One of my favorite career assignments was illustrating these Butterfly Notecards.

In 1997, I received an assignment from the east coast. I would be illustrating a series of note cards for a publisher called Creative Horizons (no longer in existence). I ended up illustrating six butterflies, a honeybee, and two flowers. Of those paintings, only four butterflies were published.

Whenever I received an assignment, the first thing I did was search out reference. I had an extensive amount of food pictures, but I also collected other pictures that interested me. Because I liked insects and butterflies, I had a few books and photos. While looking at my files, I came across a clipping. It mentioned that there was a lady who wasn’t too far away from where I lived. She specialized in renting insects. She turned out to be a perfect source for reference.

I called her and set up an appointment. My story is below:


The house was on a residential street; I tapped on the screen door. It took a long time until it opened; I was about to leave when I heard a lady yell to me that she would be there soon. I waited, and it took about ten minutes.

The door swung open and there was a huge woman in a wheelchair; she was gasping from the effort of coming to answer the door. She beckoned me inside.

As I entered a dim room, I was still blinded by the incredible colors and reflections that surrounded me. Every available space on the walls had insect specimens on them. There were glowing iridescent beetles, enormous moths, shimmering, metallic looking butterflies and scores of frightening spiders and scorpions. It was such a dazzling display!

I was fascinated. I followed this woman as she struggled to push herself in her wheelchair toward a back room. When she caught her breath, she warmly shook my hand and introduced herself as Cathy. With great effort, she pulled out a few trays from different cabinets. When she needed to go into the other room to get more, it was with a lot of difficulty. I was very patient, because I was observing the spectacle before me – I had never seen such a beautiful display of insects.

Insects had always fascinated me, so this was truly engrossing for me. I had given her a list of butterfly species that I needed to illustrate, and Cathy opened up one of her trays to remove an insect.

She gently lifted out the specimen and pinned it onto a board. She used tweezers and deftly she adjusted each antenna and leg. We talked while she worked. She enjoyed sharing information about butterflies. I had already known that the powder on their wings was very important; touching a live butterfly wing can end up killing the insect if enough of the powder comes off.

We discussed how many insects I would be taking home. She charged me $30 a specimen, which was lower than her usual fee. The insects were very delicate, and I left her house taking great care not to damage then.

After I illustrated six butterflies, I was asked to illustrate a honeybee. I called Cathy and asked her if she had any. We set up another appointment.

Just like the last time, it took her a very, long time to answer the door. She shared that recently she had been ill and her face was ashen. I felt very sorry for her, and asked if there was anything I could do. We talked for a long time about many things. She created artistic displays using butterfly wings, and her passion was evident. I enjoyed being with her.

Since my next illustration was a honeybee, she showed an array of bees. I had no idea there were so many! It was difficult for me to know which one my client wanted illustrated. Cathy generously said she’d give me a few extra for the same price. Although it was rare for me to feel squeamish, I did when looking at the huge stingers on some of those bees!

My bee specimens were scary!

When my project was finished, I called Cathy. However, I did not reach her and my calls were not returned. A few days later, I received a call.

The woman on the phone told me that the “Butterfly Lady” had died; Cathy was 54 years old.

I was asked to kindly return the specimens, which I did.

I was invited to a memorial service for her. I spoke at length to the woman sharing the news with me; Cathy had a lot of friends and family that would be there. I wasn’t able to attend and wished I had gone. I would have liked to know more about her.

Before writing about my experience, I researched the Internet to see if there was any information I could find out about Cathy. I came across an article that was written in the L.A. Times in 1990, seven years before I met her. I will share that article at the end of this post.

A photograph of one of my rental specimens.

A close up look at my Monarch butterfly painting.

My marker comp for the Morpho Butterfly illustration.

A close up look at my Emperor butterfly painting.

A close up look at my Lime butterfly painting.

Below are the other illustrations that I did, which were not published.

My honeybee illustration, which wasn’t used as a card.

A photo of one of my bee “rental specimens.”



These were my bee sketches sent to the art director. My “whatever works” motto meant that I sometimes photocopied my reference photos and drew over them.

