(Paula Kuitenbrouwer working on a butterfly composition)
How to Draw or Paint Butterflies?
I only draw butterflies I’ve seen with my own eyes and I advise you to do the same. Even a very short study of a butterfly helps you to notice something that you will stress in your drawing or painting like the powdery wings, the shine, or the fluffy body. There will be something that you notice and that inspires you.
When I studied a Blue that sat for a short moment on leaf, I was especially charmed by how pearly the soft blue, whitish underside of this butterfly looked. A tiny detail like that will stay with you during the drawing process and will add originality and a personal mark to your drawing.
(A Ringlet, copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer)
However, if you live in a city centre, away from gardens with butterflies, you might like to visit an insectarium of your local museum of natural history. A visit to an insectarium is very inspiring and educational. You are able to study details of exotic butterflies and you might be allowed to make reference photo’s. The downside of studying dead butterflies is that you probably miss the shine living butterflies have.
When you have studied the shape, colours, and details of a butterfly, start thinking about what you actually want to draw. Do you want a decorative drawing? An illustration for a story? Or do you pursue a drawing that has all its facts right: the butterfly and the flowers on which it sits as well as the right proportions of the butterfly and its flowers? Or do you choose the opposite: a nice set of fantasy butterflies?
When you have a picture in your mind, start drawing the butterfly. Do you want it flat? Open or closed? Or ‘en profil’? If you draw open and flat butterflies you miss the 3D effect, however flat butterflies show their colourful wings best. I like butterflies in different positions. I have cut out several sketches of butterflies and played with these as if I was about to preform some origami or put together a baby mobile till I had some nice 3D positions.
Sketch the outline of your butterfly (and its flower). Most butterflies feed on their favourite flowers, so pay attention to these facts. Or, completely ignore these facts if you prefer fantasy and decoration over facts.
Besides fantasy, fiction or facts, you might like to pay attention to how utterly sweet you want your drawing or painting of butterflies to look. I placed a dark, death and firm piece of wood in the centre of my drawing to balance the lightness and sweetness of my blue butterflies. Yin & Yang, remember? I’ve also given attention to male and female butterflies for balance. Again Yin & Yang. You could also balance the sweetness of butterflies with strong and dull looking moths and their splendid camouflage.
(A Blue, copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer)
I enjoy drawing with coloured pencils. I use Derwent studio pencils as an underlayer and when I feel confident with the colours, I add many layers of Faber Castell and Derwent Colour Soft. For butterflies you might also like to use Derwent Metallic Pencils for adding shine.
I have picked up dead butterflies and studied them. I’ve also found one wing of a big peacock butterfly and kept it in plastic. It lasted a full year and then fell apart. It provided me with the opportunity to study the scales of the wings in great detail.
When I admire exotic butterflies of an insectarium I tell myself a big lie that all of them have died a natural death. With nowadays focus and care for biodiversity I just can’t imagine people drive pins through living butterflies and I strongly plea for collecting butterflies in your mind or as a photo-stream, but not in real. Thrust your ‘Inward eye’ (or your camera) but don’t harm vulnerable creatures.
Paula Kuitenbrouwer sells exquisite fine art cards of her drawings as well as reproductions, and of some drawings smaller business-, gift- or mummy-cards. See Purchase in the header for what is available as well as the price list. In case you like to commission Paula, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org