Learn how to make beautiful, realistic butterflies from old plastic bottles. The curve of the bottle will make the wings of the butterfly look realistic and by using acrylic paint, you can make any kind of butterfly you want; real or whimsical!
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
You really really need:

*Old plastic bottles (esp 1 liter ones...they have a bigger surface for more butterflies, but any bottle with straight sides will do)
*Push pins (thumbtacks)
*A piece of wood that you are able to push the thumbtacks into
*Acrylic paint
*Sandpaper (220 works best for me! :D)
*Polymer clay (browns and blacks mostly)
*Strong glue (I have used hot glue, but it doesn't seem to be strong enough. I suggest gorilla glue or some kind of epoxy)
*Sharp scissors or an exacto knife

You only sorta need:
*Clear spray varnish (preferably oil-based)
*Pearl Ex-which is a mica-based powder that makes the wings shimmer!
*Black wire
*Small black seed beads
*Gel acrylic medium (matte)

Step 2: Prepare the bottle

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To prepare your bottle for being turned into a butterfly, first wash the label off. I do this by soaking it in my sink with some dish detergent, and then picking any bits off that don't come right off. If there is still a thin strip of gluey goo stuff, don't worry about it.

Cut around the top of the bottle to get the top off-all you want to use is the straight part of the bottle-no curves. Do the same to the bottom. As soon as you have a cylinder of plastic, cut down the side with the gluey goo to create a rectangle of plastic.

Now, you have to sand the plastic so that your paint will stick to it well. The side you will sand is the side that was on the outside of the bottle. I use 220 grit and sand in a circular motion until the bottle appears "frosted" or matte. You can also work to 400 grit, but I only use 220 because i want my bottle to be rougher, so that the paint sticks better.

Step 3: The set-up

Picture of The set-up
Now you want to figure out what kind of butterfly you want to paint. I just google imaged pictures of butterflies to get ideas...there are some incredible tropical butterflies out there! I have also made local butterflies, such as monarchs, as well.

Once you get an idea of what kind of butterfly you want, print out some pictures of them. Then, cut out the outline of the butterflies, and trace them onto your plastic with a permanent marker, making sure that they are set up so that the tips of the wings are parallel to the top of the plastic, so that when you fold the wings, they wont be all funny! (see picture) To trace easily, weigh the ends of the plastic down with something heavy.

Now, you need to pin your plastic to your piece of wood. To do this, lay it down flat on the wood and push in pins wherever you can find space-but NOT inside or on the butterfly shapes! You want your plastic to lie fairly flat so don't hold back on those pins! :D (Good workout for your thumbs too)

Step 4: Painting the base layer

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Now you will paint a base layer for your butterfly. If you have gel acrylic medium (matte), paint it on first. Your brushstrokes should always go from the center of the butterfly out towards the wings. Let this layer dry before moving on.

Base layer: You will want a base layer to block some light and make a better surface to paint on. I suggest using a light color of paint, because white is a colloid and will look more solid. If you know the color of the bottom of the butterfly's wings that you want to paint, go ahead and use that color. Again brush from center to wings, but stay inside the lines! Some practice will make you better at this.
Let your layer of paint dry before adding the next layer; I use a hair dryer set on LOW to speed this up because I tend to be an impatient artist. :D

Next layer: background
Look at the picture of your butterfly, and paint the butterfly on your plastic with that color. If your butterfly is 2 colors, like a monarch, paint it the lighter color (It's easier to paint over).

Step 5: Add the details

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To really make your butterfly look good, you should add some details. Veins, in particular, really add to the finished effect. Use a very fine-tipped paintbrush for your veins, and either a lighter tint or a darker shade of the color of your background to make the veins. Since I'm doing whimsical butterflies for this example, I just put dots wherever I felt like it, but if you're painting a realistic butterfly, it's best to look at your picture as a guideline. Again, using a fine paintbrush will make your butterfly that much better!

While your masterpieces are drying, make your butterfly bodies:
Look at your picture, and form a body like the one in the pic. I use a toothpick to add details like lines to it, but that's optional, depending on how realistic you want the butterfly to look. To make antennae, cut short lengths of the black wire and stick them in the body. To add eyes, use black seed beads and press them into the clay. You can also make eyes out of the clay as well.
Fire your bodies; most polymer clays bake at 275 degrees F, but check the temp and bake time just to be sure.

Step 6: The last details

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If you want your butterfly to shimmer like some real butterflies do, Use pearlex powder to add some sheen. Take a clean paintbrush and make it damp, and dip it into the powder. Then, in careful strokes, add some sheen to your butterfly.

