Leave the Light On

While its customary to leave an outside light on at night for family or guests who are arriving late, I have taken to leaving a light on for an entirely different sort of guest. Each morning I am eager to discover who has come in the night to hang out on our back porch. We have had some exceptional visitors this week and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know who else lives in my neck of the woods.

Tips and Techniques– One of my goals with these moths was not to fuss too much, which is easy to do when faced with such detailed markings. I try to capture each moth with about three passes:

  1. I lay in the shape and “ground” color first with a wet wash, typically using two colors to get some variation. I begin directly with paint, rather than drawing first. I find that I can capture the basic shape this way with much greater speed. While one moth is drying, I start another and rotate among them.
  2. Next, I start to delineate the wings from the body and add the primary pattern of markings. The paint is less wet on this pass.
  3. On the third go around, I use a very dry brush to add remaining details. The antennae are last, as is identifying and labeling each one. This technique worked for all but the Polyphemus moth, which is ridiculously complex and took far more time than the others.

31 Comments on “Leave the Light On

  1. I like that idea of seeing live specimens yourself by leaving the light on! I like the array of little pictures on one page. Actually think you got a good amount of details! I painted a Polyphemus moth years ago and the page of my sketchbook was completely warped by the amount of water and brushstrokes that went into it.

    • It has been fun to go out and see what’s there each morning (though my porch is littered with small insects and spiders). It would be good to start early in the season to see the variation over the summer.

  2. Such a keen eye you have for details large and small. Beautifully done…as always.

    • Great question. I did pull out a magnifying lens for the two smallest moths. Otherwise, no. Had I wanted to do a very accurate specimen painting, I would have used one for all of them.

    • Thanks for the article. I’m not worried about leaving a light on for a few nights, since I think there is a value to knowing what is here. Otherwise, I’m pretty conservation minded and don’t leave lights on unnecessarily.

      • Yes, I really already had the impression that you love nature.
        So, sorry if I was too negative 😦
        I already thought I sounded too much like my father….. 😉 But I thought it was important to consider. 

      • No worries! I’m glad you sent the link. It’s funny because my adult son reminded me of how often I hounded him for leaving the light on after coming in late, and here I am advocating “Leave the Light on.” I think there is a fair amount of research on the impact of “light pollution.” Sensitivity is wise. Thanks again for yours.

  3. You always capture such lovely details. Thanks for the tips on painting such intricate wings. Could you tell me what size brush you are using for the tiny details? I purchased a fine tip watercolor brush that gives fine details but I struggle with keeping its point. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Jill– I used a size 5 brush for most of this, then went to a size 2 and 1 round for the finest details. The 5 is great, but holds too much water for the smallest moths. My first suspicion is that the quality or age of your fine brush may be at issue. Once they loose the ability to hold a point I think its time for a replacement.

  4. I just love seeing your work. Thank you so much for sharing. And, thank you for sharing tips for us newbies, or consistent learners.

  5. What strikes me about this page is the way the simple-shaped moths and long-legged insects (and the broken-legged spider) complement one another – they all look great together! I’ve always been fond of the moths that have lines running all the way across the wings, as two of these do. Beautiful colors, too!

  6. These are amazing! And I love the play of words. I just received as a gift a vintage 1948 insect guide and thought of sketching some of the beautiful illustrations and then I found your post in my email! Once again, inspiration! Thank you! You really showed in these the simple beauty of the moths wings. Love this.

    • Hi Erica- Sorry not to respond sooner. I bet that vintage insect guide is interesting. I love seeing how other artist tackle similar subjects and how they were presented years ago. Hope you’ve had a chance to sketch some this week.

  7. When I first moved to North Carolina, I was impressed with the variety of insects. I had never seen swarms of lightning bugs before. I also went outside and found a large green moth by the light. It was larger than the span of my hand. Another night I found a black and white one that looked like it was personally painted by God. I think God is an artist.

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