Wednesday, January 28, 2015

WATERCOLOR WORKSHOP: Botanical Illustration

This step-by-step project is inspired by our featured woman artist for January -- Maria Sybilla Merian.

To learn more about Merian, and see some of her work, 

For this project, I used one of Merian's drawings for reference (for the butterfly and caterpillar), and I also used one of my own "doodles" (for the red currant plant).

Her illustrations were usually engravings that were later colored by her, with watercolors.  We will be doing an ink drawing and then coloring it with watercolor pencils.

You will need a piece of watercolor paper, approx. 8" x 10", mounted on a board.  You will also need some watercolor paint (Raw Sienna, only), a few brushes, a black ink marker (like a Flair pen with a fine point), and some watercolor pencils.  Use a marker that is NOT waterproof, because we will be using some water brushed near the ink, in order to cause it to smear -- to get some shading.

Begin your painting with a wet-in-wet underpainting.  Prepare a bit of raw sienna on your palette, mixed with just enough water to liquify it.  Brush clear water onto your paper -- wet the entire surface.  Remove excess water, and then brush Raw Sienna onto the paper.  This does not need to be even -- and it should be fairly light.  Then, let this dry.

When this is totally dry, do your pencil drawing . . . 

Now, ink your lines with the Flair pen (or other black marker with very fine point, which is not waterproof) . . . No need to erase the pencil lines.

Using a small round (pointed) brush and clear water, add some shading to your drawing.  Do this by touching the tip of the brush to the ink line.  Be sure to not have too much water on the brush, or you'll make a big mess.  Give it a try on the caterpillar . . . 

Move on to the fruit, and do the same thing with each of the currants . . . 

Continue in this way, until you have added shading to every shape . . . 

Choose a few different colors of watercolor pencils.  Use at least two colors per hue -- in other words, 2 reds, 2 greens, 2 earth tones, 2 blues.  (I show some white here, but I didn't use it.)

Let's start with the blue on the butterfly.  Apply both of the blue colors, using a light-to-medium pressure.  Since we are working on watercolor paper, which has some texture, the pencil will not cover well.  That will not matter.

Now, use your brush with the clear water, and cover each blue shape with water

Complete the butterfly, by coloring with the blue pencils, and brushing each shape with the clear water.  And, then finish with a tan or gold color, near the edge of the wings -- leaving some of the shapes "white".

Move onto the caterpillar, and use a gold or tan and a burnt sienna, with a little red for his "head?"  (Now, if this were a true botanical illustration, I would know exactly what kind of butterfly and caterpillar this is.  But, it isn't, and I do not.)

On the currants, start by coloring the middle of each one with an orange pencil . . . 

 . . . and finish coloring each one with a red pencil . . . 

And then, wet each currant with the clear water.  It's like magic!

For the leaves, color half of each section with a warm green . . . 

Finish coloring each leaf section with a cooler (bluer) green . . . 

Then, finish the leaf sections with the clear water . . . 

Finish your botanical illustration by adding tan and brown to the branches and stems . . . 

Friday, January 16, 2015

WOMEN ARTISTS: Maria Sibylla Merian

The 1st artist in my series of Women Artists --


Here are 10 Things to know about Maria Sibylla Merian, along with 10 examples of her work:

1 - Maria Sibylla Merian was a German-born naturalist and scientific illustrator.  In fact, she is rated as being one of the greatest ever botanical artists and one of the first naturalists to study insects. 

Her hand-colored engravings are as important to the history of science as they are to the history of art.  She is especially known for her documentation of butterfly metamorphosis.

Fearless, adventurous, and ahead of her time, she made a unique contribution to the visual understanding of flowers and insects in the 17th century.  

2 - Merian was born in Frankfurt in 1647.  Her father, the Swiss engraver and publisher Matthaus Merian the Elder, died when she was 3.  

Her mother married Flemish flower/still life painter Jacob Marell, who noticed his stepdaughter's talent and encouraged her to draw and paint -- even helping with her artistic education.

