White butterflies are fun and easy to paint in just 5 steps. How do you paint white butterflies so they have form and shape. To start with white butterflies are not just white they will reflect the colours surrounding them. Remembering this will help you to paint these lovely insects so they fit in with their surroundings seamlessly. Here in New Zealand we have lots of white cabbage butterflies in the summer so I get to see lots of examples especially on my brassicas. In fact we have so many here that I wonder sometimes if its even worth growing cabbage in the summer, but then I do love my coleslaw.
This painting is now sold but if you wish to purchase prints or other products with this painting on them you can do so at my Redbubble store
Sign up to the Newsletter and be the first to see new paintings and never miss a blog post again.
So lets get stared. First off completely paint your background.
Step 1 Draw outline
Position your butterfly and draw in with pencil or chalk and check that your proportions are right for the rest of your picture. Reference photos will help you here. I don't always have an exact photo to copy, sometimes I just want to add one in to a different picture so its good to think about how big the butterfly would be in comparison to the flowers.
Step 2 Fill in basic wing shape
Okay here is one of the tricks to help make these super easy to paint. Fill in the wing shape with a white that's on the transparent side with a little grey added in.This way some of the background colour will show through making less painting for you and making the butterfly blend better with the background. I use a tinting white (pearl) for this rather than straight titanium white as I find it not so bright and I can then save the titanium for the really strong highlights.
I have also used some grey to block in the body and show the wing shapes. Notice how the background colour is showing through the wings and helping that butterfly fit in with it's surroundings. This is also a good time to recheck your proportions as its easy to see your butterfly now.
Step 3 Put in Grey makings
Study your Photo or butterfly and add in the grey makings as you see them on your reference. Keeping in mind where your light source is for your picture as you add in any shadows.
Second tip, follow the shape of the wings with your bush strokes. This will help suggest the shape of the wings, do this with all the coats of paint you do.
Step 4 Shadows and first Highlights
You do have to look closely here to see the difference from the last photo as the shadows and highlights are subtle but they do make a difference to the shape and form of your butterfly.
Keep in mind your background colours when doing these. Because my background is mostly yellow I have mixed purple and yellow with the white for the shadows and yellow and white for the highlights.
Use a really light hand and just darken up the shadows where needed and put in the highlights where the sun is hitting the wings. Let that background colour show through doing some of the work for you and remember to follow the shape of the wings with your brush strokes. Step back often while doing this as you can see the overall effect better from a distance. You may be surprised at just how little you need. Shape the body using you lights and dark's and have you brush strokes going around the body to give it that round feel. I find careful study of your reference will really help here.
Your butterfly should be looking pretty good by now so just the finial details to go.
Step 5 Finial Details
These finial details can really bring your butterfly to life. Carefully look at your reference and note where the lines on the wings go and which direction.
Using your grey and a thin liner brush put in your grey lines on the wings. Then using your Titanium white and your liner brush put in the whitest highlights for the ridges on the wings. The grey will be the troughs and the white the ridges. Don't go overboard here less is more! Step back and check. Do any finial adjustments and you are done.
Once you have done a few of these butterflies you find when your flower pictures just need a little something extra it will be easy to add one or two into a painting to add some life.
Just a note on the grey I used. As I hate to waste paint if I have leftovers on my palette I mix it all together to make a grey and store in an airtight jar. I can then use this whenever I need some grey and just adjust the shade to warm or cool as needed.