I have paintings & print-outs & copies & sketches of butterflies all over my desk right now. It all started when I was inspired to paint one of the butterflies that I have on my bedroom wall.


I thought it would be a good challenge to use my new Daniel Smith watercolors to paint something representational for a change, and I was really attracted to the blues, greens, and dark grays of the top butterfly.

two butterflies

I ended up painting both butterflies, and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I learned a lot, and had a really fun time drawing and painting them.

In my original pencil drawing, I neglected to draw the vein details on the wings. I’ve considered going back to add them to the watercolor paintings, but I’m nervous. I try not to think of art as “precious,” and generally if I have an impulse to adjust or add something to a painting or drawing, I go for it–even if I’m not sure how it will look. So I feel a little silly admitting that I’m afraid of ruining this painting! If I’d added the details while drawing the initial pencil lines, it would have been easy to correct any mistakes; drawing over the painting won’t give me that luxury. I think I might just add some antennae and call it finished. The colors are so rich and luminous, I’m definitely going to be framing and hanging this painting, whether I add the veins or not.

I recognize that even when I draw representationally, my drawings tend to end up at least somewhat smoothed out and stylized. As I drew the “realistic” butterflies I learned their shapes and proportions. The next step was to draw a butterfly that was a little less carefully rendered in terms of matching the realistic look of the butterfly.

As a side note, I want to mention that I was asked to participate in the Twitter Art Exhibit that will take place in Norway in December, and I thought it might be fun to paint a butterfly for my submission. When drawing my first “less careful, more stylized” butterfly, I sketched out the shapes with pencil on a 4 x 6 card (the requested size for the exhibit).


I still drew it carefully and symmetrically, but perhaps you notice some of the subtle differences? I intended this to be the drawing that would become the final painting for the exhibit, but as often happens, the process unfolded in an unexpected way. I added the detail of the flower border, and then scanned the card. In photoshop I isolated the butterfly and printed it out to try out another idea i had for a background.

butterfly with dots

I like the dots, and I might work with this type of background in the future, but the floral border was very charming, so I left it as it was.

After carefully drawing the stylized pencil sketch, I realized that it was still very carefully rendered, which hadn’t been my initial intention, so on another 4×6 card, I quickly drew yet another similar butterfly in pen, just to see how it would turn out. With pen there is no chance to correct any mistakes, but by the 3rd drawing I guess I had learned how to draw this butterfly pretty well. I added a similar floral border as the pencil sketch, also in pen.

I wish I could show you the original pen & ink drawing before it was painted, but alas, I didn’t scan it because I wasn’t expecting to do much with it.

I do have a scan of another butterfly, also drawn using pen only, so at least you can have an idea of what I started with.


The only reason I painted the pen drawing at all was to try out colors and painting techniques before working on the “real” painting. I didn’t expect it to turn out so well, but I really love it, so I’m going to use the “trial” as my submission for the exhibit.

butterfly, final

If you happen to be in Norway in December, go check out the Twitter Art Exhibit. Looks like it’s shaping up to be an eclectic show!