Danielle explaining the process of colouring ants

Danielle Mills-Waterfield walks us through how she does her ant illustrations for the School of Ants in this blog post. As a non-artist myself, I find this so fascinating!  – Kirsti


First is the set up.

Choose an already pinned ant species; select a few if you can so you can compare them. Pin them onto a block of foam so they are steady and place it under a stereo microscope. Now have a look at your specimens for a while, observe what is similar between the specimens you chose, and what is different until you gather an idea about what the general body plan and features of the ant species is. If I have trouble with smaller details, I do some research on the ant species, and speak to a taxonomist to understand the morphological details, as some could be essential for identification.

On a side of the microscope that is comfortable, I place my working paper. I use an A3 size paper as opposed to A4 and highly recommend this as working on a larger space is easier to fit in details and correct mistakes later. Choose a light of hard pencil, like a 2H-HB and lightly and quickly sketch in the general shape. This step is not worrying about being neat, it is just trying to get the proportions right. I continue to lightly sketch over the work and look between it and the ant under the microscope until I’m happy with the basic shapes.

Now I use a kneadable eraser to rub out lines that stray from the main shapes, and then pat the lines already sketched to really lighten them up. Patting the lines will pull up the graphite whilst doing minimal damage to the paper. Using a slightly softer or darker pencil such as a HB-2B I start drawing the shape and details of the ant more distinctively, and have to remember not to press too hard!

Once I’m happy with my drawing so far, I grab a spare piece of paper and coloured pencils and start selecting the colour palette. I start scribbling and blending colours that I see until I have a selection of colours that most closely match the colours of the ant.

Now I get onto what I think is the most enjoyable step – the colour and detail!

I start off with an area you are comfortable. I like the abdominal segments cause they are nice and large sections I can work on at a time. Use the kneadable eraser to lighten the lines of the area you are about to colour enough so you can just see them. Then I decide what I think are the main largest colours presented. For this Camponotus species, the main colour was black with a stripe of gold and some gold hairs. So I roughly coloured with a black the black areas and did the same with the gold. I don’t press too hard and remember to leave shines or highlights white.  I colour AROUND them and if I make a mistake use my kneadable eraser to pull off some of the colour.

Start building up layers.

Put the first colour in the absolute darkest areas, in this case the blackest black. Now I go over the base colour and notice these newly coloured areas look less grainy and this is good for exoskeletons. Now I grab the next lightest colour, in this case a dark grey, and colour the areas that look that way on the ant. I continue this until I am happy with the colours.

Now I blend and sharpen the details of your colouring. Some reflections on the ant appear sharp black next to white or light grey. Other areas seem to gradient which means to smoothly change from one tone to the next. There are two ways to achieve this smooth look: the first method is to use colours that would usually be in the gradient and colouring them over the top of each other a little as you go from one colour to the next. This will smooth them together a bit so that the colour change is less obvious. The other method is with the use of a tortillion or paper stump. This is a tool that looks like a pencil, but made of tightly packed paper. You can rub the end back and forth between the two colours to blend them together.

I continue from here working to add final details like hairs or shines at it until I’m happy with the result.  Improving is simply practice, but for me, all this is lots of fun too.  Below is a collage of the process I’ve described above.


Danielle Camponotus collage Blogpost2

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