Yesterday I popped onto twitter to see what was happening and saw many tweets about it being Bee Day. I thought it would be a good idea to commemorate them with a painting. I am no good with painting freehand or drawing without a model, so I went to Pixabay, my favorite source for royalty-free images, and found a picture of a bee.
I think I will call this one “Forget Me Not” because the name carries a double meaning. The flowers the bee is harvesting are forget-me-nots, but we should also remember the worker bee doing the collecting nectar, making the honey, pollinating – so forth.
I didn’t really want to look for a tutorial to link to, so I will try my hand at breaking down my painting as it goes, so producing my first step-by-step. It may be rough going, and I won’t have any mock-ups, but I will post what I produce, as promised.
- Arches Cold Pressed 140lb paper 9×12 inch sheet
- Naples Yellow
- Manganese Blue
- Cadmium Red
- Chinese White
- Prussian Blue
- Deep Yellow
- Masking Fluid
Square 1: Make a Sketch
I took the image I chose, which can be found here, and I sketched what I wanted f onto my paper very lightly with a #2 lead mechanical pencil. (I usually prefer normal wooden pencils, but mechanical pencils give me a finer line for sketching before painting.) I only included the bee and its segments and some of the flower clusters. Instead of making it too busy, I restrained myself with the petals.
Make sure your bee is proportionate (enough) and that you are comfortable with your sketch before going on. This is the time to erase and redraw lines that you don’t like, because once you start painting, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to change or remove the lines. Also try to avoid putting lines where you anticipate to have very light colors or washes, because you will probably see the pencil line right through it.
For this painting, I tried to avoid doing the background first, and instead began with the focus – the flowers and the bee. I also wanted to avoid blooms of color like the plague, so I suggest you begin by painting alternating petals and leaving them until completely dry, then continuing that way until you are done.
For the center of the flowers, I used a darker mix of Naples Yellow. For the petals, I mixed Manganese Blue with Chinese White to achieve that nice light color. Paint from the edge of the petal, then soften with clear water towards the center. It’s fine to leave a few unpainted spots because they give character and texture to the petal. To add some variety, drop in a little edge of pure Manganese Blue here and there, more often in the front and bottom petals, because they are closer to you.
Then I looked at the bee and noticed that it has some light golden grains of pollen on its body, and light golden fuzz around it, so I started with a base wash of Naples Yellow, quite light, on the body of the bee, extending around the drawing a bit in the hopes of creating that ‘fuzz’ later on. I also added some of the yellow on the eye in a lesser value, to attain a warm tone when I darken them later.
While alternate petals are drying, and once the bee is completely dry, I applied masking fluid to maintain those little pollen grains, white lines of the wing, and some fluff around the borders of the bee – all in that lovely light wash of Naples Yellow. You can use a brush or a toothpick or something. I wanted to try using a dip pen and nib, because I think I have more control. Wait for the masking fluid to dry completely.
Then I painted in the colors of the body of the bee with Sepia and Naples Yellow, various blends, and a touch of Cadmium Red to get an orange hue. Wait for it all to dry. Then apply more layers of color to get that depth and darkness, along with creating more of a three-dimensional bee with shading. Don’t worry about the wings now.
I originally planned to have a verdant background for the bee and flowers, but I didn’t want to detract from the focus of the piece, so I made fairly loose wet-in-wet greenery with suggestions of leaves and other light blue flowers. Paint over the wing area, because the bee’s wings are translucent and you should see some of the underlying foliage later. Wait for it to dry thoroughly, and remember to use stronger tones than you think, because watercolor gets significantly lighter when it dries.
I decided that I wanted to lift the color from the bee’s wings to create that translucent effect, as it would leave some of the underlying color. I also lifted some color from other places in the background to create some highlights, specifically some of the leaves near the petals and the flowers in the background, because they were too dark. This helps to tie the piece together. Let everything dry again.
Remove the masking fluid by pressing and rubbing your finger across it firmly. Alternatively, you can use an eraser, or something called a masking fluid pick-up, but I just used finger pressure. Then, I made sure I was happy with the amount of color I lifted off from the wings.
Once satisfied, I mixed some cadmium red with sepia for the veins in the wings and painted them in. Try to use long and continuous strokes for this to make it all smooth and graceful. I used the same mix to lengthen the bee antennae, because I wanted to. Finally, I thought the pollen grains on the body of the bee were a little pale, so I used some pure deep yellow and just spotted them on.
I also added some darker areas to ground the composition more.
Square 8: Sign your work! Satisfying, isn’t it? 🙂
This painting was made in honor of Bee Day, something that I care about due to the decline of bees. As a member of a family that produces some of its own honey with several hives, I am aware of how serious a problem it is. For raising bee awareness!
On another note, I will be moving on to subject matter that is different because my sister strongly dislikes the bee. When I pressed her for her reasoning, she said the bee was fine, but that she dislikes the insects in general. Ladies and gentlemen, you just can’t please everyone. *sigh*
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, and don’t forget to drop a word in the comments section!