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Shopping for dead butterflies

Butterfly Sketches - 2/2012
Not to come off as creepy or Damien Hirst-like, I am currently on the market for dead butterflies. I believe the official term is specimens, but from what I've been shopping, I'll be receiving dried corpses so... same difference! I'm hunting these little buggers down for my next personal illustration project, which has been inspired by my recent trip to RISD's Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab, for a live animal study session. Amongst the live animals were many not-so-live animals, including a couple cases of mounted butterflies.

My illustration project is simple: I want to make faux mounted butterfly illustrations using my cut-paper technique. I want to make scientific renderings rather than generic forms, so I need to be able to study the real things. Since I am no butterfly expert, (though that does sound pretty sweet to me now!) I am plotting a trip to Cambridge to visit the Museum of Natural History. If they allow me to sketch, sketching will probably be it. Ideally I would be able to sit with a few samples of mounted butterflies and make up some color studies and measure the specimens, but I doubt that's an option.

I'm actually quite taken by the idea to mount my own butterflies. I'm slightly petrified - for one, if anything falls off the dried specimen, I'll probably cry out of guilt, claiming I further "injured" the critter. Also I'm not too keen on handling the dead flutter-beasts... especially those big ones! I considered for a moment, to go so far as to grow so butterflies from caterpillar to flutter-state, but again, I would feel bad when they passed. The cool idea behind this though would be that I could show the specific stages of the metamorphosis. Another downside is that it seems I could only legally (or easily) grow Painted Lady butterflies, which aren't always as pretty as they sound.

I haven't seen much in terms of literature on butterfly spreading, though YouTube has a bunch of clips, though everyone seems to have a different method of doing so. Below is my favorite of the bunch, though I'm nervous about the use of slides versus tracing paper tacked to the board.

So I'm headed towards a new hobby and illustration project. I'm not sure if this is classified as "taxidermy", but I am intrigued. Trust that you wont find me stuffing mammals and sea creatures anytime soon, but I am tempted towards spreading some pink-winged grasshoppers!

Psst! I hoisted a few watercolor sketches from my RISD trip into the Sketchbook page.