I illustrated another two, butterfly cards in 2001 for another company called Allied Publishing. I was paid $850 per painting for each one. I illustrated another Monarch butterfly and this time I did a male one. The difference between a male and female Monarch is a large, visible black dot on each lower wing. Unfortunately, these illustrations were never published. It is interesting for me to note that I’ve been paid for paintings that are often more expensive to print and promote, and frequently are never published for that reason!


Two years after illustrating cards for Creative Horizons, I received an assignment from Current, Inc.

I’ve mentioned before that there is a large discrepancy between budgets for advertising versus editorial assignments. On my first project, I received $900 per illustration, which included a buyout and sale of all future publishing rights.

On the subsequent assignment for Current, Inc., I received $700 per illustration. When people have told me, “Wow, you should illustrate more cards,” I always smiled and didn’t share the truth! It was quite difficult for me to make money by illustrating cards, because my paintings were so time-intensive and the budgets were low. However, sharing the printed cards brought me a lot of pleasure, and my paintings were truly a labor of love.

The butterflies which I illustrated for Current were “fantasy ones,” meaning they were not like any real butterflies that exist. It was fun to create them. These illustrations were die-cut completely, so there were no antennas to be seen. I added them anyway, because they looked strange without them.

This is my marker layout for the art director to choose four from.

The illustrations for Creative Horizons and for Current were created using dyes and colored pencil. I did use a crow quill with white acrylic to create some of the veins, however. On the illustrations for Alied Publishing, I used markers to save time. I mounted the marker illustrations, and added some acrylic and colored pencil for the details.

These are fantasy butterfly stock images that I created from my paintings.

For many years, I used to do art demonstrations for my children’s elementary school classes. I set up a “Butterfly Card” project where the students could color in a black and white photocopy on high quality, mounted marker paper. I shared my actual cards for them to follow as reference for color. Below is a demonstration where I colored in an example to show the children how the butterflies looked when colored in.


This was an actual demonstration that I did for elementary school children – showing them how to color in the butterflies.

When my series of four, butterflies for Creative Horizons were originally published, I was very impressed with the beautiful box and presentation that the publisher had printed. I received ten boxes and enjoyed sharing them through the years.

Ten years later, I was shopping at a 99 Cents Only store. I was in the stationery section and a butterfly picture caught my eye; it was my painting!

It seemed that since the company had all rights to my illustrations, they had sold the usage to another publisher. It was gratifying to see credit given on the back of the cards; my name was there.

Only one of my illustrations was on these thank you cards; it was the Monarch. I bought all of the packages at that store; there were ten.

When I got home, I methodically went through a phone book. I wrote a list of all the 99 Cents Only Stores in Los Angeles. I made myself a map, and began my expedition – I would buy every set of those cards I could get my hands on!

I did that, and not only in my area. I enlisted friends to look in other areas, as well. My San Francisco rep looked at stores in the Bay area for me.

I ended up with a large box of over two hundred cards. Those cards served me well as gifts and promotion to share for many years. I only have a few left now.

Every time I am in a 99 Cents Only Store, I look in the card area. Maybe one day I will find my cards again!

The Rent-a-Bug Lady

Collector Deals in Dead Insects of the Creepiest, Most Hideous Kind


Link to this article: The Rent-a-Bug Lady

The three hulking scorpions, positioned for deadly action on Cathy Endfield’s worktable, didn’t get there without a struggle. Because even to an insect pro like Endfield–proprietress of a dead-bug rental business–scorpions are the consummate creepy crawlies, the foot soldiers of nightmares. And since her mission was to get the little buggers dressed for work, it didn’t help that they made her feel, for want of a better word, icky.

“Do you feel like touching that?” she says.

Gee, well, no, and neither did Endfield, not for months after their arrival. But then she’s something of a worker bee herself, and she’s not likely to turn away an opportunity to order and spruce up dead bugs for the stars–or anyone else for that matter.

So when the prop master of a low-budget biker film said that he might need a scorpion for the road, Endfield geared up for production.

For a while, it looked as though any dead bug that passed the audition would be in for it. “He said the guy was gonna kick it and stamp on it,” Endfield says. “I said, ‘Are you going to insure it?’ “

Now the scorpions are resting on pieces of wood on the worktable of Endfield’s Sherman Oaks home, frozen in space by a blizzard of pins, like so many ailing insect patients in need of acupuncture.

