The Monarch Butterfly: when pieces do not go as planned.

Sometimes you start a piece with high hopes and the thought that it will be the best ever. Then as time goes on the doubt seeps in until eventually you start to realize that it should have been done differently. Such was the case for me with the Monarch Butterfly piece. It is almost complete but already I am planning how I will do it differently next time.

Firstly however I want to digress and tell you the story of why I started this piece in the first place.

My backyard it turns out, is a haven for Monarch butterflies. I’m not entirely sure why they like to come there. Perhaps it’s because I don’t use pesticides when gardening or perhaps it’s because I like my gardens on the wild side – letting them grow as they will during the summer and then bringing them under control once winter is underway.

Needless to say, every year Monarch butterflies arrive and lay their eggs. I get to watch the caterpillars grow and eat everything in sight, and then make their way to their chosen spot to create their cocoons. I am yet to see a Monarch transform from a caterpillar to a cocoon (it always happens at night), but I have had the fun of watching the Cocoon split and seen the arrival/birth of a new butterfly. At these moments I love to document everything with a photo. The Monarchs are such beautiful butterflies so I feel very privileged to be able to follow them around with a camera.

Once I started to learn about copyright, I revisited all these old photos of mine and found this one I took of a beautiful Monarch butterfly perched on a bush.

I love this photo, and I have spent many a happy hour drawing it using various materials: pencil, ink, paints. There is one ink drawing that I really liked. It is not an exact replica of the butterfly’s shape or coloring, but I liked it because it was done just by doodling with pen and ink during a meditative moment. To me it captured the essence of the butterfly in my own artistic style.

This photo and this drawing became a natural starting point for creating something that was truly personal to me, my bead mosaic plan as you would say. Before this, many of my pieces were done as exercises, as I tried to learn and understand the possibilities of bead mosaics. Whereas this is the first piece I chose because it incorporated so many things that were of importance to me. I love my garden and gardening, I love seeing the butterflies in that garden, and I love to photograph and draw the butterflies. I felt that in this one piece, I was able to tie many of these interests together and through them create something new and unique.

The unfinished butterfly bead mosaic.

I did not want the butterfly bead mosaic (pictured above) to be a replica of the photo I took in the garden, or a replica of the drawing I had made based on the photo. I wanted it to be a unique piece in and of itself. So I made some experimental changes to the background. I placed the butterfly amidst a swirling 3-dimensional sky and used different types of beads to achieve different looks.

This brings me back to my original opening and why it did not go as planned. Firstly with this piece, I chose to place each bead one by one so that the beads were connected on the rounded edge, not the flat edge. I am not sure however that that was the best choice here, particularly for the background. As the background was a 3D element meeting in odd angles and lines it was hard to a) place the beads one by one so they faced the same direction and b) I ended up with a lot of gaps that were highly noticeable due to the fact that I was using dark blue as the “grouting component” instead of a pale blue to match the beads.

Secondly, I am not sure I liked having the darker color on top of the spirals. I felt it gave the wrong sense of perspective. I am not sure yet how that will be resolved, but it does show the reason why so many other artists take the time to do mockups of various aspects so that what they want ends up on the main piece.

Thirdly, I did not take the time to make the underlying substrate of the spirals into smooth and beautiful curves. This can lead to an ungainly aspect when looking at the background, as if those curves took a wrong turn somewhere.

So I plan to re-make this butterfly at some point in 2021. I will re-do the butterfly as is, although there might be a few stylistic changes. I was actually very happy with how the butterfly turned out. However the background will be completely re-done. This time I will be doing several mock-ups and the best of these will become the final background. I can’t wait to get started and keep consoling myself with the fact that Van Gogh did his haystacks hundreds of times until he was happy. (At least that is what my sister tells me). It should lead, at the least, to a few very interesting blog posts as I compare my different versions and mock-ups and perhaps at the end I will create something that I consider to be truly special!

Until next time…!

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