Here is the first stage of a painting of a monarch butterfly on seaside goldenrod. While the contour drawing of the insect is carefully drawn, the goldenrod stalks (hardly visible here) and the first wash of colors are loosely laid in. You’ll note at this stage that value is relatively light, especially where planned darks will contrast key areas. Color is bright and varies in temperature. (The butterfly’s white spots are covered with frisket for now to facilitate painting quickly.) These washes were applied on mostly wet paper.
Now some goldenrod stalks and more saturated color to the wings are added. Frisket stays in place and color is still bright.
A darker background wash, applied very quickly using mostly blue, now begins to define the goldenrod flower shapes through negative space painting. The very dark blotches of saturated green were applied dry-on-wet so that their shapes could be controlled. Otherwise this was painted very quickly and intuitively. Note the general line direction is in a diagonal, left to right. You will see that these lines and goldenrod leaf shapes will help visually support the strong markings in the butterfly, necessary because the subject contrasts in color with its setting and a relationship in at least one painting element should exist between subject and background.
Almost finished… Black paint covers the white spots still mostly obscured by frisket, though some have been lifted here. The dark background mass behind the flowers needed some visual balance, so dark leaf and stem shapes at bottom right and lower left did the trick.
These beautiful North American insects are brightly colored to serve as a warning sign to predators of their toxicity, which they acquire as caterpillars that feast on milkweed plants. This also apparently makes them unpalatable to predators, which avoid them. Another butterfly, the smaller viceroy, benefits from mimicking the monarch’s coloration and pattern, yet is not toxic or unpalatable because its caterpillars feed on different plants. Every summer we search the yard for the tiny, white monarch caterpillar eggs on milkweed plants, and if we’re lucky, we watch the caterpillar hatch and the white, black and yellow-striped caterpillar grow, munching noisily and incessantly, until it forms a chrysallis and eventually becomes a butterfly! It’s a fascinating metamorphosis everyone should see.