Make a Delicate Butterfly with Paper Mache Clay

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

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.ร‚ย  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 youร‚ย  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.


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


68 thoughts on “Make a Delicate Butterfly with Paper Mache Clay”

  1. XOXOXOXOXO Jonni, I am thrilled to find your site!! I make clocks using “paperclay,” and I am simply a fanatic about butterflies. Matter-of-fact BUTTERFLY is my nickname for my #3 great-granddaughter. I make the paperclay with toilet paper, and glue. I will mix acrylic paint into the glue. The reason I’m so glad to have found you though, is that I have wanted to make some wearable art using this technique, as I also design and make jewelry. This is the exact thing I need. Thanks a million for the share. You have made life simpler.

  2. Hello Jonni!!!
    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about paper mache, i can’t tell you how happy i have been since i found your website.
    I have being making lots of butterflies. I always have a little bowl with water close to me and after the paste is on the paper i submerge the knife in the water and rub the paste with it to make it very smooth.
    I would like to find paper mache classes around here, i live in Jackson Michigan.

      • That is a good idea Jonni, i’ll think about it.
        I have a question, what’s the diference between making the paper mache just with white glue and water and the recipe with flour???
        Is the one with flour a better result or does it make the paper stronger??
        Cause i watched a video were a woman made a paper mache bowl just with water and glue. Do you recommend this?
        I invite you to see the things i’ve done in my facebook , for some reason i could use the program you recommend (dropmocks).
        [email removed by editor for privacy reasons]

        • Teresa, I think people who make bowls like the glue and water formula best because it dries clear. The flour and water paste will leave a white film, if it’s raw, and will have a cloudy film if it’s boiled.

          The system doesn’t seem to work with some versions of IE. It works great with Firefox. But in this case, since you have so many lovely photos to show off, giving us a link to your Facebook page works better anyway. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love the fact that you can make so much with just a bit of clay. Thanks for the tip with paper mache and the paper mache bluebirds Jonni ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. How can I use paper mache on this? Isnt the paper mache made out of newspaper? Do I just cover the paper wings with the papermache newspaper?
    Please help me, I am new to this business

    • Actually, the clay recipe does have some industrial chemicals that children should not eat. Parental and teacher discretion is advised. But most older kids have a lot of fun with this stuff.

  5. Hermoso, todo tu trabajo, tus tutoriales son muy claros y completos..
    este de la mariposa, me encantรƒยณ..
    gracias por la generosidad con que compartes tu experiencia y creatividad.

  6. Hi Jonni,

    Big hello and THANKS for this tutorial from Russia. I ran across your site looking for ways of making a butterfly. And found the best one here! Thank you!
    Hope soon to finish my project ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also nice coincidence about elephant and butterfly’s friendship – look at one of my works. I called it “Elephant that failed to fly up”

    Suprising, isn’t it? :))

    Good luck and inspiration!

  7. Hello! I have a question as far as the paper mache goes, I do A LOT of acrylic paintings on typical primed/stretched canvas ….but….here’s the kicker lol I’m planning on doing a 3D face protruding out from the canvas and I don’t know where to start, meaning should I do the step by step instructions for a mask then smooth out the entire edge of mask onto the canvas or should it be a solid sculpted face….the paper mache I bought is pre made just add water and it does say it adheres to pretty much everything…I’m a complete amature when it comes to paper mache so I do not know if it will stick corectly to the canvas with out any sort of craft glue etc…also would I have to gesso it…please help lol this has me in a boggle, I’ve tried searching the search engine but nothing quite comes up according to what I’m asking…thank you sooo much and I too love the elephant!

    • Hi Brynn. That sounds like an interesting project. However, it’s somewhat unusual, so I haven’t tried it myself. I would suggest that you try a small bit of your commercial paper mache product, and stick it to an old piece of canvas you might have sitting around. Let it dry completely, and then see if it’s attached as solidly as you want it to be.

      One problem I see that might crop up – your canvas is flexible, even though it’s probably tightly stretched. You’ll need to test your experimental gob of paper mache to make sure it stays stuck on, even if the canvas moves.

      Good luck with it. I hope your project turns out just the way you wanted it to.

