Yes, I love bugs. Insects. Beetles. Whatever.
Well, mainly, I really love the IDEA of bugs, and I love LOOKING at bugs. (It’s a whole other story when they’re actually touching me.) I don’t like squished bugs, but sometimes if they’re all dried up and pretty, I love looking at dead bugs. I have a few I’ve collected here and there, that I’ve hung up on the walls of our house for the past ten or so years. By “collected,” I don’t mean I’ve gone out & hunted them down myself–I mean that I either found them, bought them, or was given them by friends.
One day, while helping our daughter get ready for bedtime, my eyes tripped over a rhino beetle we had hanging in our bathroom. It had been there for YEARS (in different houses, but in roughly the same spot), so long that it just sort of blended into the scenery of everyday life, overlooked. But this time, a strange and very intense thought occurred to me, and it did so with a very loud voice: “I wonder if I could paint on its wings?”
Then I wondered, if beetles could customize their wings with painted “tattoos,” what would they get? Beetles often fight, so maybe they would be aggressive battle scenes with intimidating imagery. But not the typically intimidating human skulls, since beetles lack an internal skeleton and therefore it wouldn’t mean the same to them. Perhaps instead of a skull and crossbones, they’d have two sticks and some decayed leaves around them? Maybe a Japanese fighting beetle would have ornate scenes of fighting beetles emblazoned on their backs, or a fear-inspiring giant sole of a boot, since their main natural predator might be our own feet trampling down on them. Maybe there would be peaceful, hippie-tattooed beetles. Or images of their larvae with birth dates. Or a portrait of “mom.” And what on earth would a DUNG beetle get?
Yes, these are the kind of thoughts that sometimes go through my head while staring at the shell of a beetle and getting our daughter ready for bed.
So, like most ideas I have, once they’re in my head, they won’t go away until I do it. So I did. At my husband’s suggestion, I drew a preliminary sketch. I don’t always like to do this–I often like to just wing it (haha, see what I did there?). But this time (like most times) he was right.
Apparently, this beetle had been sprayed with a kind of varnish (because I bought it at a store and of COURSE they sprayed it to preserve it), so it was a little like painting on plastic. I used acrylic paints, and took my time going over and over and over it, layer after layer, since the paint had a habit of beading up.
But with each new layer, the image started coming together, and the basic layout was falling into place.
Thankfully, the wing shells were pretty sturdy, and although they had the slightest give, they didn’t really move much. Since I am impatient, I tried using thicker blobs of paint to cut back on the amount of layers I’d need to repaint, but I still needed to go over and over it again and again to bet the basic underpainting. Once that was dry, I could go back and add the little details and shading and fine-tune the whole thing.
And here it is: the final beetle! I really REALLY wanted to put a skull on his head, but that didn’t make sense, so I put a tiny leaf that ended up looking a bit like a snowflake from a distance. Still, I like the little “skeleton beetle skull with crossed sticks” (instead of a skull & crossbones) on the inside of his back. And instead of “bad to the bone…” Well, you know. Because beetles don’t have bones, right?
So I had SO much fun with that, that I immediately looked around the house for more insects I could vandalize. Some of my nicer ones are contained completely inside wooden frames and sealed plexiglass, which makes breaking into them nearly impossible (probably for the best), but I was able to accost one of my dragonflies.
So what would a dragonfly get? There are so many different styles of tattoos! This one is a tribal-style dragon on dragonfly wings…
Those wings were hard to paint, by the way. I was hoping for more detail, but this guy died about 14 years ago, and is really fragile. Plus, dragonfly wings, with all those little cells, are almost like tiny little tissue-thin accordions. Keeping a straight line was pretty difficult.
And the last one was this brittle old moth. (The light one, not the dark one who just happens to be glued next to him.) I gave this guy old-school flames, because of the ol’ “like a moth to the flame” standard, and because moths love light, right? So he’d probably tattoo some daring flames on his wings to show off his bravery at dancing close to danger. Or something. Anyway, they didn’t turn out as detailed as I had envisioned either, because moth wings are fuzzy, and it’s like painting on a tiny little carpet.
So there are my painted insects. I immediately went on Amazon and ordered a few more beetles to paint on, but apparently I didn’t notice they’re shipping from THAILAND and will be here in like three years. Or two months. Either way: a long, long time.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your ideas: with all the different styles and influences, what do you think different types of insects would get if they could customize their wings?
That’s really wonderful ~ I have a thing for bugs too ~ as long as they’re far away.
You should check out Mister Finch ~ he’s an amazing fabricator of bugs! I think you’d love his work!
I think a praying mantis would have ninja swords/weapons. Then, when try go in for the kill, their wings would open, brandishing their arsenal!
Wow that’s so interesting and creative. I especially like your work on the beetle.
You are truly talented! I enjoy your art and creative skew on the world. Your daughter is so lucky to have you for a mom! I’m a beekeeper and love all bees…..they would be difficult to paint with their fuzzy bodies but..the libelula is fabulous. Keep it up!
Thank you! Oh my, i’d need a VERY tiny paintbrush for a bee…but I wonder if you could paint on the papery part of the hive? Hm…
Love this! Bad to the exoskeleton! Lol! I also collect insects and skulls and nests and such. I wants painted beetle!!
Oooh, I collected nests for a bit, too! I kept two–one in a little shadowbox frame, and one very ornate one that my grandad sent me, in a baseball display case.
I like your altered bugs very much. I like looking at bugs, and try not to kill any, even when they get into the house. We trap and release. BUT I can only look at them for a short time before the creepy factor gets to me. We’ve been to a number of “insectariums” in various cities and I start out with “wow, this is so cool” but before long I have to exit “wow, this is creeping me out!” Thanks for posting your terrific illustrations, on bugs or on paper!
Me too! I don’t get creeped so much–but there was this one display of leafcutter ants at a science museum in NC, I think, that I could just LIVE next to. They had all these plastic tubes and plastic habitat balls that you could look into at all the millions and millions of ants and I could stare at that thing ALL DAY. It’s not so much that I love ants, but I loved their…organizational skills, I guess? 🙂
If you put that “Bad to the Exoskeleton” design on a shirt, I would buy it.
Incidentally, chelicerates are my favorite phylum of arthropods, and I have a heterometrus skeleton preserved on my wall. I imagine a scorpion would get a hypodermic needle or something–because of his tail.
Also there are book scorpions,whip-tail scorpions, and sun scorpions, so those ideas all write themselves.
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Idei indrăznețe. Artă pură.
These are so awesome. They turn me, not a big bug person, into a big fan indeed.
You work is beautiful and I love your posts. Thanks for sharing.
Those are just amazing! I especially love the flames on the moth.
I love bugs also!
I found those delightful & enchanting. I’m so glad that you’ve become a part of my world. It is infinitely better with you in it.
Wow! Thank you so much, I’m glad to be here!
What an interesting idea!! Thanks for sharing your ideas.
I delight in your quirky playfully elegant sensibility. Thank you for dancing into my world via the internet. What a wonderful way to connect with brilliant inspiring folks like you!
Your post made me smile. I do love the beetle with his tattoo. Insects are very beautiful – but preferably outside!
I’ve always ordered insects from here: http://insectworld.com/
For insects with their wings spread, specifically look for “spread” in the description. Otherwise, you will have to learn to spread them yourself. Also check eBay for people selling large groups of butterflies/moths – those can be really inexpensive.