Coloring insects

It’s no secret now—Insectimaginary has been set free and it’s now available on Amazon—5 days before it’s official release date, and colorists seem pretty excited!

Thank you for all the early orders, RCC fans!

While waiting for the book to go through the review stages, I was able to pick up my art supplies and do a little coloring for a new mini-project, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to put together a tutorial demonstrating some of the tips I talked about on pages 12-13 of the book.

We all have our own style of coloring, so the tips here may or may not be of use to you, but at the very least, they will show you how I do what I do. And it’s not always perfect and I am still experimenting and trying to refine my own coloring style when I am not busy drawing the lines for the coloring pages.

I originally printed this image (which is featured as one of the decorative opening and closing pages in Insectimaginary) on 110 lb Recollections grey-tinted card stock (from Michaels) and, since I wasn’t paying attention to my printer settings, it came out too enlarged. No worries. I used it as a test page and got out my Caran d’Ache Museum watercolor pencils and my mica paints made by Karen Spencer to play around with some color combo ideas. I colored with the Museums in small circles and overlapped a few areas of cool colors, then did the same with warm colors.


My messy test page

I also used my watercolor pencils to draw a few leaves, and then used a mister to spray water on my page. The watercolor pencils blurred nicely, and I used a waterbrush to add some of the mica paints in places, and used more watercolor pencils to add some squiggle designs. Just playing and experimenting. And once bone dry, I added some gel pen embellishments.

Once I had an idea where I wanted the final piece to go (though I rarely stick to set plans when it comes to art), I reprinted the design and made sure it fit my paper this time, and taped it down to my art board since I planned to use water and didn’t want it to warp too much.

I spent about an hour filling in the background (using small, fairly light circular motions with my Museums—lots of greens, blues and a little violet—and I varied my colors within different areas of the background to give it color variation and interest.


Caran d’Ache Museum watercolor pencils used for the background


Maybe it took more like an hour and half to fill the entire background in. I easily lose track of time when I am working.


Page filled with background colors

Once I had the page filled with my overlapping layers of color, I drew leafy vines with a sharpened Moss Museum watercolor pencil, and filled them in with a little Light Olive.


Added leafy vines to the bottom half of the page

Once I was content with the vines and leaves, it was time to mist the page (and bite my nails). I started with small sections at first. And then disaster struck. My colors were not blending as easily as they had before on the test page—and the paper was soaking up too much water and getting all blotchy.

I realized I had printed on the wrong card stock!


Water soaking into the paper too fast caused these dark splotches

While not a bad stock to color on, the 65lb Recollections paper has just enough difference in texture and weight to affect how the watercolors work. I could still see my small circles even after using a waterbrush to blend and add in some mica paints. Happy with the violet mica paints, disappointed in the paper. I was careful not to overwork it with my brush because I didn’t want to cause “pills” (those little globs of paper mush that pull off the paper when the fibers are too lose) or holes in my art.

This is why I stress the importance of knowing your paper—each type will cause your media to react differently. I just wasn’t paying attention as I fed more card stock into my printer.

Slow down, mama.



Gah! This looks really awful!

I did what I could and set it aside for a day or so to dry. I even considered junking it and reprinting the art on the heavier card stock.

A few days later it was bone dry and I weighed my options: use this piece so I could avoid losing time on the new mini-project (I’ll tell you what it is soon, promise) or start completely over.


Paper is dry, fairly flat and salvageable. All the splotches are gone.

I decided to keep going figuring I could use light layers of colored pencils to help smooth over the rough areas that hadn’t blended properly, and it seemed to be working.

Side note: I really like the hard, melamine surface art board I bought back in college long ago. In addition to having a really smooth surface, I can mix watercolors on it off to the side if needed. And scribble notes in pencil. It all wipes off with a damp cloth.

Once I had enough pencil pigment on the paper (mostly a mix of Luminance, Polychromos and Prismacolor Premier pencils), I used a Derwent blender (and my Prisma blender, too) to smooth everything out, section by section, for the bottom half of the background. I also used my Irojiten pencils (with nice sharp points) to add a little definition and more color to my leafy vines. I then used the Caran d’Ache Blender Bright to do a final blend and smoothing, but just for the areas I knew were finished. I only worked on the bottom part of the coloring so far.

