Wildlife is an amazing source of artistic inspiration and this tutorial is a creative way to celebrate nature. Whether you’re in a city or based outside in the countryside, you’re bound to see lots of different types of butterflies throughout the summer months.
With stunning designs and bursts of colour, butterflies have made the perfect study for ambitious artists for centuries. In this butterfly drawing tutorial, you’ll learn how to draw one of our most beautiful species: the peacock butterfly.
What is a peacock butterfly?
Peacock butterflies have distinct, abstract markings and colours so vivid they look just like they’ve been painted by hand!
These stunning butterflies have deep red patches on their brown wings, which gives them a brilliant splash of colour. You’ll also notice yellow tones on the wing and even a hint of violet.
The name peacock comes from the blue markings on the butterfly’s hindwings, which look just like eyes! These eyes are designed to scare off predators, keeping the butterfly safe.
In our butterfly drawing tutorial, we’ll show you how to build up the rich colours on the butterfly’s wings, how to blend in the lighter tones and how to add those stunning iridescent eyes.
Before getting started: Easy butterfly drawing tips and tricks
1. Butterflies aren’t as symmetrical as they seem
At a glance, butterflies look symmetrical, but it’s better to avoid the use of tracing paper for this project. Tracing the shape of the butterfly can make your drawing seem static and lifeless.
If you look closely enough, you’ll see that butterflies are in fact not perfectly symmetrical. Each one has individual markings that make it unique.
In this tutorial, you’ll use your free hand to draw – this will give your butterfly more fluidity and life – as if it’s about to fly off the page!
2. Don’t try and draw them from life
Butterflies are always on the move, so this tutorial is based on creating a drawing from a photo for reference.
It’s good practice to use a reference photo when drawing animals and insects to make sure you’re capturing your subject accurately. Look for some images of peacock butterflies for some visual inspiration for this project.
3. Sketch out the shapes first
At the start of the tutorial, you’ll roughly sketch out the basic butterfly shapes in a soft pencil. It’s a good idea to use very light pressure with your hand so that you can easily rub out your lines if you need to make any corrections.
4. Shading and layers of colour
After sketching out all the key shapes, you will then begin to add layers using colouring pencils. You’ll again need soft pencils and to build layers of colour gradually, starting with the lightest first.
This shading technique will give lots of depth to your work. It also helps to create the iridescent effect that you often see on a butterfly’s wings.
We’d also recommend using a heavier cartridge paper with a smooth surface, which is easier to draw on.
Read on to discover our preferred materials for drawing a butterfly ahead of our easy tutorial.
The best materials for drawing butterflies
Bread and butter paper
We’re using Bread and Butter Paper, which you can buy in individual, large A1 sheets from a specialist fine art shop. It’s a heavyweight cartridge paper with a very smooth surface (actually used for printing), and it’s a great soft surface to draw on.
Caran d’ache colouring pencils
We love Caran d’ache watercolour crayons, which are soft and blendable. The colours are also very vibrant and bright whilst still being natural. The Derwent ‘drawing’ pencil range is also very creamy and great for blends, but the colours are much more muted.
Use a Faber Castell putty rubber that will lift colour off the page without smudging.
Now you’re ready to start drawing your butterfly!
You Will Need
- A soft sketching pencil, we’re using a Rotering 0.5, but a HB or 2B pencil will also work well
- Pencil sharpener
- A4 or A3 cartridge paper, this should have a soft grain or a smooth surface
- Soft coloured pencils, red, orange, yellow, light blue, light brown, black, light grey
- Electric rubber, we’re using a Derwent one
Sketching the outline of your butterfly
Outlining the thorax, or body, of your butterfly
Start by lightly sketching out the shape of the top of the body. This is called the thorax, and you can think of it like a softened diamond shape. Use very light pressure with your pencil, so that you can easily rub your lines. You can then correct your outline if you make any mistakes.
Simplify the forewings
The forewings of the peacock butterfly can be simplified to a scalene triangle shape. Still using your soft pencil and light pressure, sketch out two triangles from the thorax to set out the basic shape of the forewings.
Draw the butterfly’s abdomen
The abdomen is a simple sausage-like shape coming down from the thorax.
Sketch the shape of the hindwings
The hindwings sit beneath the forewings. Draw two teardrop shapes to help simplify the hindwings.
Add a simple oval head
Now draw the head. The head is an oval shape that sits on top of the thorax.
Adding definition to your butterfly drawing
Outline the rugged edges of the wings
Using the shapes you’ve just drawn as a guide, define the details of the wings. If you look at a reference photo of a peacock butterfly, you’ll see the edge of the wings are rugged.
