In over 3o years of experience as an illustrator and graphic designer, I have –if only by osmosis, picked up certain tricks that allow tight deadlines to be met; some techniques that are easy and yet impress clients. These “secrets” allow the student or beginning artist to showcase their rendering abilities –complimenting the art like a fine frame.

It is my hope that this demonstration will be helpful and inspiring to the beginner and at least enjoyable to the professional.

Inspiration.  What to paint.  I paint certain subjects when I am in the mood for those subjects. This time I felt like butterflies.

Before you spend a lot of money on supplies – just follow this tutorial to it’s end and then decide if you would like to try to paint this.

Supply List: –tubes of watercolor (Cobalt blue, Burnt Sienna, Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Payne’s Gray) –also air-brush acrylics (Black, Blue, White) *optional other colors (Yellow, Green, Red…etc.), comes in small bottles. — illustration Board (Crescent Watercolor board – cold press) or heavy watercolor paper, size approx 15×20 inches — masking fluid (small bottle, Windsor Newton is best)  –Good watercolor brushes, sizes # 1 or 2 AND # 5 or 6 plus an old or cheap watercolor brush (it will be ruined after one project)  — Tracing paper, any size. –Masking or Scotch tape, soft lead pencil, HB is the lead I use  –Kneaded Eraser and/or a white rubber eraser… Templates and French Curves (for the arthritic and shaky hand like mine) — Fine point, felt tip, water-based black pen  -Utility spray bottle  -Paint palette ( I use an egg carton)

First– find photo references; not for the painting, but for just the subject. You can’t fake the details in painting something like a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.

I look on the internet. Google Image Search. Download a few photos of elements you might like to use.
–I found other smaller butterflies, a honey bee and some orange blossoms. Insert these and size them in a Word Document and print them out.

Trace… YES TRACE your subject. “Trace” is NOT a bad word. In commercial illustration you do what is expedient. Just ask Norman Rockwell.
This is not to say you ignore the copyright of the photographer. You change the image as follows.

I rarely find a photo that perfectly suits me, as with this photo. Trace each section of the wing with it’s unique patterns (4 sections). The arrows indicate that I opened the wings slightly. Get to know the structure of the wings. The color spots follow the structural elements of the wing. They are not just wall paper patterns!
Note: (A) – the wings rise above the head.  (B) – the tails spread further apart.  (C) – the 2 sections separate slightly here.

I use Crescent Watercolor Board. Cold Press. You can find it at art supply stores that cater to artists rather than crafts people. For this project I used a piece that was cut for me to 15″ x 20″ (It is sold as a full sheet that is 30″ x 40″, half sheets that are 20″ x 30″)

A heavy watercolor paper can be substituted – but it will curl and warp more than the watercolor board.

Trace the other elements of the painting on separate pieces of tracing paper. –Now play with the positions. Compose the painting. Decide what goes where.

Position the tracings, pencil side down. — Notice the ABCs – the drawing is now turned over with the graphite side facing the board. Tape it gently in position

Using a burnishing tool (in this case, the end of a brush) – rub the tracing paper to transfer the drawing onto the watercolor board or paper. Transfer the outline only. Save the details for later.
Note: my crippled hands. It is becoming a greater problem for me to execute smooth line work. That is why I suggest the use of templates to draw long curving lines etc.   So – all you beginning artists also will be aided in the control of your drawing. With years of practice and use, your control of the brush improves.

Notice how lightly the pencil transfers. At this stage, only transfer the outline of the butterfly. Do not try to transfer all the pattern lines. Repeat this procedure with the other tracings.

Neatness counts here. With a “dabbing action” rather than “brushing” – apply the liquid mask. Use an old or cheap brush, as the rubbery fluid will ruin the brush. Stop every few minutes to wash the brush in hot water.

Cover the image of the butterfly with masking fluid. – Neatly! Every spot of fluid will effect the way the paint adheres to the paper. If there seems to be weak areas – wait until dry and put on a second application over those spots. REMEMBER: DAB – don’t brush. Brushing will work up dried fluid and create strings of rubber that will get messy. ALWAYS keep the cap on the bottle when not in use.

Re-touch your work then clean the brush in hot water with a little ammonia or Windex. Put the cap back on the bottle!!

Repeat on the other objects in the painting.
Note: when tracing orange blossoms, I re-arranged individual blossoms to suit the composition of the painting.

The next phase: painting the background. Note the supplies that you will need.

Watercolor —  Squeeze a *nurdle of paint into a section of the egg carton and add water. Diluted paint should be the consistency of milk.  -Not cream -Not too watery.

Start with a solution of Cobalt Blue – one of Burnt Sienna – one of Alizarin Crimson — just in case, have some yellow squeezed out also.

*Nurdle — an amount of paint squeezed from the tube, like tooth paste. Usually I squeeze out about a 1/4″ long nurdle.

With the utility spray bottle – spritz the whole board with water *back and front. Place a roll of tape (or some small object) under one end of the board to hold it at a slight slant. (The paint will constantly be pulled downward)    Apply brush loads of color and let it run.

Keep applying color, mixing them on the board.  Spritz a little water ever-so-often to keep everything wet and combining.

Once you like the general color mix, let it begin to dry. Before it is completely dry… before the sheen leaves the paint… sparingly spritz again. The droplets of water will create a texture.

NOW SWITCH TO AIR BRUSH ACRYLIC. Mix some green and blue acrylic and Burnt Sienna watercolor. The airbrush acrylic is a concentrate. Is is NOT like tube acrylic or even craft paint. It will act just like watercolor, BUT when dry, it cannot be dissolved again. It can be covered over (better than watercolor). Add the cool colors around the butterfly. Use the Burnt Sienna to tone down and make the bright colors more natural. Acrylics can be mixed to a darker hue than watercolor.

