The Beauty of Small Things

Dragonfly wings. Striped antennae. Subtle grays. A size 0 brush. There is beauty in these small things. But also in the thoughtfulness of a student entomologist who sent me part of her insect collection because she knew I would enjoy painting it. And I hope there is a measure of beauty returned when I send her the finished painting. (Click to view larger)

Tips and Techniques– If you are painting something very small like butterflies, moths, dragonflies and the like, pay attention to the edges of the wings and body. The cleaner and more precise you can be, the more realistic the finished painting will be, especially if you do not plan to add a shadow. Second, get yourself some very tiny brushes. I begin with loose washes to let the watercolor merge on the page, but I build up subtle layers and finish off with very dry brush details using size 0 and 1 brushes. Here’s a bit of the progression from start to finish:
ALSO: Registration for Arts and Birding at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine, July 7-12, 2019 opens tomorrow! Spaces tend to fill quickly, so don’t delay if you are hoping to attend (plus, there is an early bird discount)!

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24 thoughts on “The Beauty of Small Things

  1. I love love love your eye for small details. It is the part of nature I am most drawn to… give me striped antennae over majestic waterfalls any day. Your moths and dragonflies make me happy.

  2. Jean, I love these! I was wondering as I look at the top moth in the photos where you show first steps, you have some white areas left on the wings — did you do that with masking fluid? And do you put plain water on the area first and then add pigment that spreads, or just light washes of color that you combine by doing wet in wet? does that make sense?

    • Hi Rosanne- I did not mask any of these, but you could, especially if there was a defined shape or spot of white that you wanted to leave. I did not put plain water down first, but I have done that in the past. I just worked quite wet at the start and varied the pigments. Most of the grays were achieved with ultramarine and burnt sienna. You can really employ all of the techniques you would with a larger painting– just on a much smaller scale.

  3. On a walk this morning, a dragonfly landed on my shoulder. Then I received your email. How apt and so delightfully beautiful.

  4. you are the best way to start a day…I treasure your paintings and tips..continuing thanks..I am on my way to a three day get away to the beach…did I mention good timing?????best always, sandra

  5. Lovely studies! I must admit a penchant for teeny tiny brushes, too…though I don’t use mine for the gorgeous precise lines such as yours, but rather to add texture and movement over loose paintings. Yay for riggers and liners!

  6. This is definitely something I would like to try. It’s always been very intimidating for me to do such detail. I never know what size brush to use. Thanx for the tips. By the way where can I find such small brushes that will hold their point? Any suggestions?

    • The good thing about small brushes is that they cost less than big ones. I invested in Winsor & Newton Series 7 Sable pointed round brushes in sizes 0 and 1. They’ll set you back about $20. (Makes a great holiday or birthday gift.) I ordered mine at Blicks a number of years ago and they are still in great shape. Start with size 1, which might be all you need. I also regularly use a size 2 Escoda versatil travel brush. I like it for bird eggs, insects, and fine details. It’s a fantastic brush (as are the larger Escoda travel brushes).

  7. Your paintings of insects have always been among my most absolute favorites! Absolutely gorgeous! We miss you in the Art Show!!

  8. You chose well, made a beautiful presentation, and a generous gift. I like the way the specimens sit on the paper, like the beginning of a William Morris design: formal, symmetrical, and in gorgeously subtle color.

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