Bottle Butterflies!




About: Currently in my second year at Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, planning to become a glass major. I love to learn, make, and experience life. Cheers!

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!

Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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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64 Discussions


5 years ago

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.


7 years ago on Introduction

Great Instructable. Thank you for posting it.

If you are willing to make these for custom order, contact me with the price.


7 years ago on Introduction

Great way to re-use what we have in creating art
Good work girl


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Hi there Would u pls vote for my entry ...?


9 years ago on Step 7

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!

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

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!


9 years ago on Introduction

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.

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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" would be a great project for kids.


Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

those are pretty! they would be great as a mobile in a girls room, i think. :)


10 years ago on Step 6

Do you have any problem with the acrylic paint flaking off? (i.e. would they hold up to kids playing with them)?

1 reply

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

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!