How to draw a Firefly

Whether you call them fireflies or lightning bugs, these insects are amazing. I loved drawing this page in the book because I got to play with lighting a lot. Fireflies are interesting to draw realistically, because if I drew them flying with their legs in the position they are when they actually fly, it looks very strange. Turns out, fireflies fly with their legs thrown back behind them, and look as if they’re saying “look ma no hands!”. This is so that if they run into something while flying they can immediately deploy their landing gear, but it sure looks unrealistic when you draw it. So when I was writing a book I tried to give them a pose that captured the “Wheeeee!” energy of the real thing while still looking believable. In this blog I’ll show you how to draw both of the poses. Let’s begin!

Step 1:

Draw a small circle. This will be the head. Make sure you know the size of this circle, we will call it’s diameter 1 unit.

Step 2:

Make a 2 unit long hairpin connected to the head. This is the neck.

Step 3:

Make a rounded rectangle 3 units long and one unit wide straight down from the bottom of the neck. This is the body. Under the body we will draw two segments, 1/2 unit long. Draw them by making 3 sides of a rounded rectangle connected to the rectangle above it.

Step 4:

Make a squiggly hairpin, 2 units long, and connected to the bottom segment. You can also do a regular hairpin if you prefer.

Step 5:

For the first elytra (hard shell that protects a beetle’s wings), draw an oval 6 units long and approximately 2 units wide slightly intersecting the top of the body.

Step 6:

For the far elytra, draw the same oval as before, starting at the same spot on the body but at a slightly upwards angle from the first.
For the near wing, draw a hairpin shape 6 units long and 2 wide, connected to the body, and angled slightly down.

Step 7:

For the far wing, copy the first wing but angle it slightly up, and stop when you hit the elytra.

Step 8:

Erase the part of the far elytra that is inside the near elytra, but leave the wings alone because they are transparent.

Step 9:

For the eye, draw a circle slightly smaller than the head inside the head.
For the nose, draw a curve whose ends line up with the head circle.
For the belly armor, draw a line with three curves from the top-front to the bottom back of the body.

Step 10:

Here’s where the interesting posing begins: The top option is how the insect was posed in the book, the bottom is how real lightning bugs hold their legs. As you can see, it looks like the legs are on backwards, so in the other one I had the bottom two tucked in a bit.
Each of the legs is about 3 units long, and the knees are at about one unit. This is including the bits that are behind the firefly, so if you need to, you can draw the parts that are behind the firefly and erase them.
The antennae are 2 units long.

Step 11:

Now to color. Color everything that isn’t the neck or wings very dark grey (not black so we can add shading later). Color the neck a color somewhere between red and orange. This exact color varies between region, species, and even a bit between individuals, so pick your favorite shade.

Step 12:

Fill the tail with yellow. (If you need to get rid of the background slide the slider all the way to the right.)
Next we add the pattern on the elytra. Draw a yellow outline around the edge, and two peach colored lines in the center.
Lastly, we fill the wings with a transparent grey, dulling and darkening the colors of the background. You can slide the slider back and forth to get a better idea of this effect if you’d like.

Step 13:

Finally add shading. I did very little white highlights in this, using it mostly on the far wing and the lit one’s eye, and used yellow for highlights everywhere else. On the tail of the non-lit firefly I shaded with orange, and used black for the rest of the shadows.

So that’s how you draw a firefly!

Making this page in the book was a fun thing to do, because it was the first nocturnal animal I drew. The challenge was to make the background in such a way that you could read the poem I wrote. The obvious solution was to make the text white, but if I had that on the night sky the stars obscured the text, and I didn’t want to have a gap with no explanation, so I decided to make the silhouette of a tree trunk to write the poem on. This page was pretty heavily influenced by the many times my brothers and I would catch fireflies and let them crawl around on our hands before watching them away again. It sparked a love of the critters I will never outgrow, even after discovering that there are green ones who aren’t quite so friendly as their yellow counterparts. Fireflies are fantastic.

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