Tuesday, 22 July 2014

'Beetling' around - drawing & painting a Stag Beetle

Thanks to one of my students telling me about an insect ID workshop that she went on in Winchester, I have now found the most wonderful place that will keep me in subject matter for ever, and I mean ever !

The museum service in Hampshire has a great HQ where all of the collections are stored, from historic costumes, to fossils and beetles !

I made an appointment a few weeks ago and I excitedly made my way there today.  I had requested the use of the Stag beetles that they had, and looked forward to a new challenge.

So this post is really going to be an overview of how I went about this challenge, from the first faltering steps when I just wanted to give up, to the conclusion whereby I had to give the feel of sheen on the wing cases.

  1. The first stage was of course to draw this magnificent beetle.  Luckily I was allowed to take it out of its storage case and have it on my drawing board.  Using a vertical line enabled me to get the symmetry just right.
  2. The first wash that I applied consisted of perylene maroon to lay down a red base to the wing cases and the mandibles.  I lifted off some colour to leave a bit of a highlight, and it was at this stage I was wondering if I was even going to succeed with this subject!  Two thin bands of yellow were added and this was created from quinacridone gold deep (DS) and Naples yellow (OH).
  3. Because the further washes were much darker, I was able to build up the colour to rectify my initial concerns.  Normally I mix my own 'blacks', created from either 3 warm or 3 cool primaries.  Today, as I knew I was painting in a new environment, I took the easy step and used a colour called neutral tint.  I then added other colours to it as I built up the detail and form.
  4. The mixes were: neutral tint, perylene maroon, and a tiny bit of Sennelier yellow light.  This gave me a brown-black.  For additional intensity I upped and changed some of the colours and continued with this mix.  It was neutral tint, perylene maroon, indigo (DS) and hansa yellow light (DS).  I try and use no more than 3 pigments in a mix normally, but for me this combination happened to work and it gave me a dense black.
  5. When it came to painting the legs I used the latter colour, firstly using it diluted and then building up the layers with a size 2 round brush.
6.  Once all of the areas were painted, I touched up and added some more perylene maroon where needed.
7.  Now for the white gouache.  I always have a tube of permanent white gouache in my kit.  I don't often use it for botanical work, but for some subjects it can prove very useful.  I applied the gouache to create the sheen on the wing cases and highlights in other areas, with a size 2 spotter brush.  For the wing cases I applied the diluted gouache in small areas and then softened the edges of those areas with a slightly moist and clean brush.  In other areas the gouache was applied in a stippling motion creating tiny white dots.     
Paints used were Winsor & Newton unless stated otherwise:
DS - Daniel Smith
OH - Old Holland
Please remember that all images are protected by copyright and must not be copied in any form.  Thank you.
For further information on drawing and painting insects John Muir Laws has a video on YouTube:
As well as several blog posts:


  1. Fantastic work!! You make me want to paint insects now too!

    1. It was a refreshing change Shevaun. Not quite sure why I chose a Stag beetle, I think I wanted a challenge !?

  2. Brilliant to find this place Sarah, amazing painting!

  3. You'd love it Claire, there is just so much inspiration there!


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