3 -- It all started with Merian's boundless enthusiasm for flowers and micro-creatures.  At the age of 13, she painted her first images of insects and plants from specimens she had captured.  

She says she "collected all the caterpillars I could find in order to see how they changed".

4 - At the age of 18, Merian married Marrel's apprentice, Johann Andreas Graff, who also specialized in flower still lifes.  

The couple moved to Nuremberg, had two daughters, but were divorced some time during the 1690's. 

5 - Merian published her first book of natural illustrations, Neues Blumenbuch, or New Book of Flowers -- in 1675, at the age of 28.

These are flower studies of incomparable elegance.  The illustrations were also used as pattern books for painting and embroidery.

The book was so popular that it had to be reprinted.  

6 - Merian was one of the first naturalists to observe insects directly, which was contrary to the way that most scientists worked at the time.

In 1677, she published her 2nd collection of engravings, "The Caterpillar, Marvelous Transformation, & Strange Floral Food".  

She carefully studied living examples of 186 kinds of European moths and butterflies, recording their appearance and activities at various stages in their life cycles.  She demonstrated the life cycle of the butterfly and how it transforms from a caterpillar into a butterfly.  

Her detailed illustrations provided a wealth of new information for the scientific community, and her classification of butterflies and moths is still relevant today.

7 - In 1699, at the age of 52, she took on a more exotic project, when she sailed with her daughter to the Dutch colony of Surinam in northern South America -- where she spent two years compiling a study of insect life-cycles and habitats there.  

While there, she traveled around the colony and sketched and catalogued the indigenous plants, animals, and insects.  While there, she also criticized the treatment of the natives and slaves by the Dutch planters in the colony.

In 1701, malaria (possibly) forced her to return to Holland.

8 - After she returned, her vividly descriptive and scientifically accurate engravings documenting her research were published. Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, published in 1705, was an impressive volume of her watercolor paintings and useful commentaries.

This was her major work on insects (and the first work on the natural history of Surinam).  This was a fantastic world of wonders in watercolors, full of accurate detail and minute renderings of butterflies, beetles, and insects.

9 - Merian's legacy was her important contributions to both art and science -- through her original observations about the natural world, conveyed in elegantly composed and beautifully detailed illustrations.  

She is considered among the most significant contributors to the field of entomology.  Because of her careful observations and documentation of the metamorphosis of the butterfly -- her work disproved the then-popular theory that insects were born by spontaneous generation.

10 - Shortly before Merian's death in 1717, her work was seen in Amsterdam by Peter the Great.  After her death, he acquired a significant number of her paintings, which to this day are kept in academic collections in St. Petersburg.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I'm excited to be offering a Watercolor Workshop in Long Beach, CA, in March!

Please e-mail me, if you would like to sign up for this workshop:

or leave a comment below.


I will also be offering a 2-day beginner workshop 
in February
at my home/studio in Durango, Colorado . . . 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

WOMEN ARTISTS - Exciting New Yearlong Project for the Blog

The 2015 theme for The Painted Prism is WOMEN ARTISTS.  This will be a yearlong project (and hopefully, beyond that).  This project is unique, because I will be creating a series of posts for the blog, that feature a different woman artist each month.

Women have been creating art -- remarkable artistic contributions -- since the earliest time, but they haven't always received recognition and have, in many cases, just been left out of the art history books.  

Many (most?) of the women artists that I will choose will not be known to you . . . 

Each month, I will introduce you to one of these women, and also show you some of her work, of course. During the rest of the month, we will see what we can learn from this artist.  I will create and post a lesson and/or project/tutorial, based on this artist's work.  

During the month, I will also be creating my own paintings, which will be influenced and inspired by our feature artist, and I'll show you behind-the-scene pix of that process.  

These women are not all watercolor painters (in fact, most are not); however, we can still learn so much from them.  I'm hoping, and expecting, that even my workshops this year will be greatly influenced by these women.  

I hope you enjoy this ongoing project, because it could easily last for 4+ years -- there are that many wonderful women master artists!