Firefly Nights

Oh, the warm nights of late June and early July, when the spectacular light show of fireflies flashes through the fields! Not just one or two, but hundreds of luminescent beetles signaling to each other in the gathering dark. I caught a single firefly that made its way into the kitchen the other night and watched it flash its bioluminescent message for several hours. But how to capture it on paper? That artistic dilemma led me to throw out my usual arsenal of watercolor techniques and try something completely different. Patterns, color, and abstract firefly fun.

Tips and Techniques: I created this piece with masking fluid and a series of watercolor washes. First, I taped the area around the piece with blue painter’s tape to keep it contained, and sketched out the fireflies and grasses with a black Micron pen. After a wet wash of yellows and magenta, I masked the fireflies. Then began a slow process of layering darker washes, letting them dry, masking grasses, waiting for the mask to dry, and repeating. I probably did about six layers. Once I was satisfied that the blues were dark enough, I removed all the masking fluid and tape to reveal the finished piece. If I were to do it over (and I might), I would mask more yellow after the first wash for a bit more energetic glow.

Colors used: quin gold, aureolin yellow, quin magenta, dioxizine purple, phthalo blue, indrathrone blue, indigo.

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22 thoughts on “Firefly Nights

  1. What fun! And a very useful post for me, since, amazingly, I’ve just started a painting of weeds where I need to mask the yellow stalks in order to wash over the dark background 🌹

    • Glad for the good timing! I’m not usually a fan of masking fluid, but I couldn’t have done this piece without it. It pulled up the paper in a couple of places– nothing major, but not sure why. I would like to try this piece again, now that I’ve been through the process– I have tweaks I’d like to make. Good luck with your painting!

  2. Channeling your inner Klimt?! I’ve been enjoying my annual firefly show and had a passing thought to paint them, too. But I think I will just sit back and enjoy them, and your very clever interpretation.

    • Hi Beth- Enjoy them while they last! I sketched them years ago in a very “natural history illustration” way– it was useful for learning about them, but I’m glad I tried something different this time around. It’s not easy to break out of the mold– but its good for learning and growing as an artist.

  3. I admire the time and patience you give to your work, Jean. I am constantly struggling to balance the quick, loose, ‘go with it’ type of sketching and brushwork … with the careful drawing and patient painting that you do so well. Your ‘sketchbooks’ are amazing books of paintings, not sketches!

    • I can appreciate what you are saying Lisa. There’s a lot of emphasis on fast and quick in the sketchbook world and I do some of that– at least at the beginning of my pages. But my journal is central to the artwork I do, so I don’t mind taking my time to complete a page. I often work in small segments of 1/2 hour here and there, as I rarely have big blocks of time for art. It all depends on YOUR goals for yourself and your sketchbook…and finding what works best for you.

  4. Wow! How fun, and what a departure for you! I hope to find a few fireflies still around when I head to New Hampshire next month. We don’t have them here in the Northwest.
    I loved this one & will look forward to seeing your next iteration…..

    • Glad you liked it— could it be all that deep blue/purple, which I seem to recall as some of your favorites? You may be too late for fireflies, but who knows? NH is lovely in summer regardless. Hope you are bringing along your paints.

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