Watercolours: Butterfly on Milkweed (demonstration)

Every now and then I ask my friends on Twitter or Facebook to give me photos of birds or flowers or other stuff I can use as a reference for a painting or drawing, and I usually end up with some nice pictures to add to my collection. The painting in this demonstration is based on a few photos submitted by Blaze O’Rama, of different types of Milkweed and some Monarch butterflies.

Da Vinci Watercolours
-Viridian Green

Dick Blick Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow

M Graham Watercolours
-Quinacridone Rose

Winsor & Newton Watercolours
-Permanent Magenta
-Payne’s Grey

Art Spectrum Gouache

Silver Black Velvet Wash size 1.5 inch
Jackson’s Sky Wash size XL
Alvaro Castagnet NEEF Mop size 2
Silver Black Velvet Round size 10
Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Schmincke Masking Fluid
Masking Tape
Salt (small but slightly varied sized grains or flakes are best) (NB: Some artists have said that salt can increase the rate at which the paper degrades. This is the first time I have used it in a piece of art so I haven’t tested this theory myself. However if this is something that worries you, perhaps try just dropping in some clean droplets of water (or even using a fine mist sprayer) while the background paint is drying to achieve a similar effect.)

Arches Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Hot (180X260mm)

Step 1
After working out the composition, transfer the lines to your watercolour paper. Apply masking fluid to the flower, leaf and butterfly, and let it dry. Wet the entire sheet of paper using a large soft brush and clean water, then drop in Viridian Green and Permanent Magenta in various areas in the background. Try to ensure the area within the flower petals is mostly Permanent Magenta. Let this dry completely, and then add a bit of Paynes Grey to both the colours you used above and go over the background again, dropping some Quinacridone Rose into the flower area. While the paper is still wet, scatter some salt over some areas of the background. Let the paper dry thoroughly, and then brush the salt away and remove the masking fluid.

Step 2
Once you remove the masking fluid, you may need to straighten the lines of the stem (as I did). Using a slightly wet small flat brush on its side, run it along the outer edge of the stem, picking up some of the dark grey background colour and spreading it along until the stem looks straight and even.

In the dark pink area inside the flower, use a wet brush with stiff bristles and a clean, dry tissue to lift paint in straight lines, radiating from the centre of the flower outwards. This will help create the impression of stalks within the flower but you don’t want them to stand out too much, so if they’re a bit faint or blurry, so much the better. Using a very pale wash of Quinacridone Rose, colour in the petals, leaving some white highlights here and there. Add a darker wash of this in a few places to show the shadows on the other side of the petals, but make sure that even the darkest shadows are still lighter than the interior of the flower. Don’t worry about making the petals too accurate or detailed as we want the focus to be on the butterfly.

With a light mix of Viridian Green and Lemon Yellow, paint the stem of the flower and the leaf and let it dry. Add more Viridian Green to make a darker green and paint another layer over the leaf, leaving the main vein as a lighter colour. For a little variation, while this is still wet, drop small amounts of Burnt Sienna and pure Lemon Yellow into a spot or two to create speckles on the leaf’s surface. Once this dries, use the stiff bristled brush scrub out a few smaller, more faint veins on the leaf and then dab with a clean tissue to make the veins more pronounced.

Step 3
Draw in the details on the butterfly’s wings. When I originally traced the butterfly’s outline onto the paper, I had already drawn the details on the tracing paper, so I just lined up the outline and went over the rest of the details to get the stripes and spots. Make sure you dab it gently with a kneadable eraser to lift any loose, excess bits of graphite, as you don’t want it to muddy the watercolours. You may want to apply masking fluid to the white areas of the butterfly’s wings, but I didn’t bother; I just painted around them where I could, and decided I’d apply white gouache later if I needed to. Using a pale mix of Lemon Yellow and Quinacridone Rose, paint most of the butterfly’s wings in a light orange, going over it in a few places with a darker mix of the same colour. Wait for this to dry, and then paint the black areas of the wings and the butterfly’s body using a very small brush (something smaller than a size 1 would be ideal). If you have black watercolour, you could use that here, but I just used Payne’s Grey. Once this dries, look at the white spots on the butterfly; if you discover you accidentally covered some of them up, as I did, use the same small brush to repaint the white spots using White gouache. Finally, mix a little white gouache with some leftover greenish or purplish grey from the background and sign your name in the lower corner.

I hope you enjoyed this watercolour demonstration and learned some useful new techniques. Until next time, happy painting 🙂

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