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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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  • Butterfly Wings
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    I don't paint a lot of butterflies or fairies, so I haven't had frequent opportunities to depict butterfly wings. But they are very colorful and surprisingly intricate structures, so I decided to sit down and see if I could do them justice.

    Since I'm already trying something new in this piece (the wings, obviously), I don't want to have anything else to worry about. Dragons are second nature to me now, so it's an obvious choice to try and depict a dragon with some butterfly wings.

    This will be a colored pencil piece, so I absolutely need to start with a pencil drawing. I throw in a lot of curving lines to move the eye around (the tail and the vine, for instance), and also crop one of the wings. I roughly shaded in the dark areas on the wings, as it will make the next step much easier.

    I usually use ink whenever I work with colored pencil and I have large dark areas to deal with. In this case, the wings are going to have a black and ochre pattern on them. Using ink with a brush is very easy. It acts in a similar fashion to watercolor. You have to ensure you wash out your brush very thoroughly after using it, as it will ruin any brush you leave it on as it dries. It is pretty rough on your brushes in general, and I have separate brushes for my inks and watercolors.

    I am more likely to use several thin, pale washes rather than one thick wash with ink, and I did here as well. Thick ink repels other colors too much, and doesn't take pencil very well.

    Using watercolor washes in combination with colored pencil is a very efficient combination. This piece is on Bristol paper, however, so it needs to be handled carefully. Bristol paper cannot take very wet washes, or more than one or two careful thin washes. If you are not careful, it will start disintegrating on you. It also has a tendency to preserve brushstrokes, so you must always keep your brushstrokes going in the direction of any texture you want.

    In this case, I am only addressing local color in this step. In other words, I am not worrying about what parts will be light or dark, or where the shadows will be. All of the vine is one shade of green, all of the wing is one shade of orange, all of the body is one shade of cream. The sole exception is the face, where I spontaneously added a touch of red.

    Now we'll take it piece by piece for a little while. This is not the way I work -- I work on the piece as a whole, as it's easier to judge relative color and value in that way -- but for the purposes of a tutorial it can be helpful.

    The tail, first.

    I love to do complementary shading when I work with colored pencil. Crimson lake is a nice, dark, cool red for the job. Using nice, even pressure, I darkened a line of shadow on the far side of the vine, leaving a narrow piece to serve as reflected light.

    When I'm using colored pencil, I like to go over the complementary color with a pencil that is as close to the local color as possible. This makes it seem more natural to me, instead of just a bright red shadow. Dark green is pretty close to the local color here, and I cover the red with an even coat of it.

    On the other side, where the light hits the vine I put a thin layer of yellow ochre to warm up the color a little bit. And lastly, a highlight of cream finishes it up.

    Next up, the wings. Burnt ochre is a nice, warm neutral to use to start adding detail and texture to the wings. I generally keep the strokes in the direction of the veins. Next I throw in a lot of Spanish orange over almost all the light parts. It looks slightly different in real life compared to the scan, as the scanner sometimes reflects off the pencil strangely. Anyway, it's not quite as freakishly bright in real life.

    Afterwards, there is just a lot of tweaking. I use a dark brown pencil to draw in more lines on the wings. I add a combination of dark brown, indigo blue and black cherry where the wide black wing edges meet the orange ones to make the transition a little more natural. In some cases, I draw lines going over the black pattern as well.

    This close up of the head demonstrates what I did on the rest of the body as well.

    A thin layer of Tuscan red was the initial shadow layer. I made sure the strokes followed the direction of the dragon's body. Afterwards I went over some of the upper areas with true blue, and black cherry further darkened the values in the deepest shadow.

    To make a smooth texture with colored pencil, you usually need to burnish the color. This can be done with a white pencil, or a colorless blender. I usually burnish with a color, though. Cream is a favorite of mine, as are the 10% greys of all three kinds (warm grey, cool grey, French grey). In this case, I use sand.

    Burnishing with a pencil that is too sharp doesn't work very well, but too dull and it doesn't work either. And when you burnish you will go through lead like crazy, so keep an electric sharpener nearby. Use heavy but even pressure as you go. You don't want to be pressing so hard you are damaging the paper, but it needs to be enough pressure to blend all the colors together.

    Here's what all those steps looked like as I was working on them.

    The first pencil layer.

    More details and shadows filled in.

    More detail, and the burnishing on the body.

    And here is the final image of the painting. The differences between this step and the last one are pretty subtle. A little bit of tweaking here and there, and some of the shadows were darkened.

    And we're all done!

    Melissa Acker

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