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Butterfly in Watercolor Class (Video)

“The process of transformation consists mostly of decay and then of this crisis when emergence from what came before must be total and abrupt.”

– Rebecca Solnit

Below are the reference images for the Free Butterfly Watercolor Class. You can either trace the line drawing or make your own drawing from the photograph below.

The peacock butterfly, Aglais io, is commonly found in Europe and I see it often in the summertime around Berlin. You can learn more about this species at the Wikipedia article.

Aglais io, the European peacock

Direct link to Wikimedia high res image file.

Here is a close up of the scales on the wing.

“Pat Barker writes of a doctor who “knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.”

But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

I write this and then one day, with a free hour inbetween a conversation and an obligation, go to the old Conservatory of Flowers near my home, recently restored and reoopened. I had not been there in nine years, since it was ravaged by a great winter storm. I thought I would look at the gleaming dark leaves large as maps, at the vines and mosses and orchids, and breathe that humid air, the steamy glories I remembered. But the west wing of the great greenhouse with its milky windowpanes had become a butterfly garden and in the middle of that chamber was a butterfly hatchery, a window a few inches in front of a wooden plank, or rather shallow series of shelves, to which were pinned platoons of future butterflies, sorted by species. The chrysalises had taken on the shape of the butterflies inside, and some rocked as though stirred by a faint breeze, though the adjacent chrysalises were still. Four butterflies emerged while I watched, and seven more when I returned another day.

They came out with their wings packed down like furled parachutes, like crumpled letters,. Even as they emerged it seemed incredible that their wide wings had once fit in so slender a space. As they emerged, their bodies were visible as they would never quite be again, once the wings expanded and came to dominate the creature, and during those moments they looked like bugs, like insects, instead of what they would be when they were all brilliantly colored wing like some sentient cousin of flowers. Their bodies were still plump with the fluid they had to pump into those wings in the first minutes of their emergence to make them the straight sheets with which they flew. Each clung to its chrysalis while its wings unfolded by almost imperceptible stages. Some did not get quite free, and their wings never fully straightened. One butterfly sat still with an orange wing curled into the chrysalis. One seemed permanently stuck halfway out, its yellow and black wings like buds that would not flower. One flailed frantically, trying to drag itself out by crawling onto adjacent unopened chrysali until they too began to thrash, a contagious panic. That one finally dropped free, though it may have been too late for its wings to straighten. The process of transformation consists mostly of decay and then of this crisis when emergence from what came before must be total and abrupt.” – Rebecca Solnit

Artists such as Maria Sibylla Merian depicted plants along with their insect companions in their illustrations.

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