A butterfly on a carnation done in graphite with a tribal inspired background pattern.

After working on sanded paper with powder blender, I thought I would change things up a little with something in graphite. I loved how this butterfly looked but didn’t want to work up the background. I also loved how Lisa of Lachri Fine Arts adds in unique backgrounds to her subjects and thought this would work nicely with the butterfly and carnation. And that is how this came to be. You can find the line art and reference on my Patreon page for free.

Watch the tutorial or skip down for more.

Graphite is slow

I must have had a mental block when I started on this, forgetting how slow graphite can be. Not only that, but I also went too dark on the background and ended up having to go back and lighten it up as much as I could, not an easy feat. Backgrounds in and of themselves are also slow to work up and this tribal swirl was no exception. I finally have a more complete set of graphite pencils and was able to build up my values slowly. I worked lightly trying to not damage the paper with the extra sharp point on my hardest pencils. After getting the background where I thought I wanted it, I lightly blended over it with a blending stump to remove any variations in pressure and any roughness that might have shown. This gave me the nice smooth finish to the swirls that I wanted.

Complex flowers

I loved how the flower and butterfly looked but at the same time, a carnation is not a simple flower. There are a ton of petals that roll and curl in various directions. I began with the easier outer petals and slowly worked my way to the center. I worked each petal individually to make things easier and it did make the flower progress nicely. After I worked each petal, I gave it a light blending with the blending stump to again smooth out any variation and make sure the gradient was smooth. I then sharpened things up again. When I had finished with the flower I went over all my edges to make sure everything was nice and sharp and not blurry.

The Butterfly

The butterfly seemed to be the easier part of the whole piece until game time. It was then that I realized I had to be careful to not lose the spots as I built up the values. I tried to block in all the spots first but realized afterwards that this hampered my ability to use a blending stump. Not significantly but just enough to be noticeable. I didn’t want to have blurry spots after all. I worked up the other section of wing a little differently keeping the spots just barely darker than the rest of the wing so I could see where they were but still get smooth blending. This worked better but in the end, both methods got me what I needed.

Too dark

It was around the time I finished blocking in the butterfly that I realized that my background was washing out my subject. I assumed I would have to go darker, but after some advice and serious thinking, I decided lighter for the background and darker for the subject was the best way to go. As painful as it was to erase 10 hours of background work and rework it to smooth out the eraser marker, the piece is so much better for it.

What is next?

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Patreon. I’m currently working on a dandelion in powder blender. Let me know in the comments if you followed along and how it turned out.

Equipment ( affiliate links):


Any graphite will work, but some are not great quality. You can work with what you have. I used 9B, 9H, 8H, 6H, and 4H in Derwent. 2H, H and F in Berol. HB, B, 2B, 4B, 6B and 8B in Faber Castell.


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