Making Insect Art


Hello Everyone,

I thought perhaps you might be curious about how I make Insect Art. Now, don't get your hopes up...I'm not going to give you step-by-step instructions (hey, I have to protect my trade secrets!), but I thought some insight into my process might be interesting. The number one question I get asked at art shows is "Do you collect your own insects?". When I tell people no, they seem disappointed. I wish I could say to them "hey, Rachael over in the next booth doesn't mine her own silver!" (http://www.sudlow.etsy.com/ for her awesome jewelry!). I don't really have the heart to kill even a bug, plus we don't have very many awesome bugs that live around here, so for those two reasons, I buy most of my insects from a dried insect dealer. I get them directly from Asia, since that's where lots of cool bugs live (and are farmed for this purpose). They come to me all dried out and folded up. See the picture for examples of some butterflies and beetles:
Now, the trick is getting the bugs unfolded and re-positioned. Being dried out, the bugs are extremely fragile. Before I can begin to unfold them, they must be re-hydrated in a process that takes 24-48 hours. Once they are pliable again, the hard part starts. When I was first beginning to make Insect Art for myself, I ruined plenty of butterflies. You can hardly touch them at all if you want to keep their color intact; butterfly scales rub off very easily. Of course, some species will give you more trouble than others. Unfortunately, all the famous ones in the group Papilio are especially bad. I used many creative methods and a lot of trial and error before I was confident enough to handle some of the more expensive species. Trust me, plenty of "surgeries" are done on my dining room table...antennae and legs break off all the time! Beetles are a little more forgiving; they don't really have any scales to rub off. However, it does take a bit of skill to locate and unfold all of their various legs and feeding parts. Beetles are insects, so they do have wings. Most traditional dried insect displays don't capitalize on this fact, so I like to bring them out. That part is a bit tricky, but it was definitely worth learning how to do. After I have the insects all positioned, I let them dry back out and then they are ready for use. I collect them off of my spreading boards and place them in very sophisticated storage containers (as you can see!)
Depending on size, I can "spread" up to six butterflies per night. The picture to the right is the effort of several spreading sessions. After the insects have been prepared, they are ready for use. I decide which insects I want to use in a particular frame, then I match them up with a coordinating art background. Sometimes my backgrounds are ready-made pieces of art paper, and occasionally they are sheets of handmade paper that I order in. I hope to get into the practice of painting some of my own art backgrounds, for for heaven's sake, I don't want to ruin or take away from the natural beauty of the insects! I have taken a Chinese brush painting class in the past, and may try my hand at a few simple, hand-painted backgrounds. However, I don't consider myself a painter. The real artistic work I do is in the preparing, positioning, and coordinating of materials that have been provided to me by Nature. So no, I do not catch my own butterflies, but I certainly do spend plenty of time turning those those raw materials into a finished product! I hope you have enjoyed this brief insight into how my Insect Art is made, and thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Glass Lady said...

Wow that sure sounds like a lot of work...but your finished product is beautiful!