In my opinion, one of the most
beautiful things in nature is the wing of a butterfly. Its delicacy, colour,
and sometimes iridescence have always been a fascination to me.
Since I began to use Polymer
Clay, I’ve been trying to portray these spectacular animals. Firstly, I
used mica or metallic powders on the cut-out clay, this is good but it’s
hard to create fine detail. Then I tried photo transfer using printed images
and liquid clays. This method is wonderful for the reproduction of the
wings, but I feel it’s taking too much of a shortcut to create the desired
Some time ago, I decided to
design a relatively simple cane which could mimic the complex veining and
patterns of the animals’ wings. I found all the information I could and
from what I read, the task appeared to be a daunting one. Then,
I had one of the famous ‘eureka-moments’. As butterflies have 4 wings,
why not cane the fore and hind wings separately and combine them after
reduction of the canes? As the animals are symmetrical, I needed only to
make one side and flip a second slice over. I examined many wings’ structure
and overall shape and found that often, the fore wings are modified triangles
and the hind wings are almost circular (at least this is true of most people’s
idea of a ‘standard butterfly’)
Often, the edges of the wings
are the most patterned areas, so my simplified wing cane can be made from
lots of elongated flower petal sub-canes with the decorated edge of the
petal placed all around the edges of the wings.
||There are two
types of cane used. A plain bulls-eye with the basic colour of the wing
in the centre and the wing vein colour (usually contrasting) wrapped around
it. The other cane is a modified bulls eye of the same colours as the plain
one but with an insert in one side. This insert is simply a triangular
section of one or more colours which is placed inside the bulls eye by
slicing it lengthwise and inserting the triangle then the cane is reassembled
- see photo.
||The relative sizes of the
two canes should be roughly 1/3 for the plain and 2/3 for the modified
one. My final wing canes are based on about 3 oz of core colour, so the
division is very easy. The quantities can, of course, be multiplied if
||Both canes are reduced by
whatever method suits you – rolling is usually fine for these relatively
simple ones. Keep reducing until you have roughly 25 cm of the smaller
and 80 cm of the larger cane.
Now both canes should be
flattened between fingers and thumbs so that their cross section is about
Discard the scrap ends and
cut both canes into 6 cm lengths. You’ll need about 5 or 6 lengths of the
plain cane and 14 or 15 of the other one. If you wish to, you can include
an ‘eye’ near the tip of the fore wing – this is simply made from another
bright coloured bulls eye cane. It’s inserted as the fore wing is assembled.
Take a length of plain cane
and attach 6 or 7 modified sections down one side of it in a roughly triangular
shape. Then attach another plain section to the non patterned side. See
diagram and photo
Again take a plain section
and apply 7 or 8 modified sections down one side and part way up the other.
Then attach another plain section. The overall shape should be more rounded
than the other wing. See diagram and photo.
||Next, both canes must be
reduced. During the reduction stage, the overall shape of both canes is
modified. The fore wing is shaped into a concave and convex sided
triangular section. The hind wing can be gently rolled to reduce it, as
its final section will be almost circular.
||When the canes are shaped
and reduced to about double the original 6 cm, cut them both in half. Reduce
one of each of the halves (make sure they’re the same orientation) to twice
the length again. Now, assemble the large and small wing sets, using the
cut ends as a reference and the stripes along their lengths to confirm
that no twisting has occurred in the
You’ll appreciate that, as
the complete wing set canes are such odd shapes, they are very susceptible
to distortion when they’re sliced. In order to overcome this problem, simply
put the canes into the fridge or freezer for a while before slicing – they
hold their shape very well after this treatment.
USES OF THE CANES
Naturally, you can make the
canes into complete butterflies by using two slices and applying them to
a clay body.
I’ve found that a darkened
gold clay wrapped around a length of previously twisted coloured wire works
very well for the bodies. If the butterflies are destined to be brooches,
it may be wise to use a piece of sharpened 1 mm brass wire as an armature,
the point of the wire will take a standard clutch pin cap (sold by many
I’ve been a little adventurous
in my uses of the different wings I’ve made – making
I hope this article has succeeded
in explaining that making caned butterfly (or fairy, angel or even
dragon) wings is a little easier than some may have thought it to be.
Polyzine would like
to thank the British Polymer Clay Guild for permission
what Alan does with all of these butterflies!
Look for his tutorial in the December
2003 issue of Polyzine
to publish this article
in tandem with the article in their newsletter.