How to Paint Butterflies on Canvas

Updated April 17, 2017

Butterflies are vibrant and delicate insects that make eye-catching subjects for paintings. Paint a full canvas of one butterfly or a grouping of several, or paint them fluttering about in a natural setting. There are many types of beautiful butterflies, each with its own shape and dramatic colours. Locate images of butterflies in books, magazines, or on the Internet to use as references. Paint the butterflies with accurate detail, or be creative and design them with exaggerated features, using your own colour scheme.

Study the shapes that make up a butterfly, using your reference photo. Sketch the outline of the butterfly's wings and body on the canvas with a drawing pencil. Sketch the basic shapes lightly so the pencil marks can be erased later. Butterfly wings typically have a triangular shape, while the body is oval-shaped.

Refine the sketch by drawing more accurate shapes as you form the butterfly. Refine the wings by drawing the curves of the outer edges of the butterfly's wings. Round the edges of the oval body and the head of the butterfly. Erase previous sketch lines with the rubber eraser as you define the butterfly's shape.

Draw the patterns within the wings. Every butterfly has a unique pattern of markings on its wings. Study each shape within the pattern. Begin drawing an outline of the shapes -- one shape at a time -- and connect them to create the pattern.

Paint the base colour of the patterned areas of the wings using acrylic paints. The base colour is a solid, flat colour. Colours will vary depending on the type of butterfly. Dip your paintbrush in water, then in acrylic paint, and brush the paint into one shape within the pattern at a time. Use less paint and add more water to the brush to create more transparency.

Paint the highlights and shadows within the patterned areas of the wings. Butterfly wings are semi-transparent, so if light is showing through, it will create highlights and shadows. Use lighter paint colours for highlights and darker colours for shadows, or add a very small amount of black or white to your base colour to darken or lighten the hue. Dip the brush in paint, and brush excess paint onto a paper towel. Lightly feather the brush to create highlights and shadows.

Use your paintbrush to fill in the background and the outlines of the patterned areas of the wings.

Paint the body of the butterfly. You can fill the body with one colour, or add minute details to the body for a more realistic style.

Paint any additional details on the wings, body and antennae of the butterfly.


When working on an 8-inch by 10-inch canvas, a small, round artist's brush should be the only brush you will need to paint the details of a butterfly. Alternatively, to paint minute details or fine lines, use a fine-tip artist's detail brush.

Things You'll Need

  • Butterfly reference photo
  • 8-inch by 10-inch canvas
  • Drawing pencil
  • Rubber eraser
  • Acrylic paints
  • Small, round artist's brush
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About the Author

Erika Marie started writing in 1996 and has covered a variety of topics, including arts, crafts, and home and garden. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in art from Rowan University.