Monday, 4 July 2011

Sketching and Painting Butterflies.

Circumstances have recently allowed me to resume a limited time in my wanderings and I am starting to see the emergence of some of the summer butterfly species on my local patch! I am also asked how do I go about creating a composition and setting it down on paper? I thought it might be a nice idea to include the process in my blog for anyone who may be interested?
The first thing I do is to choose a suitable subject and make some preliminary sketches of all the various elements I want to include. I then juxtapose these into one final sketch and make a decision as to how the finished composition might look? All I need for this process is a 2B sketching pencil and some heavyweight cartridge paper. The outline is then transfered to watercolour paper and any final adjustments made before I start to paint!

I have an idea in my head as to how I want the finished painting to look and I usually draw my inspiration from the natural suroundings in which my main subject is found! In this case it was a pair of Marbled White butterflies that were mating among meadow grasses and wild flowers and I was particularly inspired by the combination of Oxe-Eye Dasies and Wild Harebells nodding and waving among the grass stems! Such sights are becoming ever more rare and hark back to the days before intensive farming and the use of pesticides and herbicides! While surrounded by vast oceans of wheat and barley there are still tiny pockets of wild flowers and colonies of butterflies that cling on in odd places untouched by plough and spray and it is these that I search out every year! I record things as I find them in my sketches and paintings and now I can post them on my blog for all to share?
Once the sketch is finished I lay out my paints and brushes and wet the paper! The first washes are applied and I mix the greens as I go working quickly from light to dark! Some washes are added 'wet in wet' and I allow certain colours to bleed into one another! At this stage it is background washes that are layed down and once started I am committed and cannot turn back? It is important not to apply too much or too dark a pigment and keep things transparent.

More washes are added and the mid tones and mid ground are defined and small adjustments made before the final stage is reached. I usually know by now whether this is turning out ok?

After the final washes are completed I add highlights and shadow and turn my attention to the main subject, the butterflies themselves. I use a combination of sketches and photos for reference as I paint the butterflies and I try to describe them as accurately as I can? Even so! I am first and foremost involved in creating an 'impression' and the butterflies are just one part of the overall composition!

Any other highlights and shadow are added and then the painting is finished! Phew!
As I write this post I am pleased to inform anyone intersted that a couple of my butterfly paintings are being shown in an exhibition in my local market town of 'Hitchin' to celebrate the 'Hitchin Festival' which runs throughout the month of July. Look out for the 'Art Trail' if you happen to be in Hitchin anytime this month? Best wishes and I leave you with the finished result!


  1. Nice butterfly sketch Steve. The ox-eyes make an excellent background.

  2. Really nice style Steve, I like the combination of flowers / fruit with the birds and butterflies...