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July 2011

July 2011 -- Butterflies



  • EMG News:
    News for July
  • Behind the Art:
    Butterfly Wings
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Melissa Findley


  • The Art of the Insect Wing


  • Poem: The Secret of Green Butterflies
  • Fiction: A Spot of Colour
  • Poem: The Butterfly
  • Fiction: Morpho sanguinalis

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  • The Art of the Insect Wing
    by Jenny Heidewald

    Butterflies, moths, honeybees and dragonflies are neat, beautiful, and sometimes pesky things. In the world of art, you generally see their wings being used for various types of faeries, or at least as a jumping off point for creative wings. There are many types of different wings, though the butterfly's are the most popular and colorful for use as a pattern.

    In addition to the wings being used to make other animals into fairies, I find that using insects in pictures sometimes adds that last bit of "oomph" it needs, like a cherry on top of a sundae.

    Butterflies and Moths

    These two types of insects belong to the order Lepidoptera, which means "scaled wings." The unique scale-like covering on the wings provides the colors associated with both insects. Butterfly scales are generally the same shape, but moth scales vary, and can be hair-like; this makes some moths look as if they are covered in fur. The most noticeable differences between butterflies and moths are that butterflies have bright color, and rest with their wings upright, while moths tend towards earthier colors, and rest with their wings either flat or tented over their body. Another difference is that butterflies fly during the day, and most moths are nocturnal. Butterflies usually have a knob at the end of their antennae, while most moths have feathery antennae.

    So how does one go about drawing a butterfly or moth? First, decide on your pose; it is easiest to draw them in the two positions I have shown, but once you have a handle on the easy poses you can graduate to different perspectives.

    The toughest part about the open wing pose, for any insect or other critter, is making things symmetrical. If you have a photo editing program, chances are that you can lasso the one pair of wings, copy to new layer, flip and drag it to the other side, pop it in, and there you have easy symmetrical wings. If you are doing things the traditional way there are a couple options: the first is using a ruler to measure and mark your dimensions. The easier way, however, is to draw one set of wings, trace it on tracing paper, then flip the tracing paper over, once you have the image in the correct place be sure to tape the tracing paper. Then trace over the wing in its reversed position. Just make sure to check that the lines have transferred to the paper before untaping the tracing paper.

    Start with the body, which is a series of circles and ovals, and then sketch in the wings. Butterfly wings have all sorts of variations on the edge, so if your wing isn't perfectly smooth that adds interest.

    Once you have your venation (i.e. the arrangement or system of veins), you can go about coloring the wings. This is the fun part; make up your own pattern and colors, or refer to a real butterfly or moth.

    Now for the moth, I went with one of the fuzzier and fatter ones, I think they are cuter.

    There are many variations on moths and butterflies, and it is interesting to carry over more than just the wings as a feature in a faerie. In the following picture, I based the faerie on the Luna moth, which is one of the most popular moths, with its large wingspan and interesting coloring.

    In addition, don't forget that the larval stage of moths and butterflies, caterpillars, are interesting subjects.

    Honey Bees

    One of the backbones of our planet's ecology is the honeybee. Without their tireless work of gathering food for their colonies, many plants wouldn't be pollinated, thus disrupting life as we know it.

    These busy insects have translucent wings; I have left them opaque in the following illustration so it is easier to see the structure of the wing and the vein pattern. It can be easier to draw the horizontal lines first and then fill in irregular shapes between them.

    Dragonflies and Damselflies

    These belong to the order Odonata. Their respective subcategories are Anisoptera for dragonflies, and Zygoptera for damselflies. You will find these important predators near water, which they need for the larval segment of their lives. One major difference between these two is that resting damselflies hold their wings folded and over their bodies, while the dragonfly leaves its wings outstretched horizontally to its body. The damselfly is also smaller and thinner than a dragonfly. The compound eyes of the dragonfly are large and touch each other. If drawing a damselfly, leave a space betwixt the two eyes. They both tend to be brightly colored, have small antennae, and six legs.

    The wings are designed in a way that allows the insect to fly incredibly fast, hover and even fly backwards. Notice that dragonfly wings have a dip towards the center front: this is called the nodus. There is also a dark mark on the upper outer edge of the wings, called the pterostigma; it is a thickened part of the wing that helps the insect fly.

    The venation on the wings is quite complex, giving a net-like look to the veins. Depending on the species, the iridescent wings can have coloration and/or a pattern. The front wing is longer than the back, and the back wing is wider at the base and usually wider in general than the front wing. If you are drawing a damselfly, the wings are the same shape and size throughout. I have shown the more complex pattern of venation, though it is not always necessary to go so far into detail to get the point of the wings across.

    I used the copy flip and paste technique in Photoshop Elements to depict the undrawn side of the dragonfly.

    In Closing

    While wings are daunting to anyone not used to drawing them, once you get the hang of the venation it can be quite fun to go on a wing designing spree. It is also interesting to use insects different from the norm, like a cicada, grasshopper, cricket, mantid, or beetle. Have fun!


    A Golden Guide Butterflies and Moths (North American species) by Robert Mitchell and Herbert Zim

    Butterfly Wing Tutorial By "Checkered-Fadora"

    Butterflies and Moths of North America (excellent photo gallery)

    Different insect wings, and more on the veins

    Dragonfly Information

    Simple veins on dragonfly wings

    A detailed step by step dragonfly tutorial

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

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