I could not wait to start coloring the bugs and started with the bee. Luminance and Polychromos pencils for the body (blended with the Blender Bright) and then, the shimmery mica paints! And Sakura Souffle gel pens for the embellishments, of course.

You know I love my dots.



Instead of using just black and yellow for the bee, I used a mix of Yellow and Burnt Ochre and a few different browns. I used Blanco as my base mica with a little touch of the brush in a few other colors to tint the silvery-white.

The next video demonstrates my point on page 12 of Insectimaginary about coloring symmetrical designs. Bug wings are balanced for the most part, and so when you are working with colors, you’ll want to move back and forth from wing section to wing section. For example, color one area on the left, then move to that same area on the right with your same color to keep everything balanced. This is especially important when working with multiple colors and blending. If you have to take a break, it will be a lot easier to pick up where you left off and remember which colors you need to keep the balance or symmetry going. You do not have to keep your insect wings balanced, of course, but if that is your goal, it can help to work this way.

Also, since Insectimaginary is formatted in the art journal style, you can easily write down your color combos if needed on the journal pages facing the main plates.

In addition to pencil, I used mica paints on the wings and burnished what I could (pencil areas only) with the Blender bright. (And yep, that’s my first healing blister on the inside of my thumb from raking leaves).


I had to stop working for a day or so and when I came back to it, I only had time for something small. The ladybug was perfect.

I used a blend of Luminance Crimson Alzarin, Permanent Red and Perylene Brown (which looks more like a deep rich red than brown), blended my layers with the Derwent blender, then the Blender Bright to lock it all in. I’ve found I really like using the more “scratchy” Derwent and Prismacolor blender pencils to move my colors around initially, then when I follow up with the Caran d”ache Blender Bright stick, my colors become more saturated and the waxy surface provides a better seal. Black Irojiten for the spots, then the XS black Pitt pen to darken the spots and add details in the face and legs. I also used a white Gellyroll for the eye and nose dots.

Here’s a shot of my messy space and where I am so far overall. That odd-looking contraption at the top center of the photo is my iphone clip on a beandable arm. I use it to lock in my phone so I can take videos. It is not ideal (half of the time it’s so close to my face I have to lean around it to see what I am doing. And I have a few small goose-neck lamps on my desk, but the lighting is still not ideal for filming.


A day or so later, I was able to work on the Suvi beetle in the top right corner (also Plate 20 in the book) and started with a mix of purples. This next video shows more back and forth symmetrical coloring with blues and purples.

And here is the Suvi beetle almost done. I added mica paints for the flowers and gold stripes on the legs, and a few gel pen embellishments so far. I’ll probably go back and add more.


Next up is the wing of the beetle on the far left edge of the piece. Here, I lightly colored a mix of blues and greens over the little patterns I drew with the Indigo Irojiten pencil.


After my light layers were down, I used the Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium Luminance pencil to (with quite a bit of pressure) to move those colors around and soften them up up. I’m not sure that it really looks like fabric, but that’s what I’ve been calling in in past tutorials and in my books.

I really love how the Buff lifts the colors. Once I had this part of the wing blended, I used the Blender Bright again to lock it all in.

I never used to understand what all the fuss was about regarding gel pens until I got my hands on the Sakura Souffles. I used them along with Gellyroll Moonlight and metallic UBRANDS gel pens to add decorations to the wings.

Having that coat of wax from the Blender Bright underneath helps to keep the ink from spreading. Instead, it “floats” on top of the surface and mostly stays where you want it. When I am working with gel pens, I keep a scrap of cardboard nearby to wipe the tips of the pens off when needed. They do have a tendency to pick up wax and pigments if you press too hard, so getting that gunk off the rollerball frequently (and using light pressure while drawing and dotting) is key. Brushing the crud off your coloring before using pens is important, too.

Dots are easy. I’ve yet to master perfect lines with gel pens.


And I haven’t mastered being patient enough to let my ink fully dry before coloring nearby. I really need to try the blow-dryer trick someday and keep one in my studio.



This is where I have to leave off for now.

Aside from finishing the last few insects (the dragonfly will be a doozie with all those details), I need to address the top half of the background. Not sure yet but it will likely be a little darker—a night sky with a peppering of dots for stars, perhaps?


I’ll be using the same techniques I described above, and once it is done, I will scan it into Photoshop so I can use it for a little upcoming project. More details on that to come!

In the meantime, happy coloring and never be afraid to experiment!