They have plenty of company. Every room in Endfield’s one-bedroom home is filled with dead bugs, thousands of them, many with splendiferous names–purple tarantulas “as big as dinner plates,” military camouflage katydids, bulldog ants, guitar beetles, foot-long walking sticks and, the real grabber, the giant death’s head roach.

“That was the one that got me, the giant death’s head roach,” says Deborah Roundtree, a commercial photographer who was caught in Endfield’s web by the stunning inventory listed on her dead-bug rental service flyer, a missive of which she is particularly proud.

“I think, in fact, it reads almost like a poem,” says Endfield, a large, reclusive woman who laughs easily.

These may be dead bugs to you, but to Cathy Endfield, the giant orbweaving spider is truly a thing of beauty. And, as for the butterflies, well . . .

“Every single time, there’s new colors and new patterns and the stuff isn’t that expensive,” she says dreamily. “The textures are beautiful. Some look like velvet. Some look like silk. They’re iridescent. Sometimes it looks as though the colors are coming from deep inside the wing. With the beetles, it’s a similar kind of thing. Some are pebbled. You look at it the other way, it’s a rainbow.

“Every single time, there’s new colors and new patterns and the stuff isn’t that expensive,” she says dreamily. “The textures are beautiful. Some look like velvet. Some look like silk. They’re iridescent. Sometimes it looks as though the colors are coming from deep inside the wing. With the beetles, it’s a similar kind of thing. Some are pebbled. You look at it the other way, it’s a rainbow.

“That’s what propelled me, I think. It was the excitement of the beauty.”

Not mere beauty, but art, which Endfield regards as her true calling. She creates collages from her stash, and at her odd entomological home, a sunset moth, resplendent in green, auburn and pink, is a palette in itself.

She has boxes and boxes of red wasps from Chile and damsel flies from the Philippines, which take their precisely aligned place beside tiny stars and miniature pictures of Nefertiti, angels and Renaissance women.

“They reminded me of Joseph Cornell boxes, but more with her own obsessions,” says photo stylist Ellen Giamportone, who has rented butterflies from Endfield.

Or, as Endfield, 47, puts it, “This is definitely a fear turned to fascination.”

You see, Endfield understands people like you, a normal insect-hating person. She knows how absolutely, hideously humongous bugs can be. She even bandies about a term, popular among exterminators, ” ‘expanding roaches.’ What that is, is people see this cockroach and it’s an inch, but by the time they call the exterminator, it’s six inches.”

In fact, until Endfield was in her early 20s, she was so squeamish she made the average bug-squashing Joe seem like an insect aficionado.

“I remember when I was pregnant, there was this giant water bug–giant, I mean they’re about an inch–in the house. I saw it run under the bed. My ex-husband took me to a friend’s house to spend the day because I couldn’t be in the house.”

Then one day more than 20 years ago–she has been collecting dead bugs off and on ever since–Endfield happened to send away for the World’s Largest Moth. It came, wings as large as a man’s hand, with a catalogue of butterflies. “Some of them had names like sunset moth. It’ll give the Latin name and it’ll say, ‘Sunset Moth–World’s Most Beautiful Moth.’ You don’t need to see a picture of it to know that for a dollar and a half, you’re probably not going to lose your money. So I sent away.”

From there, it was on to scarabs, for the sheer romance of it “because of my interest in Egypt.” She began ordering blindly from impossibly dense catalogues with thousands of bug names in Latin. She networked with dead-bug dealers from New York to San Diego, from Cleveland to a remote outpost in Ft. Davis, Tex. (There, from a modest base in a trailer, an entomologist and his wife dispense a particularly thorough inventory–“every squishy thing you can imagine”–under the rubric Combined Scientific.)

Endfield’s first really yucky acquisition–a giant orbweaving spider–came in a dead-bug grab bag. Surprise!

“That’s another great thing and much cheaper, you can get grab bags of insects,” Endfield says. “And it’s really great because you can get stuff you don’t know about, and it’s unusual.”

