don't be afraid of painting butterflies
Enjoy the confidence of painting butterflies with this step-by-step tutorial.
- Watercolor is easy and fun!
Black-veined Butterflies on Thistle
get ready to paint butterflies
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what do you paint on?
Watercolor paintings may be done on watercolor paper, watercolor canvas or Aquabord.
Watercolor paintings done on cold-pressed paper are very nice. However I prefer to use Claybord or Aquabord.
butterfly painting is done on Aquabord made by Ampersand.
what colors will you use?
I used tube watercolor paints for painting butterflies.
- New Gamboge Yellow (A warm yellow)
- Phthalocyanine Blue (For short it's called Thalo Blue.)
- Quinacridone Violet (A reddish violet)
- Dioxazine Purple / Ultramarine Violet (A bluish violet)
Mix your greens from the blue and yellow and use purple to darken the greens when necessary.
draw the butterflies
Do a drawing on a separate paper. Then transfer it to the painting support with graphite paper.
Erasures on the painting surface may damage it.
Place art masking fluid around the butterflies to keep them white.
Also put some masking on the flowers and leaves in places for highlights.
Apply masking fluid
Be ready to paint with Your supplies on hand.
painting the background
The light in this painting is coming from the top left.
- Lay in Thalo Blue with a soft wash brush.
Make the upper left background darker.
The upper background color gets lighter, as you go to the right side of the painting away from the light source.
This is caused by reflected light.
- You may add a bit of yellow on the right side for the warmth of the reflected light.
Paint the background.
- Lower in the painting,
the colors get darker to help ground the painting.
Use a smaller brush for the tighter areas.
It is good to repeat colors throughout the painting to
give the painting cohesion.
- Add some violet in the background because the flowers are violet.
- Add a bit of yellow in places, to co-ordinate with the leaves.
Background colors get darker toward the bottom.
painting the flowers
We paint the flowers before the butterflies because the butterfly bodies and legs go over the flowers.
paint the petals
Use a small round brush to roughly lay in the flower colors, don't try to paint individual petals.
- Use the warmer, reddish violet on the left side of the flower which is towards the light.
- Use the bluish violet on the bottom and the right side of the flower away from the light.
Vary the intensity of the colors by using more or less water.
- After the flower color is dry, remove the masking fluid from the flower.
- Now paint some individual petals with a small round brush.
Use variations of light
and dark violets and leave white spaces for sparkle.
Paint the flowers
before the butterflies
Paint extra petals after removing the masking fluid.
the green parts of the flowers
Mix blue and yellow on your palette for your green to paint the calyx, sepals and stems.
- Mix the green lighter for the side toward the light (add more yellow).
- Mix the green darker for the side away from the light (add more blue).
Notice the calyx color is darker on the bottom side which is shadowed.
Paint the green flower parts.
You may want to paint the leaves in more detail. I saved my detail for the butterflies and the flowers.
Mix dark and light greens the way you did for the green parts of the flowers.
- Paint the leaves with a variety of light and dark greens.
The leaves toward the light will have more yellow.
Paint the shadow side of the leaves and stems a darker green, mixed with more blue.
Paint the leaves with variety
now we get to start painting butterflies!
remove the masking
Remove the masking from the butterfly wings.
- You may use a dry finger or a rubber cement pick-up eraser.
While painting butterflies keep in mind that butterflies actually have four wings.
paint the wing colors
Mix lavender grey with yellow and red-violet.
- Paint the grey where the
wings overlap and where they attach to the body.
- Put yellow
on the top outer edges of the wings.
The warm yellow brings it forward of the lavender grey wing behind it.
Shade the butterfly's wings before painting the veins.
paint the veins
- Mix a black by using the yellow, bluish violet and blue and paint the veins.
You may use any small, round brush or even a liner brush for painting butterfly veins.
If you make a wiggle-wobble or fat veins, use a damp brush to pick up the extra paint before it dries.
Use a small brush
to paint the veins
paint the butterfly bodies
Butterflies have three parts.
They have a head with two antenna, a thorax with six legs and four wings attached to the thorax and an abdomen.
- Use the same color you mixed for the veins. Make the body lighter toward the light source.
The butterfly's legs go out over the flower petals because the butterfly is standing on the flower.
The butterfly stands on
top of the flower
Look around your butterfly painting and see what you might want to touch up.
Values are what really make a painting sparkle!
- You may add more darks at this time, if you feel the painting needs it.
Do it whatever suits your taste. You have an artist's license for painting butterflies.
two paintings will ever look the same. Every painting is an individual.
- Every individual artist will do their paintings in their own
Complete Your Painting
Painting butterflies is fun!
Now you can confidently paint your own
Paint a watercolor Longwing butterfly with me.
What types of butterflies do we see in the United States?
more pages how-to pages
It’s such a joy doing butterfly paintings. When I see these gorgeous
creatures in my flower garden I snap photos for more paintings.
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palette? A warm and cool version of the six rainbow colors are an
The most important thing about painting watercolor flowers is -
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Glazing with watercolor produces more luminous colors than when the
colors are mixed on the palette. Paint a wash over a dry layer and our
eyes mix the colors.
Get Ready to Paint