Art Lesson: Butterfly Project

A lot of people inquired about the butterfly project I did with my Grade 3 students, so I thought I would write up this quick post!

At my new school we have the most beautiful butterfly sanctuary! It’s an enclosed space where one of the operations people raises butterflies for study. There is a special place for the caterpillars as they chew and eat leaves for growth and then there is this little closet space where they make their cocoons. And finally, there are hundreds of beautiful plants for the butterflies to hang out on once they emerge from their cocoons. It’s a beautiful little space with a fun beaded curtain to walk through. I go there sometimes during lunch or after school just to marvel at the butterflies and to contemplate things.

I decided to do butterflies with my Grade 3 students because I was inspired by our butterfly sanctuary, but I also thought it might be a good project to assess them with since we were just starting the school year. For assessments, I like to choose simple projects that include directions and steps. The most important thing for me is listening skills. Can my students listen and follow directions? If the answer is yes, then my students will be able to make anything!

For this project we used two colors of A3 paper (2 classes used black, 2 classes used white), oil pastels, chalk pastels, and tempera paint in black and white (classes with black paper used white paint and classes with white paper used black paint). I made two examples on my own first, so I could understand the process. And then I demoed the entire project for the students. We used one day for folding and printing and the second day for chalk and oil pastel application. It’s good to give two days for this project so that the butterflies are good and dry before adding the chalk and oil pastel decoration.

To start out, students need a piece of A3 paper and a pencil. I use a heavier weight paper like construction paper, but not as heavy as card stock paper. I don’t suggest using printer paper because it’s a bit flimsy. But, for the most part, this project will work with any kind of paper you have at school or around your house.

I have the students fold the paper in half (hamburger style) and make sure all of their corners touch and their fold is creased and sharp. Once the students do this, they can open back up their folded paper and lay it out in front of them, landscape. On the right-hand side of the A3 paper, starting at the center fold line, I have the students draw out their butterfly design. Remind the students that they are only doing one side of their butterfly during this step and to keep it simple! (When we get to the printing part of this, the paint can get cumbersome if there are too many tiny drawings and designs to trace.)

Next I help to trace with paint the pencil lines of the one side of their butterflies. I use tempera in squeezy bottles with a tiny opening so I can better control the paint. I helped my students do this step, but with Grade 4 and above students, they could do the paint tracing part on their own. Once the right-hand side of their butterfly is traced, I have the students fold the empty side of their paper onto the paint side and press down, rubbing their folded paper gently while whispering, “squishy, squishy, juicy, juicy.” This makes them laugh, which helps them to stay focused. After about 10 seconds of rubbing their folded paper, they open up their A3 paper to reveal their finished butterfly print.

Once the butterflies have dried overnight, the students can start working with oil and chalk pastels to add color to their butterflies. I set out all of our oil and chalk pastels on the table and give the students tiny trays. They can start out with 3 of each (oil and chalk) and then come back to the center table as often as they need to in order to switch out their colors. For the chalk pastels, I have them fill in the negative spaces on their paper. For the oil pastels, they can draw designs on the painted (or positive) areas of their butterfly. Remind the students that the goal is not to completely cover their painted space, but more enhance it with color. They can also add antennae with oil pastels whilst decorating their butterflies.

You can clearly see the positive and negative spaces in the above examples, prior to me adding color with chalk and oil pastels.

I love this project because each student makes something completely unique. No two butterflies are ever the same!

I made this project for the first time when I was little, maybe 6. I have never done this project again since then, thinking it might be too simple for my elementary students. But, they LOVED it! They had a blast making these butterflies. We will be hanging them up for all the school to see in the entryway to the cafeteria. I can’t wait to share with you how the finished display looks!

Please reach out with any questions and stay tuned for more fun projects and info coming soon!