Insects in general have long been a popular subject for artists and scientific illustrators to draw or paint, whether for documentation or for decoration. Millions of insects surround us and just one of those are the bees. They are great pollinators and play an important role in the ecological evolution and development of our planet. This tutorial of How To Paint Bees In Gouache is dedicated to this amazing insect!
I’ll be showing you three bees from three different angles/sides. It’s always a great idea to try out different ways of drawing or painting each subject that you’re looking to paint. That way you’re not limiting yourself to just one style or angle, and can fully and truly explore it in countless ways.
First up, prepare the materials you’ll be using. For this demonstration, I’m using gouache.
Materials I Used
● Gouache paints
● Watercolor brushes – round brushes and flat brushes of various sizes
● Watercolor paper – the thick kind as I knew I was going to do a lot of wet-on-wet painting
● Mixing plate
● Jar of clean water
● Absorbent cloth – for absorbing excess water/pigment, also for color-lifting when needed
● White gel pen for final detailing
● Pencil and eraser for sketching
Bees are fairly easy to paint compared to most other insects, you only need a few colors and their bodies don’t have intricate patterns. Bumblebees are the most popularly chosen bees when it comes to artistic works. The contrasting stripes of yellow and black on their bodies really make for eye-catching illustrations.
Start by drawing the bees, plot out their placement on your paper so there’s enough spacing between the three of them. I do my best to get the drawing right as this will serve as my guide for all the painting I need to do after.
Here’s my final sketch. Feel free to do yours differently or even separately, whichever you prefer.
After the sketching is done, I first wet the section where the bee on the left is drawn. I use a spray bottle filled with clean water for this. Then use a brush to spread the water evenly, brushing horizontally and then vertically – to make sure it’s well distributed. It should be wet enough to have a glossy surface. The wet-on-wet technique is ideal for painting bees. You actually want the blooming effect it gives as the bees’ bodies are covered in soft hair, giving them that fuzzy look.
Now, we can finally start painting. The first thing I do is load up my round brush with a bright sunny yellow color and paint the two yellow bands on the bee’s body. And some yellow for the two front legs, too.
Then let’s do all the black colored sections next – the mid-section, the head, the tip at the lower body, and the two front legs. I use loose brush strokes, with just enough control to follow my sketch.
Prepare your mixture for the next part – the wings! I created a pale brown-ish yellow mixture for this. Apply the light wash for both wings. Lightly pull some of the black pigment from the bottom and tip of the lower body, spread it out to create a grey finish.
The first layer for the first bee is now done. It’s time to move on to the second bee, the one on the top right. Do the same process as the first bee: Wet the paper by spraying some water, this time I used a flat brush to spread the water (horizontally and vertically), just spray some more if you feel the paper is not wet enough.
Next, let’s add the black parts – the same as the first bee. I started from the middle and worked my way to the head, the tail, and extended a bit towards the legs. All six legs are visible when viewed from this angle, for those I mixed a brown, adding red to create a warmer brown. I did some stippling on the legs to add the joints.
Now, I’m mixing a little bit of a dark brown mixture to paint the base of the wings. Followed by a lighter and warmer brown to deepen the color of the wings.
I get some black to darken the black parts of the body here and there. I use it to paint the upper parts of the bee’s legs and the antennae as well.
And now we can move on to the final bee. Just like what we did for the two previous ones, start by spraying some water on the paper to wet it. Then use a flat brush to spread it around the area evenly. Take care not to spray or get water on the two other bees as this can cause the drying layers to get reactivated. Once that’s done, paint a warm yellow, add a more yellow-orangey one to it after.
Then load your brush with the same color and do some spattering by tapping the loaded brush against your finger. Next, paint in the black parts of the body, the head, and the upper legs.
Use a deep warm brown to paint the rest of the legs and to fill in the wings, dilute the mixture with water to lighten the color.
The first layer for all three bees is now done. More than half of the work is done at this point, next up is adding the finishing touches and touch ups!
It’s time to add the fuzzy texture on the bees’ bodies. Start with a thick and creamy yellow mixture. Use a good sized flat brush to do a dry-brush application on the yellow parts, start from the center and brush outwards to mimic the hairy effect. Do this for all the bees.
I decided to redo the legs of the first bee. So I used a clean and wet brush to go over and wet those parts, rubbing as much of the pigment loose as possible. Then I used my absorbent cloth to lift off the pigment and water. With a small flat brush, use the flat side to get some black and paint in the hairy legs of the bee. You can use the same brush to paint the fine lines for the wings’ details. If you’re more comfortable using detail brushes, feel free to switch it out with one of those.
Mix a warm brown to add another layer to the wings to deepen their color. And finally don’t forget to paint in two legs that are somewhat visible beneath the translucency of the wings.
Let’s move on to the bottom right bee, this time I’m using a round brush. Add black to better define the legs, the body, and the head. Don’t forget to draw in the antennae and the lines of the wings.
And now it’s time to add the same touches to the upper right bee. Add black to the areas that need it and the detailing on the wings. And that’s it for the painting part.
We’ve finally come to the final part – adding highlights and line detailing using a white gel pen. You can use concentrated white gouache as well and apply it using a detail brush. Trace over the shape and lines of the wings that overlap over the dark parts of the bees’ bodies. Add the necessary highlights here and there for all the bees, keep in mind not to overdo it.
And here’s the final painting with all three bees. They’re just a great choice to start with if you’re considering painting insects. With just a few colors you can paint a dynamic work of art, with their beautiful stark and contrasting colors.
I hope you found this tutorial helpful and may it inspire you to take on the wonderful world of insects. There’s such an unimaginable variety of them that there will always be one waiting to be explored and painted. Just take your time and do it one step at a time.
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Here’s a time-lapse VIDEO of my How To Paint Bees Using Gouache painting process: