left wing to create the right wing. By drawing them independently, they look more organic. Because I had a system to follow, each wing was similar enough to the other to give the impression of bilateral symmetry.

Anyway – once the sketch was finished, I added some small shadows to make the butterfly appear to “pop” up off of the page

This helped me see the butterfly as a three dimensional object throughout the painting process.

Next, I painted the head and body.

I wanted this to look like a taxidermied butterfly, so I pretended that the butt section was a little shriveled, hoping that would add to the sense of realism. I also paid close attention to the markings on the butterfly. There are four sets of markings, the last shot appears to be smooshed into the third.

Next, I painted the orange/yellow sections.

Here you can see I tried to paint veins in the wings. But, I couldn’t see veins on the source images I was using. I assume this is why they looked so off. Fortunately, this is watercolor, so I just used a bit of water to clean those lines.

Here it is after I scrubbed the veins out.

Next, I painted the black sections. To do this, I masked off the white dots, then covered it in dots of masking fluid’ and started working. It worked best for me to get the fatter parts all wet, and then dab pigment into the pre-wetted suction.s

From here on out, all the changes are very slight, but high impact. So I had to be pretty careful. For example – I decided it looked very flat, so I wanted to add more to the shadow to help it appear to come up off the page.

Finally, after playing around with shadows, and adding some iridescent paints (to make it shine more like a real butterfly), I added a little more dimension with some more shadows, and signed the painting in the iridescent paint.

Here’s the finished product!

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