Challenging the Eye

My fall colored pencil class is in session and my students are working on this butterfly as their first project. As usual, I introduce the materials and techniques in how to use colored pencil, but this is also a great exercise in challenging the artist’s eye. We start with a simple contour drawing to sketch the basic lines of the butterfly. There are three main sections of its wings, the body, head, legs, and antennae. Most students assume the next step is to draw the patterns on the wings and then start filling in color. Some are surprised when I explain that the detailed patterns are the last step in creating the drawing. I instruct them to first fill in the entire contour drawing of the butterfly with creme as a base color. The next task is to add values by applying patches of other colors like olive green, gray, and darker shades of yellow. In this part of the process, multiple layers of color are added, giving more dimension to the drawing. The final stage is to add the details of the black patterns. A battery powered eraser is a useful tool at this point to create the highlights on the body. It can also be used to remove spots of underlying color, and then fill in the areas with red and blue. This process might seem counterintuitive at first, but it trains the artist to break down their subject into it’s simplest form, leading to a much more accurate, realistic finished drawing.