Let’s Paint a Comma Butterfly!

The day I went hiking and discovered the phoebe nest with babies, I also found this guy beside the stream:

It is a Comma Butterfly sitting on the mud next to the stream, and that is exactly where my, “Butterflies of North America” book, by Brock & Kaufman, said I can find one! Why is it named Comma? It is named appropriately for the white comma mark he has under his wing. You can not see it in this photo.

So let’s have some fun painting our new little friend with some watercolor paints…

Step 1: Make a butterfly sketch using graphite on hot press 140lb. watercolor paper. Next, apply masking fluid (orange spots) to the areas you want to keep white and clean. If I know I am going to mat this painting later, I make brackets so that I can keep track of what will be showing and what will be hiding under the mat.

Step 2: I decided to start with the background this time. I wanted to keep the painting true to what I observed, but I know a background of mud and rocks might be a little too overwhelming…so I know I have to keep it relatively simple but show texture at the same time. Don’t worry it’s not too hard, we can do it! First wet your background. Paint the background brown, while wet drop in some indigo blue, sap green and yellow green gold. Stand your paper up while dropping in your color so that the color drips down.I LOVE THAT!

Step 3: Texture time!!! While my background was still wet, I took a Q-Tip and soaked it in rubbing alcohol. Then I touched the wet paint. This process creates “fish eyes”, perfectly round white circles or bubbles, you can see them in the upper left hand corner of the painting against the green paint.
Next, I sprinkled salt on the lower right hand corner against the blue paint. This will create tiny little “stars”. Don’t brush off the salt until it is thoroughly dry. Fish eyes and stars are fun and easy ways to create texture, but don’t over do it! Too much texture and our little friend, Mr. Comma Butterfly, will get lost.

Let your painting completely dry, then load your brush with a dark brown/blue mixture of paint and flick it on your painting. I covered the butterfly with a small piece of paper so I would mess it up. Flicking paint is really, really, really fun. Your hands get dirty with paint and you feel like a kid again making a “mess”! It is great therapy. Speaking of mess, at this stage you might start to worry and feel like your painting looks like a gigantic mess. Don’t worry, I promise in the end it will all come together.

Step 4: We are going to work on the butterfly. First I laid down some yellow, followed by red brick. I let them touch each other and they start to melt. I did not pre-wet the paper.

Step 5: I took the darkest brown I had and painted the lower half and around the tips of his wings.

Anglewing by the Stream - Watercolor
Comma Butterfly by the Stream - Watercolor

Step 6 Final: First, after the brown lower half dries, make a darker mixture of brown by mixing it with indigo blue. Paint the lower half again. When dried, take a wet clean bristle brush and scrape out the inner wing next to his body. This is where the light was hitting his wing, making it a little shiny.
On the upper half, I made a diluted wash of water and country red brick. Lightly go over the top half, calming the colors down pulling everything together.
Let everything dry.
Take the masking fluid off by rubbing it with a rubber eraser or your finger.
Let’s make some fun spots. Here I used light brown, med. brown and dark brown.
Make some shadow color out of cobalt blue, paint under his wings. Don’t forget about his little antennas. If you forget to paint in the shadow, he will not look like he is resting on the mud, but floating around.
And for the grand finish, I took a black Micron pen and went around his body, wings, spots, and gave him some antennas.

“Butterfly by the Stream”
original watercolor
image: 6.5×4.5
mat outside dimensions: 10×8
(includes shipping & tax in US)

click here to purchase, it will take you to the site of available watercolor paintings.

I hope you enjoyed this step by step demonstration on how to paint a butterfly using watercolors!


  1. That is the funniest thing..i made that comment..but I must have been signed in as my alter ego..tee hee..
    I guess maybe i somehow was using my msn sign in..still not sure why it did that..
    oh well..
    here I am with my real name..
    Nobbiecat was my sweet boy cat who passed away last year.
    Take care..
    keep painting!

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