When your butterfly is dry, cut out the outline with sharp scissors. Then, you need to spray them. I use oil-based enamel spray to make them shiny, but if you don't want shine, you can use matte spray. DO NOT SPRAY BODIES!!! Oil-based finishes and polymer clay react in such a way that the polymer clay just stays sticky and it's really annoying.

Anyways, when you get your butterflies sprayed, and they dry, you are ready for the last step: putting it all together. Use super glue or epoxy to glue the body too the area inside the wings. Ta Da!!! Lovely butterfly!

Step 7: Uses for your beautiful bottle butterflies

Picture of Uses for your beautiful bottle butterflies
There are many uses for the lovely butterflies you have just created:

  • glue a loop of wire onto the back and make an ornament or a gift wrap tag thing
*glue a push-pin onto the back and make it a wall decoration-just push it wherever you want
  • glue a dowel with a sharpened end to the back-awesome plant stake!
  • glue it onto painting (what I usually do) It adds a great 3-D, whimsical touch
  • glue it onto a picture frame
  • glue a suction cup onto the back-window decoration!

See? Your uses are limitless! Who knows what other wonderful ideas are out there...

Anyways, hope you enjoyed this instructable, and please rate it as you see fit! :D Happy crafting
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allenpeter1 month ago

What an Idea???

asthornton made it!3 months ago

Thanks for the idea, going to make these with my class of 10/11 year olds to make up a Victorian style collectors cabinet for art .

2015-03-31 18.11.10.jpg
I love your project and I love butterflies . I've been looking for something a bit durable and using the plastic bottles was such a great idea!! Is there any other product to use for the body besides the clay. I'm making a few to put in or on the outside of an invitation box and some of course for my outdoor shaded flower pots. For indoors I used black crepe paper wrapped around a small Q-tip. It looks great but I just wanted to get your recommendation for any other product for the body for outdoors. Any ideas? Txs for sharing this lesson.
OOOooo! Lovely! And I wanna be a Glass Major! Or even a Glass Sergeant!
shortone (author)  The Dalai Farmer3 years ago
Good luck, hopefully you can learn how!
Darcy7773 years ago
Great Instructable. Thank you for posting it.

If you are willing to make these for custom order, contact me with the price.
lcruizer3 years ago
Great way to re-use what we have in creating art
Good work girl
Mr.Sanchez5 years ago
whohoa...its seems that the world is full of butterflies..it´s just to release them of the bottles...
shortone (author)  Mr.Sanchez5 years ago
that's a great way of putting it! :)
Hi there Would u pls vote for my entry ...?
cutee4 years ago
I like it so much!!!!how awesome is your artwork.....nice!!
shortone (author)  cutee4 years ago
Thanks :)
THYMETOCHAT5 years ago
Very pretty!  I've wanted to make a couple butterflies to help decorate the butterfly bath I want to make for my garden. 

I found some old concrete pieces that were originally used to feed mink at a mink farm and since they're too shallow for a bird bath, I immediately thought of using them as butterfly baths.  They are sort of petal shaped and have a bit of a shallow dip in the center that will hold liquid.   I plan to mount the mink feeder on top of an old lamp base and wanted to decorate it a bit with a butterfly or two, but hadn't found any recycled butterfly decor.  Yours will be perfect for my project! 

Very artistic...nice reuse of materials and a well done instructable!
shortone (author)  THYMETOCHAT5 years ago
Thanks! :)

Keep in mind that acrylic paint can fade when exposed to a lot of sun...I'd recommend either using a paint recommended for outdoors or using a UV resistant sealant. (I'm pretty sure you can get spray-on varnish with UV protection, but if not just get a can of it and brush it on. Don't get water-based; it wont last long outside!)

