Monday, September 14, 2015

Butterfly Watercolor Painting from a Photograph

If you've been following the blog lately, you know that I've been teaching myself to paint with watercolors. Up through now I've been posting youtube tutorials and my results of following along. But today, it's time for my own tutorial. This week I painted from a photograph. I did a google search for butterfly photos on flowers and found the photo above (I don't know who originally took it, it was on a bunch of free wallpaper websites so I don't have a credit). I knew I wouldn't get all of the fine details of the butterfly in the painting since watercolor painting is sort of impressionistic in nature, but I did my best.

The first step is to make a sketch on your watercolor paper. I like to tape the paper to a foam board so that I can easily turn the painting as needed. Using binder clips would work too....or an easel if you like to paint vertically. Use a light touch with your pencil so the lines aren't still visible after it's been painted. If you struggle with the sketching part, you can always use a grid pattern to help. I did a free sketch as I knew I wanted to adjust the scale a bit and turn a horizontal picture into a vertical painting.

The next step is to use a wet brush to dampen the paper. Brush around your focal points. I brushed around the flowers and the butterfly to begin with. Then I used watered down paint to create a fuzzy background. At this point in the painting I often feel like there's no way it's going to look the way I want it too, but the first step is just to get some paint on the paper--mainly the background. When I was done mixing colors in the background I put some pink paint onto my flowers to get a base color going. Then I let the whole thing dry.

After it was completely dry, I went back in over the flowers with some less watered down paint and started with some color on the butterfly. I also added a little more color to the background after it had dried and I got an idea of what it was going to look like. Then I let that dry.

My next step was to try to get the rest of the color on the painting and start to outline the butterfly. I made the fuzzy out of focus flowers on the right bottom look a bit more like flowers instead of just colored blobs, I added more depth to the flower petals and filled in the background anywhere it wasn't filled in, and I added the rest of the color to the butterfly before I started with the black outlining.

I let it dry the rest of the way and then did some last detail painting. I filled in and retouched the painting until I was satisfied (and I drew in the tiny butterfly legs and proboscis). 

One of the things I like the best about watercolor painting is that you can change things that don't turn out the way you like. You can re-wet the paint and blend it or dab it off with a paper towel and start nearly new. It's a very forgiving medium. And since it's designed to be loose and impressionistic, it doesn't have to be perfect. I feel like this one turned out pretty well for a beginner. I hope it gives someone the courage to try their own painting from a photo.

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