B is for Butterfly – Exploration – Butterfly paintings

Do you remember those fun paintings we did as a kid in school – blob some paint on a piece of paper then fold it over, rub, and open it up to see some pretty butterfly shaped random compostition? Well, these are what I’m calling butterfly paintings. I used to love them as a kid and I’m loving playing with them now.

Why? Because they produce some stunning colour combinations, swirls of paint, caught at the moment of not quite blended. So now I’m an adult and get to play with some real nice paint and media, I’ve been returning to my youth and playing with these paintings to see what I can create and what I can do with my creations.

What you might need

  • fluid acrylic paint (works with thick consistency paint as well)
  • self-leveling gel (I use Golden, but the same substance is likely available under another name with another brand)
  • watercolour paper or heavy cartridge (thinner paper can be used, but be wary of how much paint is used – too much and the paper will go soggy)
  • daggy clothing and furniture protection

What you might do

Fold your piece of paper in half, press the fold firmly and then unfold flat.

If you are using self-leveling gel, use a syringe/eyedropper to distribute some gel randomly across the paper. Make sure you put down a decent amount as the gel is the vehicle for the paint to swirl and blend in.

Start dripping paint on the gel. Choose several colours that work well together. Add more of the lighter colours than the dark as the lighter colours like yellow or white are great for creating spontaneous combinations when the colours are mixed, but can be overpowered by darker colours if there isn’t enough.

When you are happy with the paint distribution, gently re-fold the paper in half again, bringing the two wet paint sides together. Press down on the paper forcing the paint between to move and blend. Experiment with pressure and how much you apply to get different results. I find less is better than more. Too much can create too much blending and you lose those wonderful swirls if you are not careful. Also be aware that paint may squish out the sides and get all over your fingers and work surface. If you are concerned about getting paint on your hands, wear gloves.

Gently open the sheet of paper to reveal your painting.

And here is one of my basic videos to demonstrate.



Liz’s notes

Do not leave closed too long as acrylics can dry fast. If left too long the two sides of the page will glue together and tear upon opening.

The self-leveling gel is not mandatory, but it does make a lovely addition as it encourages the colours to swirl and marble.

Experiment with different folds, quantities of paint, colours, how you move the paint around when rubbing, there are a multitude of different things that can be done to give a different result. I have only scratched the surface myself.

And then there is what you do with the painting afterwards. Sure they make interesting compositions, but I think the strength of these paintings really show when you cut them up. I’ve used them for paper mosaic tiles, one centimetre paintings and have intentions of trying them out in a series of mixed media paintings. I just love the texture and colours that spontaneously form using this technique. I once cut a small square out of a butterfly painting and then recreated the colours on that square at a larger size using oil pastel and made an entirely separate painting. A simple yet complex source of inspiration.



Red-blue-yellow butterfly

This is the painting I created in the video. And below are some close up shots.

Butterfly excerpt 1

Butterfly excerpt 2
A similar butterfly painting, but with the addition of white created these:

Butterfly excerpt 4

Butterfly excerpt 5

And these are some of the uses I’ve been playing with.

1cm paintingsOne centimetre paintings – these were done with cheap paints and no gel. I think if I created these again with high quality paints and gel, the outcome would be even more interesting.

MotionMotion, paper mosaic on card.

In Motion I just played around with chopped up pieces of butterfly painting and this composition happened. Every tile on it, including the circles, is from butterfly paintings (my earlier ones done with cheap paint and no gel).

I have a pile of ideas I’m hoping to play with in the future, but they all branch out from this basic concept.

I hope you’ve found this as interesting as I have found it fun to explore.

For my other Explorations click here !

( two up, twenty-four to go :D)

For all my A to Z Challenge posts, click here!


17 responses to “B is for Butterfly – Exploration – Butterfly paintings”

  1. My brothers have the lion’s share of the drawing/painting genes in our family. My artistic leaning is more toward the literary. So I look at these butterfly paintings, and I see story ideas. Alien landscapes, sea-scapes, or perhaps some bacteria culture under a microscope. Cool! 🙂

    1. I can so totally see where you are coming from. I write too, though not much recently. Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places 😀 Thanks for taking the time to comment and dropping by.

      Best wishes,

  2. Hi Liz.

    Love these colours! I did a series of paper mosaic pictures and it’s so much more fun to have squares like these with several colours in than plain blocks of colour.
    Must revisit butterfly paintings…


    1. Tracy! So great to see you here 😀

      I am such a sucker for colour in its many forms. I really need to explore this further myself. I can see some decent artwork coming out of this .

      Thanks so much for dropping by 😀

      Best wishes,
      (who really should attend one of your workshops one day)

  3. Loving the mosaic idea — those are greatness!

    1. Thanks heaps 😀 Yes, I definitely need to explore this further.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Best wishes,

  4. I think I need to hunt down some of that self leveling gel. I love the effects you are getting with these. They almost look like some of those amazing photos taken in space

    1. Sadly I have to say that it is pretty pricey as it has to be imported here from the States. The cheapest way to get it that I’ve discovered so far is to order it from http://www.dickblick.com while the Aussie dollar is still happy. I’m due to order some more soon myself. It is exciting stuff.

      I’ve recently bought a pile of Matisse paints, Australian made, and I’m hoping to discover their version of this. I need to investigate further (and win the lottery, I think I’ve maxed out this year’s expenditure on art materials ::gulp:: ).

      When you add the digital aspect to traditional art, it opens up a whole range of new possibilities.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Best wishes,

  5. […] B is for Butterfly Painting […]

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  8. I used to love doing that as a kid! I’ll have to play again but with gel, the gel is amazing.

  9. This is very interesting! What a great way to start a project. Does the gel create a glassy effect to the butterfly tile? Definitely will have to try this – thank you!

  10. Shreya Avatar

    Can I use that golden self levelling gel with these acrylic paints-
    I ask because I am completely new to the acrylic medium. I don’t know which paints you used in the video and they’re probably not available in my country at an affordable price anyway 🙁

    I need to order these art supplies for an urgent design assignment. I plan to combine with digital art! 🙂 Please reply as soon as you can.

    I am very glad to have found your blog and I’m surely going to come back for more!
    your newest fan,

    1. Hi, Shreya.

      I don’t see why not. Golden Paints are extremely expensive here in Australia, so once a year I splashout, spend up big and import them from Dick Blick in the US.

      I use their mediums with Matisse Australian made paints, so I see no reason by you couldn’t use them with other brands. Depending on what you are using them for, I would stick to good quality paints for pigment density and lightfastness, etc.

      You can get a similar medium in several other brands, though I must admit I’ve had difficulty identifying them as each brand calls them something different. It might be worth hunting through what you have available locally to see if there is an equivalent at a lower price (though I must say that I do love Golden mediums). Liquitex has some good ones too.

      But ultimately, you can do this exercise with just paint, after all I remember doing it in primary school 😀 Here I used fluid acrylics, but you could thin thicker acrylics if that is all you have. Find a medium that will work for you (you could even thin with water if you want), and don’t hesitate to experiment, because that is the key.

      Thank you for your kind comments. I’m glad this can be of use to you 😀

      Best wishes,
      (let me know how it goes :D)

      1. Shreya Avatar

        So could I thin those tube acrylic paints with water? I couldn’t find fluid acrylics from any company at that online store that I pasted links to (above).
        I tried with normal poster paint yesterday and I was almost satisfied until I chanced on your video. That raised the bar for me! The results were so much more vibrant the way you did it. Also, I am going to try with cobalt pen ink today- let’s see if I can work that out. Will show you the results, maybe you can try it too 🙂

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