Hope it works well for you!
Mr.Sanchez5 years ago
Nice bottleflies...xD
This is really fantastic..........thanks so much for sharing it with us. Another idea to use these for...............fridge magnets.........or glue a clothespin to the back and then clip them to flower pots, window boxes, ribbons, etc... If you used the tiny little plastic clothes pins you could attach them to gift cards........headbands, etc... This is really a very versatile idea!!! And it would be a great project to do with the kids too.
shortone (author)  ellnbchristi6 years ago
You're welcome! Yes, I hope to hear of these being used for plenty of things...and post pictures! I love putting them on my paintings. I want to make a bunch to glue onto thumbtacks and have on my walls. I actually got the idea from a similar project for kids using fake glass paint to make a sort of "stained glass" butterfly...it would be a great project for kids.
ermaanni6 years ago
Here is my version yours a much nicer
shortone (author)  ermaanni6 years ago
those are pretty! they would be great as a mobile in a girls room, i think. :)
MakersBox6 years ago
Do you have any problem with the acrylic paint flaking off? (i.e. would they hold up to kids playing with them)?
shortone (author)  MakersBox6 years ago
hmm...I have had few problems with this, especially with a few coats of clear coat, but I think it would probably be better to keep the wild playing to a minimum... I think actually the greatest concern would be the bodies..using hot glue, i have had troubles with them breaking off...but with a stronger glue I think they'd work OK Also, I don't recommend wire antennae if you're making it for a child. Good luck!
If you lightly sand the plastic before you paint it it should give the paint a better area to stick to.
Tintan6 years ago
Oh, how lovely! Thanks for sharing. Are the there other re-purposed things used in your art?
shortone (author)  Tintan6 years ago
Oh I LOVE to use re-purposed things! Yes, the board in the painting was a scrap piece of plywood that would otherwise have been thrown away. The background of the painting is painted with leftover wall paint from several projects. I have also made glass beads out of bottles too (the glass ones, that is) and have many many other recycled projects. Send me a message if you want to know more! :D
Tintan shortone6 years ago
Thanks shortone, I've been saving some thicker and nicer colored glass bottles since you sent this message. (Along with a million other things that I save). Now I need to know HOW you make the glass beads. Do you use a rock tumbler? I don't have one - if I did, I'd give it a go. Also wondering, since you use bottles, do you have a good method to cut a bottle in half?
regarding cutting glass bottles...i think after experimenting with a lot of different methods, i have this one down. i use a mini-diamond rotary saw blade on my dremel. like a mini-circular saw blade. i get them way cheap at harbor freight...$5.99 for a pkg of 6. $2.99 on sale quite frequently. i leave the labels on my bottles while cutting because they are usually aligned straight...for marking my cut-lines, and the paper helps to keep glass flying if it cracks or shatters. be sure to wear eye protection!! a dust mask, and long-sleeves shirt. minute glass shards in your skin and eyes is hella painful and hard to get out. i use green or blue painter's tape because it has a bit of stretch to it, and i just free-hand it around the bottle where i want to cut...just roll it around and press it firmly. then i either cut right along the tape line, or sometimes i mark a line on the edge of the tape line with a sharpie marker. depending on the thickness of the glass, you might have to go around your bottle and cut-line several times...you just get a feel and "sound" for it after you've been doing it awhile. after the bottle is cut apart, i sometimes sand it with the diamond saw blade...this takes a bit of practice, as you can really get the cut out of alignment and crooked. or i use emery cloth, sometimes i use my dremel belt sander...whatever does the job on that particular piece. i've cut bottles as large as carboys with this method, that came out perfectly...verses using a tile saw, bottle cutter, etc. none of those worked too great for me, and they're somewhat expensive. anyway, try it out and see if it you like this method. cheers, pirate girl ;oj
shortone (author)  Tintan6 years ago
Oh boy...umm I actually use a glass bead-making torch. I suppose there are other ways to make the beads but I donk know of any.. there are lots of instructables on how to cut the bottle in half...I used the technique where you tie a piece of string soaked in gasoline around the bottle and light it on fire, and then dunk it into cold water... but there are more "sophisticated" techniques on here..just look around!
These are beautiful. I really want to try this out. you dont know how to make butterflies from feathers do you?? Thankyou for posting.
shortone (author)  Ronafluttabye6 years ago
I don't...but today I got a rose made out of feathers at the $ store so I'm thinking I might try making one of those...if I ever have time for it! If I do, I'll be sure to post it just for you ;) thanks
BEAST146 years ago
wow, great work, when I first read the title I thought you were shoving butterflies into bottles. lol
shortone (author)  BEAST146 years ago
haha and when I first read THIS, I though you said "shaving butterflies into bottles" and thought that was pretty creepy.. lol
very beautiful
red-king6 years ago
nice work!
sweet, my schools mascot is a monarch and this is just to awsome to pass up and my mom is great at detail painting.
jagman6 years ago
Wow! They're fantastic. Congratulations on a great project.
blackturtle6 years ago
So pretty! Thanks for sharing!
srilyk6 years ago
This is wonderful! My wife loves butterflies, so this is a good project for the two of us _
zubinmatie6 years ago
Awesome and Beautiful---->Finally something which turns all those bottles into Beauties!!
its awesome! keep it up
Honus6 years ago
Those look awesome! They would be great for store window displays where I work.
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