If you want a watercolor subject that feels fresh and new every time, try painting a watercolor butterfly. There are more than 17,000 species of butterflies in the world, each with unique wing shapes and vibrant colors—so painting them will never feel repetitive or boring. If you’re new to watercolors—or simply new to painting butterflies in watercolor—get started with the easy watercolor butterfly tutorial below. 

How to Paint an Easy Watercolor Butterfly 

butterflies and watercolor materials
These are just a few of the thousands of types of butterflies you can paint!

To learn how to paint watercolor butterflies, you’ll need some basic supplies: watercolor paints, paper, a few brushes, a pencil, and white ink or paint to add highlights. With just those few materials, you’ll quickly be on your way to painting easy watercolor butterflies. 

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Step 1: Sketch the Butterfly

butterfly sketch
Draw a sketch of the butterfly, focusing on the shape of the wings, body, and antenna. 

Butterflies come in a wide range of shapes and colors, so before you begin painting, it’s helpful to hone in on one specific reference image. To sketch the butterfly, first look at the overall shape of its wings. In this example, the wings resemble an inverted triangle, so begin by drawing that general shape on your paper. Using that triangle as a guide, fill in the outline of the wings, body, and antenna. 

Step 2: Layer on the First Wash of Color

blue watercolor butterfly
For the first wash of color, layer blue tones going from light to dark. 

For the first layer of color, use a wet-on-wet technique. Use a clean, damp brush to wet the entire butterfly. Then, brush a transparent blue tone across the wings, focusing on the outer and lower edges. 

Immediately pick up a more saturated blue color and brush it on the top edges of the wings, as well as down the center of the butterfly. Use your brush to drag that darker blue color out toward the edges of the wings in thin lines. 

Finally, layer on the darkest blue tone. Load your brush with a more vibrant, saturated blue and brush it down the center of the butterfly. Then, spread it outward toward the edges of the wing, following the general pattern that you used for the medium blue. 

Step 3: Paint the Veining of the Wings

blue watercolor butterfly
With a thin brush, paint quick, bold lines across the butterfly’s wings. 

With a thin brush, use the same dark, saturated blue to paint thin lines across the butterfly. Don’t overthink these lines or try too hard to get them straight. By using quick, bold movements, you will achieve an organic, realistic effect. 

Step 4: Accent With Your Darkest Pigment

adding edges and body of watercolor butterfly
Create a gradient effect by adding very dark blue to the outer edges of the wing and the center of the butterfly’s body. 

While the blue layer is still wet, use a thin brush to add gentle curves of dark—nearly black—blue paint along the bottom edges of the wings. With each stroke, the dark paint will bleed into the blue, creating a beautiful gradient effect. Then, add the same dark paint to the center of the butterfly’s body, and extend it out to the upper edges of the wings. 

Step 5: Add Final Details

watercolor butterfly
With opaque white paint or ink, add accents and highlights to the watercolor butterfly. 

The last step of painting butterflies in watercolor is adding the final details. With a fine-tipped brush or liner pen, add thin lines across the wings, as well as antennae extending upward from the butterfly’s head. Then add short, thin lines to the center of the butterfly to create a fluffy, fuzzy body. Finally, use opaque white paint or ink to add highlights to the butterfly’s body and white spots on the outer edge of the wings. 

Spread Your Wings as a Watercolor Artist

This watercolor butterfly is just the beginning. Once you have a basic understanding of how to paint watercolor butterflies, the possibilities are endless. Whether you paint a butterfly on its own or among a garden of flowers, use this basic framework—and your creativity—to paint easy watercolor butterflies of all types and colors!

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