Sketching Tip: Insects

Rob Dunn Lab_Bee Germs_Students Discover
A draft illustration that didn’t ultimately wind up in the final image (©BGMerkle, 2016)

It’s still summer where I live (though not for long – we’re at 7200′ in elevation!). The bees and wasps are honing in on crab apples falling in my yard and arugula bolting in my garden. A bumble bee I spotted the other day reminded me of some bees I drew a while back, and I went digging for my sketchbook.

Almost a year ago, I was thrilled to receive a commission to illustrate native bees. I did a series of them, compiled into two illustrations that are be featured on a “Bee Germs” citizen science lesson developed by the Your Wild Life/Students Discover project.

Drawing these insects took me back to my science illustration roots. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I started my career drawing aquatic macroinvertebrates (caddisflies, mayflies, etc.). And, when I’m sketching, I spend a lot of time looking at moths.

A glimpse at my sketchbooks and you’ll see I think sketching most any insect is a blast!

Click on an image to view enlarged/full image.

And so, I thought I’d pass along some insect sketching tips.*

1. Body Parts: Be sure to double-check anatomy…head, thorax, abdomen; 3 pairs of legs, but how many sections?; how many antennae?; how many wings?

2. Color: Try watercolor to achieve iridescence. A vivid turquoise, a vibrant green, and some yellow are good bets. And, be sure to block out highlights before you start, so you can keep them white. Highlights of accurate shapes can help provide dimensionality.

3. Hair: Don’t shy away from depicting it! It’s amazing how hairy insects are! For hair/fuzz that is light in color, try drawing the outline of the overall shape of that fuzz. For dark hair, be bold yet wispy with your line work.

4. Dimensionality: Add extra shadow/darkness/line work on the shaded side of body parts, especially legs. Bulking up the darker edge of legs will help them stand out from the body details/textures.

Rob Dunn Lab_Bee Germs_Students Discover
A draft illustration that didn’t ultimately wind up in the final image (©BGMerkle, 2016)

* A version of these tips appeared first in the July 2016 edition of my newsletter, which was plumb full of insect goodness.

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