Ages ago, I told the story of how I looked up at my mounted beetle one day and thought, “I think I want to paint on that.”
I asked myself, “what would a beetle get, if it could customize it’s wings?” The first one I did was “Bad to the Exoskeleton,” surrounded by dead leaves and insect exoskeletons, because no skulls, right? I did another one: “Fear no boot.” Just the thing for a badass beetle who’s not afraid of anything….even getting stepped on.
I eyeballed my mounted months, and decided a moth might want flames, like the old “moth to the flame” saying goes, to show people, “yeah, check ME out. Got so close, I got FLAMES.” (Side note: moth wings are fuzzy and VERY hard to paint.)
And then I snuck a sneaky glance at my mounted dragonfly, and thought it might want wing art of its namesake: a dragon, done tribal-style. (Also: with all those tiny little cells, dragonfly wings are very hard to paint.)
But that was ages ago. I’ve since ordered beetles and painted them as gifts for family…moving more from messages to symbolism. This couple was for my parents: Bavarian-style decorations for mom, Egyptian-styled wings for my dad.
And one of my favorites–a steampunk-styled lovely for my sister.
Then I just had fun. I started thinking of the insects that use camouflaged wing patterns to look like eyed to ward off predators, like owls and hawks that might eat them. Which made me think a beetle might want a set of angry eyes or multiple eyes to scare away a HUMAN predator. Like, “hey, don’t touch me! I’m a cranky human!”
Some I’ve just filled with lovely little patterns I’ve had fun with. Human skulls with beetle legs, flower and mehndi-inspired patterns. And even a leaf insect with William Morris wallpaper-inspired doodles to fit in a modern environment.
I even learned to spread and mount them myself, and let Myla do a few. And as much as she hates finding dead insects outside, she actually enjoyed the process of spreading and pin-mounting them on foam core, and then painting them once they’ve set. Like she said when we painted on bones, “we can make something beautiful out of something that’s sad.”
People have asked, but for whatever reason, I’ve never sold them. So I decided to put a couple in the shop, mounted and set in little shadow box frames. I only have two, but as many as I’ve kept for myself, I decided I could dare to part with the two of them. (The shop’s here, if you’re interested.) If not, I’ll do my best to find them good homes!
There’s this lovely little black & white lady:
And this handsome little flowered fella:
If you’re interested, you could even find some insects to paint on your own! If you do, I know Myla and I both would love to see what you come up with. 🙂
I know that not everyone is into insects…but I once read the title of a book that described best how I feel: it’s from a quote by evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane (and sometimes credited to Charles Darwin), stating that because of the staggering number and variety on them earth, that whoever our creator is, they must have “An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles.” That pretty much sums up my own feelings.
I did a post on my beetle painting ages ago, describing how I once looked up at a mounted beetle in my room and wondered, “what might a beetle choose if it could customize it’s wings? Thus sprang my “Bad to the Exoskeleton” paint job.
I usually make my Christmas gifts, which usually stems from something I’m interested in at the time. Mom says when I try to hard to do what I THINK someone will like the WAY they like it, it never ends up as well as something I do for someone that’s in my own style, sort of INSPIRED by that person.
So this Christmas, my immediate family got beetles. (Sorry.)
I started working on this one for my niece, with the idea that it was a softer sort of custom, for a sweeter sort of beetle. Beetles would probably love flowers, in a dainty sort of way, right?
The next was for my other niece. The idea was that if beetles could customize their elytra (the hard wing shells), they may choose to elaborate on the idea that–if displayed openly–a set of angry human eyes may momentarily stun human predators, and enhance the beetle’s chance of escape. (While looking at reference, I found an interesting side note, which inspired the addition of the third eye: that the head and mandibles of stag beetles are often sold in some countries as good luck charms to ward off the “evil eye.”)
Next I worked on a double-mounted set for my parents, featuring a sort of Bavarian flower pattern for my mother’s and an Egyptian themed one for my dad, which I thought matched their personalities fairly well. My mom and dad are both artists, and mom loves Bavarian-style flowers, while dad loves anything related to Egyptology and archaeology.
Finally, I worked on the biggest one for my sister, who has a pair of steampunk wings tattooed on her own back. I tried to put as much detail as I could fit on this little guy, with small gears and painted screws.
So that was Christmas! A little weird, yes, but I hope they like them. While waiting for the beetles to arrive, I drew this little “born to be wild” doodle, to which Myla added on, surrounding him with little creatures helping him on his way, wishing him “good travels.”
(It now lives with artist Tyler Thrasher, who we met in Tulsa, who crystallizes insects using his extensive background in chemistry.)
So the holidays are over, and it’s time to start a new year.
I’ve never been one to push a year out the door–years are years through no fault of their own. But this year–from the accounts of my own family and my immediate friends and family–I feel like this year needs a good kick in the pants on its way out the door.
So here’s wishing that this next year is full of adventures and inspirations, of explorations both internal and external.
Here’s wishing for a great new year for all of us…
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?