Peacock on Prunus

It is good practice as an artist to take your own reference photographs. Even if you are not great with a camera, it’s best to try. You control what you take, you own the photo, you get exactly what you are looking for…but…sometimes a photograph is just so nice that you are itching to draw it and you have to ask permission from the photographer. Flickr is a great resource for us artists and most people are happy to give you permission. A nice message explaining what you want to do with the photo, that you are an artist, how you intend to display it, what you will do with the subsequent work, and how you will credit the photographer are all good things to mention. Be nice, be grateful, and stick to your word.

My first foray into this minefield began with a lovely photograph by a Flickr member called afterforty?. He took a dazzling shot of a Peacock butterfly on a Prunus tree. The white flowers against the blue sky, the beautifully displayed butterfly…I was spoiled for choice. So I asked for permission to create a derivative work and he generously gave. Thank you afterforty?

I chose a new paper as a support: Fabriano Rosapina 22og. I chose new pencils too: Caran D’Ache Luminance 6901s, the most expensive pencils I own. They are the highest lightfast rating you can get your greedy little artistic paws on. And they look beautiful. I transferred my outline, after a grid-aided sketch, as usual, and began on the flowers and tree. The tree and stems used Primrose, Russet, Burnt Sienna, Sepia, Olive Yellow, Buff Titanium (is there a cooler pencil name?), and Violet Brown.

The flowers included Russet, Olive Yellow, Primrose, Buff Titanium, Bismuth Yellow, Naples Ochre, Orange, Silver Grey, Steel Grey, and White. I really enjoy doing foliage, especially the greens and reds of fresh foliage. It pleases me the amount of detail and colour there can be in a simple stem.

Then I moved onto the Peacock butterfly. By now, I realised that this support was possibly the worst paper I had encountered. It’s so soft that within 3 layers, I could actually see the paper start to fluff and move. It became a nightmare and I really had to hold back. This wasn’t just my usual heavy-handedness, this was like drawing on Andrex.

The flowers themselves have lots of wee spray coming out which would be a nightmare to do over the background. So I embossed all of those first hoping that when I put in the background, the blues skim the dents.

A cornucopia of colour for the butterfly: Cassel Earth, Burnt Ochre, Sepia, Burnt Sienna, Brown Ochre, Brown Ochre 50%, Sepia 10%, Yellow Ochre, Silver Grey, Light Cobalt Blue, Genuine Colbalt Blue, and Ultramarine Pink.

Lastly, Pthalo Blue, White, Light Cobalt Blue, Silver Grey and Genuine Cobalt Blue layered for the sky. Underneath the butterfly, in the photograph, the foliage is quite blurred. So I kept it blurry too, and after some advice and constructive criticism, added a grey layer followed by a light blend with Zest-It to increase and deepen the blurred effect.


Peacock on Prunus: Fabriano Rosapina 220g, Caran D’Ache Luminance 6901, 20x24cm

Thank you to afterforty? for kind permission to use his photograph.

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