Capturing the roundness and sheen of insect bodies is an important part of learning how to draw insects. The secret is in the amount of contrast between light and dark and the abruptness of transition between highlight and shadow. Here we explore how to draw an insect that looks rounded but dull and what to change to make it look glossy. You can print a beetle worksheet (three line-drawings of the beetle in this demonstration) on a piece of mid-weight watercolor paper and use it to experiment with and practice drawing dull or shiny insects. Click on the first image to enlarge it and follow the step by step demonstration.
Start with a layer of dull purple gray (Shadow Violet) to carve the shadows. It is sometimes easier to paint the shadows first, then add color over it.
Once the shadow layer is dry, paint over it with a solid layer of brown paint. Notice how the shadow colors show through the body color.
If you are painting on heavy watercolor paper, you can rewet some of the areas and lift out paint, creating highlights. As you do this, keep asking yourself, “where would the shadows fall?”
Wait until the paper is dry again and add crisp details and divots with a black pen.
Use a white Prismacolor pencil to strengthen the highlights. If you keep the transitions between shadow and highlight smooth and gradual, the surface will appear rounded but not shiny.
Now let’s paint the same beetle to look shiny. Start with bold deep shadow areas that transition into the highlight regions quickly. Notice that this surface does not yet look glossy..
Once the surface is dry, punch in highlights with Permanent White Gouache (a water based paint similar to watercolor but more opaque). The sharper the transition and the greater the contrast (black to white), the shinier the beetle will appear. This is why the thorax looks shinier than the elytra (wing covers)..
Continue to use strong, sharp spots of paint to create contrasting highlights. Now the elytra look shiny too. Notice how making these highlights in dotted rows suggests texture on the surface of the elytra.
As a final touch, use a light blue Prismacolor pencil to suggest reflected light, subtly illuminating areas on the shadow side. You can easily add colored pencil over watercolor once the paper is bone dry. Light pencil shows up very well if you push your darks with the paint.