What color is a monarch butterfly, really?

Someone recently asked me, after looking closely at one of my drawings, “Do you actually ‘see’ ALL those colors?” I responded that yes, I do, and I think one’s ability to see details and colors is directly influenced by how rested and relaxed one is.  As any art instructor will tell you, drawing is really about seeing; this goes not just for lines, shapes, textures and values, but colors as well.

My monarch butterfly series is a case in point.  Most people think of monarchs as simply orange and black with white spots.  Indeed, if you draw a very simple abstract butterfly shape with just those three colors, most people will recognize it as a monarch.  But if you ever have the privilege of examining a real monarch up close in bright light, you’ll see that there’s a lot more going on, and there’s only a little bit of true black, on the butterfly’s body, antennae and legs.

So, what colors did I use on, say, “Monarch #4”?  You might be surprised at how long the list is (note that these are Prismacolor names):

  • Sand
  • Sunburst Yellow
  • Spanish Orange
  • Mineral Orange
  • Pale Vermilion
  • Crimson Lake
  • Sienna Brown
  • Chocolate
  • Espresso
  • Black 

As a fun exercise, now that I’ve revealed my palette for just the butterfly, if you have a set of Prismacolors yourself, see if you can pick out these colors from my reference photo.

Reference photo for Monarch #4

Reference photo

Monarch #4

The finished “Monarch #4”

While you were examining your real butterfly up close, you probably also noticed that its wings aren’t really flat.  The veins provide a rigid structure for the papery areas, and those papery areas bulge, curl and buckle.  These features result in subtle variations in color, which if rendered on paper help breathe life and dimension into the drawing.

Hopefully this gives you a little insight on how I “see” what I’m drawing, so you can practice doing the same whether you’re drawing or just observing nature!

Check your frame!

We get reminders almost every day that we should check the work others do for us, whether it’s car repairs, a haircut or a paint touch-up.  But since frame shops take down such meticulous measurements and specifications for a job, it never occurred to me that I needed to do so for them, too.  Until today.

I’d picked up my “Spanish Spices” from being framed a few weeks ago, and hung it.  It has a cream inner mat and dark, warm gray outer mat, museum acrylic over it all, and a simple, dark bronze metal frame.  Nice.  Today as I walked past it for the umpteenth time, something caught my eye.  The acrylic was falling out of the frame!  And more than that, the right mat margin was wider than the left!  How did I, and everyone I’ve shown it to, not notice this margin before?  I immediately hauled the picture to the frame shop.

The shop was pretty embarrassed.  They pulled up the job order on their computer and verified that all measurements had been recorded correctly.  The framer had simply goofed, on both counts.  They will redo the whole job at no charge.

I’m counting my lucky stars that I discovered the issues before the picture is due for any public display.  If I had shipped it off to an exhibit in its current condition, it would’ve been rejected from show, even if the artwork itself had been accepted earlier.  I will inspect finished frame jobs more closely in the future!

Even if your artwork and photos have been on your walls for years, it’s good to check them occasionally for such things as cracked glass or wood, slipping artwork, or missing spring clips.  Protect your investment and/or your heirlooms by taking care of such issues as soon as you can.

A very good week

Last week was the best week yet for my art career:

  • Monday: learned that both of my submissions to In the Garden, a juried exhibit at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, CA, were accepted.  The pieces are “California Poppy #2” and “A Clarkia Kaleidoscope”.
  • Monday: received an inquiry from the publisher of Colored Pencil magazine requesting permission to use “Monarch #1” in the May 2011 issue.
  • Tuesday: finished “Monarch #2”.
  • Friday: sold “Monarch #2”.
  • Friday: finished “Monarch #3”.
  • Friday: attended the opening reception for In the Garden, where I had very nice chats with several visitors about my work, as well as with a couple of fellow artists who had work on display. 

It doesn’t get much better than that!