Paper Mache Animals

Make a Delicate Butterfly with Paper Mache Clay

Paper Mache Butterflies

Today I’ll show you how I made these butterflies, which have rather surprisingly thin wings, yet don’t break when you drop them on the floor (I didn’t mean to, but at least now I know they’ll survive a bit of clumsiness…)

African Elephant Sculpture, With Paper Mache Butterfly

African Elephant Sculpture, With Paper Mache Butterfly

I don’t normally make tiny things. I don’t collect tiny things, either. That’s just me.  Today, however, I decided that I needed a butterfly for the elephant I designed for my book project.

I went to great lengths to make my elephant’s skin dry and cracked looking, and It will soon be painted all gray. I think the pachyderm needs some color and softness for contrast, so I made the tiny blue butterfly shown above. It will soon be sitting on Elephant’s trunk, unless it seems just too cutesy. We’ll see.

Since the little butterfly came out OK, I thought you  might enjoy seeing how easy it is to make one. I don’t know exactly what one would do with the little insects — although it would be fun to put an entire “collection” of rare species in a deep frame, (no net required). Or they could be hung on a mobile — but not within reach of a baby, since they aren’t edible.

The butterflies are made with the new paper mache recipe (click here for details). You only need a small amount per bug, so one recipe will make lots. Like may be 50… Be sure to bookmark this page so you can find it after you’ve made a larger sculpture and have a little bit of clay left over. Or invite some friends over for a butterfly-making party.

Step 1: Make up a quart of paper mache clay. Then find a photo of a real butterfly, or make one up from your imagination. You can use one of the butterflies below, if one appeals to you. (Click on the image to see it full sized. It should open in a new window.) The butterflies with thin extensions on their wings will be more challenging than the one I picked, at top right in the image below.

Butterflies

Butterflies

Step 2: Draw your chosen butterfly on poster board or heavy drawing paper. As you can see below, I “cheated” and printed the photo of my butterfly, then cut it out and traced around it on light card stock.

Paper Mache Butterfly, Step 2

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 2

Step 3: Cut out your butterfly, and bend the wings upward slightly. Butterflies rest with their wings up, moths rest with the wings horizontal. (a Sphinx moth would be a nice project, wouldn’t it?).

Then make a very thin “body” out of aluminum foil.

Paper Mache Butterfly, Step 3

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 3

Step 4: Use thin strips of masking tape to attach the body to the underside of your paper butterfly. You will need to cover the aluminum foil entirely with masking tape, so the paper mache clay will stick.

Paper Mache Butterfly, Step 4

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 4

Step 5: Place your butterfly upside down on a piece of plastic wrap. Then spread a small amount of paper mache clay onto the wings with the side of a knife. You want the clay to be really thin. It will spread over the edges of the wings, but don’t worry about it. We’ll remove the extra bits later. Cover the body with a thin layer of clay, too.

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 5

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 5

Step 6: Now fold some of the plastic wrap over the clay. You can smooth out the clay on the wings and body by rubbing over the plastic wrap gently with the flat part of your knife or a finger. If you make the clay smooth now, you will have less sanding to do later.

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 6

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 6

Step 7: Now let your butterfly’s wings and body dry. You will need to rest it on the edge of something that will allow the wings to stay in the correct position. I used an old roll of masking tape to hold mine while it dried. Since the clay is very thin, it will dry quickly, especially if you put it near a heat register.

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 7

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 7

Step 8: As soon as the paper mache clay is dry, turn the butterfly over and apply a thin layer of clay to the top of the wings and body. Smooth it out, as you did before, and let it dry again.

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 8

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 8

Step 9: Now remove the extra clay on the edges of your butterfly with a craft knife (carefully – those things are sharp) and then smooth the edges and flat part of the wings with sandpaper.

