Hello and happy Friday! Even though it’s like midway through fall, my brain is still in first-days-of-fall-mode. Mississippi feels like a hot West Virginia summer right now (sunny and 75!), annnnnnd I hope it stays that way till we go home for Christmas. 😉
So, in between incorporating pumpkin into my diet in as many ways as possible, I have also been working on a fun fall craft: hand drawn moths! Even though I usually see the real versions of these lovelies during the summertime, I tend to think more about moths during the fall around Halloween, but not in good ways (thanks, Virginia Woolf and Mothman). Today I am on a mission to shed some positive light on moths because they deserve better, and–let’s face it–butterflies get way too much attention.
My first encounter with big moths came when I was about 7 years old. Mom and dad had a bug zapper that we would sometimes turn on and watch during summer nights. We never really had bug problems in West Virginia like Deep Southerners do with all their biting insects, so I think we had it just for entertainment. We were quite the country bumpkins. 😉
But the best part, in my opinion, was not watching bugs get fried, but the next morning when several large, burnt umber Cecropia moths and elegant, light green Luna moths that had been attracted by the bug light would gather on the bricks below the porch. They were too big to squeeze into the zapper and would just enjoy the light safely from below. Well, safely until the cats came to be fed the next morning. Notches in their wings sometimes told me I had gotten there too late to rescue them. But to me, even with notched wings, they were so beautiful and different than anything I’d seen. I have remained fascinated ever since.
You can only imagine, then, how excited I was when I discovered the author Gene Stratton-Porter– a lady who loved moths even more than I do. What I like most about her writing is that she approaches moths with the eye of both a scientist and an admirer, so her books are not only full of real moth facts but also beautiful imagery that makes you feel like you are there with her in the forest, drawing moths in your sketchbook. I love that feeling! To let you experience a bit of the magic, read a little bit here from my favorite of her books, A Girl of the Limberlost:
…Back in the deep woods a hermit thrush was singing his chant to the rising sun. Orioles were sowing the pure, sweet air with notes of gold, poured out while on wing. The robins were only chirping now, for their morning songs had awakened all the other birds an hour ago. Scolding red-wings tilted on half the bushes. Excepting late species of haws, tree bloom was almost gone, but wild flowers made the path border and all the wood floor a riot of colour. Elnora, born among such scenes, worked eagerly, but to the city man, recently from a hospital, they seemed too good to miss. He frequently stooped to examine a flower face, paused to listen intently to the thrush or lifted his head to see the gold flash which accompanied the oriole’s trailing notes. So Elnora uttered the first cry, as she softly lifted branches and peered among the grasses.
“My find!” she called. “Bring the box, mother!”
Philip came hurrying also. When they reached her she stood on the path holding a pair of moths. Her eyes were wide with excitement, her cheeks pink, her red lips parted, and on the hand she held out to them clung a pair of delicate blue-green moths, with white bodies, and touches of lavender and straw colour. All around her lay flower-brocaded grasses, behind the deep green background of the forest, while the sun slowly sifted gold from heaven to burnish her hair. Mrs. Comstock heard a sharp breath behind her.
“Oh, what a picture!” exulted Philip at her shoulder. “She is absolutely and altogether lovely! I’d give a small fortune for that faithfully set on canvas!”
He picked the box from Mrs. Comstock’s fingers and slowly advanced with it. Elnora held down her hand and transferred the moths. Philip closed the box carefully, but the watching mother saw that his eyes were following the girl’s face. He was not making the slightest attempt to conceal his admiration.
“I wonder if a woman ever did anything lovelier than to find a pair of Luna moths on a forest path, early on a perfect June morning,” he said to Mrs. Comstock, when he returned the box.
She glanced at Elnora who was intently searching the bushes.
“Look here, young man,” said Mrs. Comstock. “You seem to find that girl of mine about right.”
“I could suggest no improvement,” said Philip. “I never saw a more attractive girl anywhere. She seems absolutely perfect to me.”
Wasn’t that just beautiful? If you find yourself wanting to read more, you can buy the book right here. But let’s get back on track…
Today while beneath the buckeye tree, we are going to pretend we are there in the woods with them to catch a Cecropia moth, a Spanish Moon moth, and a Rosy Maple moth. Only we are going to draw our moths on card stock and color them with colored pencils to look like the real thing. Like Jennifer from Sea Lemon, I could never bring myself to kill one of these guys just to hang on my wall. But that’s ok because these hand drawn moths look real enough when they are lying on the kitchen table to startle husbands. 😉 And so, once we put them in a shadow box and hang them on a wall, visitors to our homes won’t even know that we didn’t hike through the woods with a cyanide jar until we tell them. 🙂
- pictures of moths
- cream or white card stock
- black pen
- colored pencils
How to do it:
- Research some different species of moths and pick a few of your favorites. (Try Googling Madagascar Moon, Garden Tiger, Io, and Atlas moths for some lovely choices!) Be sure to note the wingspans and general sizes of each species. You want to draw them to scale to make them look as lifelike as possible.
- Next, draw each moth in pencil on card stock. Include spots, stripes, veins, eyes, antennae, legs, etc. Be as detailed as you can. (Or you can use my drawings here of the Cecropia, Rosy Maple, and Spanish Moon moths.)
- Color in your moth outlines. I really like colored pencils for this because they beautifully recreate that dusty, grainy look of moth wings. Begin with easy details like stripes and eyespots, then trace over wing veins, and finally fill in the big spaces of color. To get the exact shades, I had to layer several colors for two of my moths. For the Cecropia’s bottom wings, I faded black from dark near the bottom to light near the top and used nutmeg brown overtop the lighter black. You might have to play around with the colors on a scrap piece of paper till you are satisfied with your layering before applying it to your moth.
- If you want less attention drawn to the light color of the back of your moths, paint or color them black. This step is optional and is totally up to you. 🙂
- When you’ve finished coloring, cut out your lovely, lifelike moth specimens. Be careful not to lop off antennae or legs. They are a pain to cut around but look so good on the finished product if you can manage to spare them!
Now, hang onto these beauties until next week when we will make a shadow box frame for their new home. In the meantime, see how many visitors to your house think a real moth is sitting on the couch next to them or just decided to join them in the shower. And then please let me know the results 😉
*Inspired by SeaLemon’s How to make butterfly specimen art