How to Paint an Acrylic Butterfly

By David Gordon ; Updated September 15, 2017
Butterflies rarely stay in the same place for too long.

Butterflies symbolize transformation because they change from caterpillars to cocoons and then to their mature form. They are delicate and gentle, and array a wide variety of colors and patterns. Butterflies are difficult to paint from direct observation because they rarely stay still, but they are a wonderful subject to photograph; you can then use the photo as a reference for your painting. Acrylic is a suitable medium for painting butterflies, because it dries quickly and is opaque, so you can paint over previous layers.

Leave the background undefined.

Paint a background with acrylic paint. Lighten your colors by mixing in a lot of white. Leave the background undefined so it will not take attention away from the butterfly. It is fine to paint the background a solid, light color or even leave it white.

Paint the flower or plant that the butter fly is resting on. You can use more detail here as this can help to ground the butterfly. If you find this very challenging, paint a simple twig or blade of grass.

Outline the basic shapes of the butterfly with a pencil. Position the butterfly so it appears to be resting on the flower or plant. Draw two shapes for each wing if the wings have two sections. Outline the portion of the body that is showing. Keep the shapes very general and don't get bogged down by detail.

Paint in the shapes of the wings with their dominant color. Fill in the body with its general color.

Mix other colors and paint patterns on the wings. Paint a second coat on areas that do not cover well.

Blend in highlights and shading to round out the body. Paint legs, antenna and other details with a very fine brush and wet paint.


Do not harm or capture any butterflies for this project. They are very fragile; some species are even endangered.

About the Author

David Gordon has been writing website copy since 2008. Although his main focus is the visual arts, he has always considered writing to be an important part of his creative process. Gordon received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tufts University in affiliation with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.