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 9a

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 9a

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 9b

Paper Mache Clay Butterfly, Step 9b

Step 10: The final step is to paint your butterfly. I used acrylic paint, Derwent Inktense water-soluble ink pencils and fine waterproof felt-tip pens. The patterns on the tiny butterfly didn’t come out even — I blame the cat that was taking a nap on my shoulder at the time. Or maybe it’s the bifocals…

Note: I added antennae to my larger butterfly at the last minute, so it isn’t included in the how-to photos above. I didn’t intend to bother with them, but the butterfly seemed weird without them. I stuck on two filaments from a nylon house-painting brush with a small dab of hot glue, and then covered the wax when it cooled with additional paper mache clay. If you figure out an easier way to add the antennae, please let us know. I didn’t do any legs, but that could be an interesting challenge.

Paper Mache Clay Butterflies, Painted

Paper Mache Clay Butterflies, Painted

Enjoy!

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About the author

Jonni Good

I'm a sculptor, author, gardener, and grandma. When I'm not catering to the needs of my obnoxious cat, I make videos, create stuff, and play around with paper mache. I'm also the author of several highly-rated books on paper mache. You'll find them in the sidebar, and on amazon.com

59 Comments

  • Please help….I used th regular paper mache recipe (flour&water, some salt),,, on just the poster board : no newspaper was used. My problem is I love how the butterfly dried, but the wing by th body is cracking…its a little flimsy. I really want to salvage this (my 2nd attempt.., my 1st was too small and the wing tore off….that’s why I made this one bigger (9″wide x 6″ long)) Can I add super glue this or add the paper mache clay on top of it?;How can I keep it from crumpling?

    • Hi San. Did you use layered paper with your paste, over the poster board? It sounds like you just put some paste over the poster board without anything else. The traditional paste recipe does a great job of holding layers of paper together, but doesn’t add much strength by itself. You can definitely add a thin layer of paper mache clay over your butterfly. If the paste is flaking off, you might want to brush it off as much as possible first. Then you’ll have a nice smooth surface to work on. Use a really thin layer of the paper mache clay, and your project should be saved. Hopefully…. 🙂

  • I am three years too late. Now I have to add butterflies to my list. This is a photo of what I now call a bug but was supposed to be a butterfly. I used wire mesh for the wings (which made them too thick, but it might be good for a butterfly a meter wide). The body is aluminum foil, and the legs have wire that go into the aluminum foil on one end and the other end is attached to the wire mesh that I also used for the lily pads. The lily stem is made up of 5 wires that criss-cross the lily and then down the stem. The lily may fall over someday, but I don’t think the bug is going anywhere. I love the idea of using paint brush bristles for the antannae. Mine were wires and were also too thick. Anyway, this is a great site for ideas and butterflies are going on my list – your way! Thanks.

  • HI!!! I love your work Jonni, and I need your help. I have this science biome project, and I’m doing the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, but I have to multiply the size by 6, which poses a problem: The computer paper I’m using is too small. I was wondering if you had any ideas for connecting the two pieces of paper without using tape, while still keeping it durable enough to hang from a ceiling. Thanks for your help! 🙂

    • Morgan, is there some rule that says you have to use computer paper? I think using a sheet of poster board would be much easier,and would be much stronger, too. You could paste several pieces of paper together, but the overlapped areas will bend in a different way than the other parts of the paper, so I’m not sure how it would work.

  • That’s a project I’ve been wanting to try for a while too, sculptures on canvas.
    I did see a few pieces like it where the artist attached things to canvas and used a paper mache mixture but with fabric stiffener added in (starch I guess?). I didn’t get to see the backs of her canvases though, so I always have wondered if she added some kind of structure to the back to give the canvas anchoring points, at which point, why not use plywood instead of a canvas?
    Anyway, I’d love to hear how your project turns out.

  • Hi! I just found your site and am totally blown away. Amazing! Thank you for sharing your skill and talent.

    I am working on VBS project. We are doing Bug Zone and I was planning on doing some butterflies, lady bugs, ants in paper mache. My question for you is, do you use forms or just the cardboard form I saw on one of the pages? I want to use your process because I will have a bunch of kids from teens to middle school age helping. I was planning on using the balloon method.

    I saw that if a thin layer is applied it dries faster. I am making critters that are approximately 2 feet in size. At least that is what I would like to do.

    Any advice that you may offer, would be greatly appreciated. I am going to be reading through your site for the rest of the evening…=)

    Ginger

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