You’ll also notice that the wings are slightly curved, instead of the harsh straight lines of the triangle you’ve used as a guide.
The triangles you put down earlier are just a structure. Start to soften the lines and corners to create a delicate wing.
Notice how the wings overlap. You shouldn’t be able to see the hindwing fully as it joins the thorax because it sits behind the forewing.
Clean up your drawing to keep it looking neat
Erase any sketching lines you used for the hindwing that cross over with the forewing.
It’ll look like the hindwing is sitting behind the forewing.
Plan your colourful markings
Add in a few guiding shapes to map out key colour markings, such as the rough circle shapes on each wing. Add a grey border, running around the edge of each wing.
Add character to your butterfly with little antennae
Now give your butterfly some essential antennae!
Draw two curved lines coming out from the head. Remember, they don’t have to be symmetrical. Add a tiny oval shape on the end of each antenna.
At this stage, you can also tidy up your lines and rub out any messy ones that you don’t need. Clean up the drawing so that you have a fresh surface to start to add colour to at the next stage.
Introducing the first layers of rich colour to the drawing
Now for the fun part! We’ve sketched the basic outline of the butterfly and it’s time to add those dazzling colours.
Check your reference photo and take a moment to observe where colours should go on the wing.
Start with subtle shades of colour
Use soft, light strokes. Keep the direction of your pencil in mind. In the example, the strokes generally point towards the centre of the butterfly, giving a textured effect.
Create a base for bolder hues
Start by colouring the soft layers of light grey and light brown that go around the edge of all four wings. Colour soft layers of light grey and light brown across parts of the hindwing – this is a foundation layer of colour that we’ll build on in the following steps.
Make your drawing more realistic
Next, colour layers of light grey and light brown to fill in the head and body (the thorax and abdomen). Notice that the thorax has little lines running across it – so don’t forget the small details if you’re looking for a realistic finish!
Deepening the layers of colour
Create the iridescent effect
For the forewings, gradually build soft layers of yellow, orange and red to create an iridescent effect. Always start with the lightest colour first and you try to keep your strokes consistent to get even coverage.
You can add several tones of each colour if you have more than one orange pencil. The more the better!
Give your wings an extra glow
Go back and add a soft layer of orange to the hindwing to give some extra vibrance here!
Drawing markings on the wings to make your butterfly unique
Experiment with different pencil textures
Using the side of your pencil, you can create different markings. It will look smudgier and less controlled than using the sharp tip of the pencil, which is perfect for capturing fuzzy textures.
You’ll also have less control over the mark, which will make your drawing more interesting.
Create shimmering blue tones
With the side of a light blue pencil, make the markings in each of the four corners of the butterfly. Don’t worry about these being symmetrical! Do the same with red pencil.
Adding contrast to bring your butterfly drawing to life
Experiment with different pencil textures
Now go in softly with a dark grey or black pencil for the final layer of colour. Draw a fine, black, broken line around the edge of the wings with a sharpened pencil to define the wing and bring everything together.
Make the shadows more intense
Use your darker pencil to go over and bring out the antennae. Use the side of the pencil to make the larger, heavier, black markings on the wings.
Don’t worry if the black goes on top of the other colours – this will just add some depth of colour.
Highlighting the wings to add depth to your drawing
Make your butterfly shine
Use the electric rubber to lift off the layers of pencil. Add a few final, finer white markings. The electric rubber will take off all the layers of colour from the page, leaving a clear white spot.
It’s an effective way to get some extra fine details in your drawing. You can add two or three white spots to the forewings to complete your butterfly drawing.
Enhance your drawing with clever finishing touches
At this stage you can stand back and take a moment to reflect on your drawing as a whole. Maybe you’d like to bring out some more of the orange colour, or add deeper reds towards the centre of the butterfly or brighten some of the yellows.
Mastering your technique: The key to drawing lifelike butterflies
Drawing butterflies that come to life on the page is as much about layering colour as it is picking an (almost) symmetrical design. Once you master the art of layering with bold, exciting colours, you can capture the dynamism that makes butterflies such a fascinating point of study for nature enthusiasts and budding artists alike.
Now you know the basic technique, why not have a go at drawing other butterfly varieties? Our personal favourites are the multi-coloured Small Tortoiseshell or the iconic Red Admiral.
Explore the natural world through art with more nature drawings on Gathered
The natural world can be an incredible source of inspiration for artists of all ages. If you’ve enjoyed learning how to draw a butterfly, you might also like our easy how to draw a bird tutorial.