Paper moths are actually fairly easy to make. They are comprised of simple shapes, so the key to making them look "real" is a keen eye for observation when it comes to painting the wings. For this tutorial, I chose a Spanish luna moth, as their wing patterns are quite straightforward and it doesn't take much to make these Art Nouveau-esque beauties look ready to flutter away!
1. Find a good reference picture (or 2-3) of your moth. You'll be consulting these reference pictures frequently, so make sure you can see the details and colors clearly.
2. Sketch and cut a template for half of the moth, then trace it onto plain white watercolor paper. Cut out with an x-acto knife, making sure your edges are clean and sharp. Set aside the body and head for now.
3. Start layering on base washes of color for the wings. Almost all moth wings are gradients at their simplest, and even if they're not, you can fudge it a bit to add visual interest. For the Spanish luna moth, the wings go from a mix of greenish aqua near the body to a very light, yellowy green at the edges.
4. Start tracing the stained glass wing patterns with a light burnt sepia. You'll darken these up later, but sketching them in a lighter brown makes them easier to erase if you happen to flub up (which I always do). Use that same burnt sepia to trace the outsides of the wings.
5. All right, time to break out your tiny brushes. Outline the burnt sepia edges with a dark burnt umber (pure black is too harsh) and use a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue to go over the inside lines. Also outline the "eyes" and the half-circle shapes inside. On the outer edges of the wings, you can layer a mix of carmine red and burnt umber over the burnt sepia to give it more of a reddish tint and help the dark outlines blend more easily.
Repeat on top wings.
6. Your moth is almost done! Add the dark stripes at the edges of the wings, mimicking their patterns in your reference photo. It's hard to get wings perfectly symmetrical, so just try your best and line them up close together now and then to check your progress.
Add a tinge of ocher and carmine to the part of the top wings closest to the body. Then, in the "window panes" next to them (on both top and bottom), add just a touch of cool mint (again, this just gives the wings a bit of extra dimension and visual interest). Also add small half circles of white to the "eyes" to help them pop.
7. If you're feeling up for a challenge, cut tiny fringe onto the antennae with a fine x-acto knife. If not, don't worry, you can simply paint it in.
8. Paint the head and body. Different moths have different body structures and segments, but here I've chosen to simplify the body so that it doesn't compete with the intricate wings. Give your moth some big bug eyes and make sure the paint gets into all the fringe of the antennae.
9. Now it's time to assemble your moth! This is fairly straightforward, with wings glued under the body. On the back, I like to add a rectangle of the same watercolor paper to add stability, as these tend to be quite delicate creatures. You won't see the back of the moth if you mount it in a shadowbox etc., so don't worry if it's messy.
10. Holding the moth's body firmly (where you just glued everything together), start to bend and shape its wings. This way, when it's mounted, it will seem to hover rather than simply laying flat.
11. Very gently curl the moth's antennae around the slender end of a paintbrush. Be especially careful if you've cut fringe into them, as it tends to break rather easily.
12. OPTIONAL: Add touches of iridescent paint to the moth's wings to help give it a bit more dimension and pizzazz. Be careful not to over indulge on iridescent accents, however, as you still want your moth to look realistic. Here I've used some iridescent green and yellow pigments from Finetec.
13. Congratulations, your moth is all finished! I find these are best mounted in shallow shadow boxes (that can usually be found at the craft store), so that they can be displayed easily without risking being damaged.
If you want to, give your moth a name. Maybe a personality. Or maybe, like me, you've been happily chatting to your moth this whole time and now have a new friend to enjoy!