Meet the Bay Checkerspot butterfly, an ethereal creature with wings as richly intricate as tiny little two-inch Persian carpets. Biologists are struggling to save this species, which has fallen victim to nitrogen emissions from automobiles and the nearly complete build-out of its natural habitat in coastal California. I painted this one for my show, Postcards from the Edge of Extinction, which will open May 5 at the Mobile Arts Council gallery. Here’s how to paint a Bay Checkerspot: first, roughly sketch the main shapes in pencil. Then…


…block in the undercolors. I used gouache, an opaque watercolor paint beloved to illustrators because it is nonreflective and reproduces well. White or ivory wings, dark blackish body, and some leaves to provide a place for him to rest.  Next…


…begin developing the details. Paint the outlines of his segmented wing patterns. Add some furriness to his thorax and his plump abdomen. Introduce some shadows along the lower edges of the leaves. Finally…


…work from left to right, using a small sable brush, and add the patterns on the wings. Take time to notice that each fresh row of “checkers” has its own repeated motif. Some look like gothic arches, some like round dots. Comparing the symmetry of the opposing wings will help keep you on track. Each side is a reflection of the opposite wing. I added a halo of soft orange and brown to help blend the whole image together with the old postcard beneath the paint.

(If you liked this step-by-step post, check out my instructions for making your own image transfers.) Enjoy!

P.S. The new year brought the first killing freeze to our Gulf Coast garden. We bid farewell to the broccoli crop and brought in the last of the savoy cabbage for soupmaking. But the collards, which only grow sweeter as the temperature drops, are still big and robust… and the snow peas, as thick and tangled as campaign promises, cover their trellis. Tucked in under a layer of compost, rows of garlic, leeks and onions dream of springtime.