      • HI – I made a papier mache tree to use on a canvas for a collage I made. I used a commercial papier mache and I fashioned the tree on a board on some paper. Once dried, I then removed the tree and sanded it to get rid of the edges and then painted it and then glued it to the canvas. In the drying process it warped a little bit but this was not a problem for me as I just applied the glue on the sculpture where it was going to attach to the canvas. It is still attached.

  8. okay jonni we are making these tomorrow…not for s. america but my friend is dropping her 3 girls off and we are going to make these…i am going to stick a painted shish-ka-bob skewer in the bottom of the body (we will make it a little thicker) so they can play with them and for the antenea sp i am going to use 26 gauge wire…thin enough to poke into and sturdy enough to shape ๐Ÿ˜‰ (i am a jewelry maker) let you know how they turn out…thanks again

  9. Very fun butterflies!

    I have a question for you…and wasn’t sure where to post it, so here goes:

    I am in the process of creating a large (4 feet tall) heart. It now has 6 layers and I think it’s about ready to paint. I notice that you typically use acrylic paint. Is there a reason? I bought red tempura but if there’s a reason that acrylic would be better, please let me know. Thanks!

    • Hi Karyn. I use acrylic paint because that’s what I’m used to. It’s also permanent. I don’t see any reason why you can’t use tempera, oil paint, pastel, or anything else you can think of. Your paper mache sculpture is a 3-D canvas, and you can brighten it up any way you like.

      A 4-foot tall heart sounds like something you’d make for a special occasion. We’d love to see it when it’s done.

      • Thanks Jonni-
        The heart is for elementary school kids to drop their valentines into. (Schoolwide fundraiser.) I’m trying to make something more enticing than a cardboard box covered in wrapping paper. It’s turned into quite the project (and is a bit lumpier than I imagined…the giant balloon framework kept deflating) but it still looks more fun than a box. Will send pics when complete. Thanks for the paint advice!

        • We would love to see it.

          If you’ve already removed the balloon, you can smooth out the lumps if you want to. Just grab a gallon of drywall joint compound from the hardware store. You can apply it over the lumps, let it dry, and then sand it smooth. But I’m sure it looks great as it is!

  10. I think the butterflies would be nice with a wire on the underside so you could stick them in a houseplant. They would add some color to my non-blooming plants.

    • Martha, that’s a great idea. And it would be fairly easy to add the wire, even after the bug was done, by drilling a tiny hole in the underside. I wonder if dragonflies would look OK if the wings were made this way. The wings wouldn’t be transparent, but a dragonfly would be nice among the houseplants, too.

      Ooh – and maybe a fairy or two?

      • Jonni,

        I ran across your site while looking for a recipe for Paper Mache, and am I glad I did! Well, mostly glad, because I got so many fantastic ideas from your tutorials and have too many other projects in the works already.

        I now plan to make a crib mobile (out of the baby’s reach, of course) for my soon to be born Granddaughter’s fairy themed bedroom. They’ll be perfect.

        I’m wondering if the paper mache clay could safely be baked in the oven after it’s dried.

        If so, I plan to extrude it into thin threads, to outline the butterfly shapes and wing “veins.” Then, once the butterfly is dry, I can use a tinted liquid polymer clay to fill in the empty areas. That way, they’d have a “stained glass” quality to them. That’d require a temperature of 275 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes, however.

        Might serve your dragonfly issue, if it’s possible though.

        • The paper mache clay can be baked, but I’m concerned about the plastic smell that happens when it gets too hot. I’m not a chemist, so I don’t know if the fumes from the glue (or from baking polymer clay, for that matter) are safe or not.

        • There is a ‘stained glass’ like liquid available in the kids craft section of Wal-Mart that does not require heat – just let it air dry…and safe to use with my 4 year old granddaughter. We have used it to fill in designs of string/flowers/etc in canning jar rings/ribbon(& the rolls they come on) as well as to fill in butterfly AND fairy wings -Unfortunately, I can not remember the name at this moment – when I do, I’ll come back and let you know.

  11. Those are really cute. I’m not a dainty type person myself, but wouldn’t those be cute glued to the heads of push pins? Not for everyday use, but as an accent on a girly type memo board?
    Very nice project!

  12. I LOVE the little blue one! Yes it’s cutsey, but there’s a BIG place for cutsey in this tough world! It makes me want to slow down and have a cup of tea ๐Ÿ™‚

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