Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I was aiming to make these studies of butterflies into a painting but I’ve reached an impasse. I didn’t want to present them separately as vignettes though the form has a long history. Chinese painters were very adept at catching the spirit of living things with a few beautifully formed brush strokes. Technical illustrators go to the other extreme taking the long stare route to record accurate detail but often only giving the merest suggestion of their subject’s environment.

Normally if I’m planning a painting I make drawings of the subject’s habitat en plein air when I can. This isn’t always possible if you are sketching or taking photographs of a bird or animal in a wildlife park but the difficulty is not insoluble. I took 10-12 digital photographs of this butterfly before it flew out of range. I was using a medium range telephoto lens set to 70-100mm to ensure the insect filled a good proportion of the screen. With camera studies of insects the photographer’s concerns are primarily sharp focus to record detail and whether his lense is giving good bokeh.

My objectives as a painter are not concerned with photo realism and precise detail. I’m more interested catching characteristic or unusual behaviour particularly if this can be expressed by painterly means. I’m a great admirer of Lars Jonsson, his bird paintings show sufficient detail for identification but he uses a freer style to record the bird’s habitat.

I’ll break the impasse I’m in with the butterflies eventually but it will need some research into appropriate plants to compose a background.

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