When the bugs arrive, Endfield “relaxes” them, storing them in an airtight box with water or alcohol until they’re pliable enough to be positioned on a board with pins. She likes them to be set just so. Even the dreaded scorpions.

“With the scorpions, for months after I ordered them the first time, I could not make myself work on them. I couldn’t touch them. But what happens is you put it onto the board, you have a certain amount of time before it dries out, and you’ve got to start working.

“You want that claw opened just right. You want the leg in that position, and you want the stinger turned under. You forget. Your repugnance is overcome by the fact that you want this thing to look a certain way, so you do the work. Then afterward you think, ‘Did I really do that?’ “

Endfield knows she has, shall we say, rarefied tastes.

Take the day she asked one of her dealers why he didn’t restock giant orbweaving spiders. Wasn’t anyone interested? “He said, ‘Let’s put it this way. In five years, you’re the only person who’s expressed any interest.’ “

Endfield herself has not always been true to her bugs. There were years when her beloved butterflies seemed, well, trite. “It was like a daisy or something. Eventually, I put that stuff away.”

But her insects beckoned anew a few years ago. Soon she was in the “extremely low-volume” bug-renting business. “There’s almost no call for it.”

The intrepid few photographers and filmmakers who borrow Endfield’s stock, for $50 to $100 a specimen, include the expected–her butterflies fluttered down from a tree in the Venezuelan jungle in “Arachnophobia”–as well as the imaginative. One guy wanted to design a sweater covered with Endfield’s moths. And Barbie borrowed special butterflies for a market-research photograph. Special because it was not to Barbie’s liking that most butterflies come in basic black, along with the more ebullient hues.

“The stylist came and she’s looking at the butterflies and she says, ‘No. This is too dark for Barbie. Barbie wouldn’t like these colors. Barbie likes pink.’ “

Morpho godarti, a pale gray butterfly with pink iridescence, to the rescue.

For each triumph, though, Endfield has a dozen detractors.

“One of the things that bothers me incredibly is I’ve had hate calls from animal rights people. It’s because of the pretty insects. It’s because of the butterflies and moths that also have a face. They’re furry and fluffy. I feel real bad for them myself. If someone said I was making artwork out of roaches and mosquitoes and ants, nobody would complain.

“My understanding is that insects don’t have pain receptors. And I hope it’s true. I also understand they don’t have an emotional life. That makes me happy too. I don’t know if I believe it. Because sometimes to me, it seems like they have a personality. There are certain spider species, they run around my house, they look like they’re having a good time.”

There are the inevitable days when people leave uninviting messages on Endfield’s answering machine. Like the woman who called to say, ” ‘I just want to make a comment.’ What does she think she’s calling, talk radio? This is my home. She says, ‘I’m very disappointed to hear there’s somebody out there making a living’–she should know how much of a living I’m making–‘off of living animals.’ So I said, ‘Are you a vegetarian?’ ‘No, I’m not.’ ‘Well, you’re eating animals that feel the same kind of pain that we have when they’re hurt or butchered and they have an emotional life and they raise their young. This is not the case with insects.’

“Eventually, I just hung up, but she wouldn’t see that. I think if somebody is a vegetarian and they don’t kill the ants that are infesting their kitchen, I wonder how these people get the ants out of their house. I mean, it happens to everybody–you wake up one morning, and there’s this black line across the kitchen. These people who don’t kill anything, what do they do? Do they put out extra food or something?”

Actually, Endfield would be the first to let insects crawl out the door to freedom. Because she knows them intimately enough to know they have a little life of sorts, buggy though it may be. And the funny thing is, she wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Says Endfield, ruminating from her bug command post, surrounded by uncounted boxes of metallic green bees, sphinx moths, owl-eyed butterflies and horned rhinoceros beetles: “I think it’s guilt.”

I purchased some butterfly reference of my own.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
This entry was posted in JOB EXAMPLES and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Brian Neve says:

    There are lovely images. I was also very interested in your story of meeting Cathy Endfield. I’m writing a book on her father, the film director Cy Endfield, who was blacklisted in the fifties and came to the UK. If you have any further memories of Cathy I’d be very interested. I’ve just seen some examples of her own art work. Best regards, Brian Neve, B.P.Neve@bath.ac.uk


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s