When choosing background colors, always pick colors that are opposite the color of the subject (opposite on the color wheel) In this case a yellow butterfly would look best on a green or blue background.

Here are 2 bottles of airbrush acrylic (Badger is this brand) and a tube of Burnt Sienna watercolor (Grumbacher). Use just a few drops of acrylic,            — careful,  it is very concentrated.

Continue adding color and spritz with water to make a nice texture. Then when you are happy with the result, let it dry completely – COMPLETELY-     (2 – 3 hours)

When dry, the board should be rigid and straight.
The colors will seem to have dulled a little. Don’t worry. They will come back in a later step.

–From the start of tracing until now (including the drying times of mask and background colors) it has taken 6 hours.

Since my hands have become claws (due to arthritis), I use various tools to do what I used to do freehand. Pictured here is a tailor’s template  (what a Tailor would use to cut fabric in a long curve). Other templates and French curves are for sale at art supply stores.

Mix Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna watercolor in equal measure to make a neutral gray. Add more Cobalt Blue for cool gray; more Burnt Sienna for warm gray. Maybe a touch of green or Paynes Gray?

The objective here is to paint a long even stroke to represent a branch of Crepe Myrtle as background interest. Over the years I have developed a library of flora in my head – along with the brush strokes that combine to make them. I am influenced by Oriental Watercolor Art.

Make several branches at slightly different angles. The masking fluid allows you to speedily put the twigs behind the butterfly.

At the end of each twig there are dried seed pods. Crepe Myrtle seed pods themselves look like small wooden florets. Add broken secondary branches and tiny bumps that give more interesting detail.
— Let dry completely.

At a corner of the mask on the main butterfly, gently rub inward to start peeling the dry masking fluid.

Keep pulling slowly, allowing the release of the rubber from the paper surface without damage to the paper.

The rubber mask is surprisingly strong and most likely will peel off in one piece, however check the surface. Gently brush off the paper with a soft tissue. Try not to touch the paper with your fingers. Keep it free of oily fingerprints.  — Leave the other subjects masked.

Reposition the original tracing paper drawing – carefully tape two corners – and then rub off the detail lines of the wing markings – just as before with the outline.

Keep the reference photo close by. Now comes the time-consuming job of carefully rendering the colorful butterfly wing markings.

Apply the yellow and blue areas. Note that the yellow is not one value or color of yellow – some areas have a touch of orange. Add the different colors while still wet so that all softly combine. Cover well — no need to respect lines closely as the darker colors will cover.
*While mixing the yellow, I decided to remove the smaller Sulfur Butterfly’s mask and paint it also.

I use a water-based, black, fine line, felt-tip pen to draw the black outlines of the curved top of the wing. Again a template called a French curve is necessary to achieve a perfect edge.

Use the dark gray watercolor mixture from the branches and cover the black areas of the wing pattern. Note that the black of the butterfly in not uniform – some areas are darker. Accentuate with the black pen and with a dilution of Black airbrush acrylic. Use a #1 or #2 watercolor brush. NEATNESS COUNTS! Fine art is in the details.

As the painting evolves, minor adjustments need to be made. The background behind the “tails” of the butterfly was very close to black and gave no contrast. I added a wash of acrylic white, mixed with green, yellow and blue/green. I wet the area around the wing NEATLY along the wing edge and allowed the colors to blend with each other, making a soft and lighter background.    — From painting the Crepe Myrtle branches to this point is 3 hours.

After finishing the rendering of the Swallowtail Butterfly, paint the greenery behind the Orange Blossoms. Orange Tree leaves are rounded and can curl. Don’t get hung up with where they attach to the branch, be concerned with providing a nice dark background for the blossoms. DO NOT use black. Use the dark gray watercolor mixture from previous steps. (Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Paynes Gray)

While letting the leaves dry completely, switch to a soft lead pencil. (I use HB lead) Draw in details of the Sulfur Butterfly and smudge to blend the graphite.

Use French Curves to make the outline curve of the wing smooth and exact. Pencil in details of the body.

Switch to the fine line, felt-tip marker to draw in the details of the body. DO NOT use the pen on the wings. NEATNESS COUNTS!

Now remove the mask from the blossoms. Carefully clean any scrap of the mask, or smudges from the blossoms with a kneaded eraser. Dab or pounce more than rub.

If you feel it is necessary, use the original tracing and rub off the detail like we did with the Swallowtail Butterfly.

Render the blossoms. Use Cobalt Blue watercolor along with the Gray mixture — let dry — then for the fine detail, use the pencil and pen to finish. –Time spent to finish the Swallowtail, Sulfur, green leaves and blossoms was 3 hours.

I wanted to add one more detail – a Honey Bee. Use the same process as before; trace and position and transfer the pencil tracing. Begin accentuating with a white acrylic wash.

Next add watercolor washes of the left-over gray mixture and Burnt Sienna. DO NOT USE BLACK. The darkest value should be pencil or the gray mixture.

Keep building up fine details and highlights.

Looking at the composition I felt that the Yellow Sulfur Butterfly was competing too much with the Swallowtail.

…so I placed some small twigs over it. Using the gray mixture with a bit of white acrylic where needed to cover the butterfly. I then worked in some tiny yellow flowers and lightly added some (blurry) to the background close by.
— The Honey Bee and finishing details took another hour.
BUT I FORGOT ONE THING — The Tiger Swallowtail’s antennae.

You can always add more. You as the artist decide when it is finished.
———  IT’S FINISHED!  ——–

Now I will spray with Krylon Crystal Clear to seal it and bring back some of the color that has dulled when it dried.   —Don’t forget to sign it.