Realistic Butterfly Drawings in 4 Steps With Photoshop

Throughout history, realistic butterfly drawings are representations of unique cultural ideas found in society. More than just the wings, this guide will teach you what you need to learn how to draw butterflies as a whole so you can use the process learned to draw butterflies that is unique to you.

The butterfly is an object of study in art and literature. You can find drawings as well as jewelry in ancient times surrounding this insect. In folklore, a butterfly is usually associated with a person's soul. Even the birth of a butterfly from its cocoon can symbolize the idea of rebirth.

In any of these depictions, a large amount of time is spent the wings. The sheer amount of color and brilliance found on the wings is what inspires the imagination which made this insect to become such an integrate part of cultures all around the world.

Just like drawing, though, a lot of guides focus on the wings. However, as mentioned, I would like to draw butterflies in its entirety. This means that we will be also drawing the bits between the wings as I believe doing so will give a better appreciation of this impressive insect.

Sketching realistic butterfly drawings

Since we are going to draw the entire butterfly, a profile view will show off the body as well as the underside of the wings. In this form, take note on how the lower part of the wing will overlap the upper part of the wing.

When you draw the wings, add in the circular veins from which the rest of the veins will flare out from. This is a key defining part in all butterflies regardless of species. As for the main body, start with the three areas of the head, thorax, and abdomen.

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You can also start adding simple lines to define the legs and the antennas. Make sure to angle these lines to give off the suggestion of joints. When you have completed this step, start up a new layer and fill it with a dark tone.

The purpose of the dark backdrop is to create a cushion of base color to which details can be applied on without worrying about empty spots in the drawing. Once that is done, merge both the sketch and the backdrop together to form one layer.

Smudging the realistic butterfly drawings

Smudging blends the gesture lines into the drawing as well as creating additional values to be used. Your realistic butterfly drawings will utilize two different brush tips to smudge in the lines: a smooth brush tip and a chalk brush tip.

In using the smooth brush tip to smudge the sketch, you are not making additional textures. This is useful for the wings as you want to blend in the vein lines into the drawing. As well, you can also change the direction of the vein lines depending on how hard you smudge.

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On the other hand, the chalk brush tip is very useful for the rest of the body. Since the main body has small tiny little furs, this particular brush tip will create additional fur textures based on the direction of the smudge using the gesture lines. Either way, do both to define the drawing a bit more.

Even though smudging does have its advantages, do not smudge too hard. Otherwise, you risk deforming the original sketch. To combat this, draw in some of the areas using the chalk brush to create textures that have been smudged away.

Detailing the realistic butterfly drawings

The first level of detail would be to work on the wing patterns that is unique to the specie. Before you begin, lock the layer down. For the pattern, use any small brush tip with the scatter brush option turned on. With this, you can spread entire areas in dark spots. The other option is to use a sponge brush tip and 'dab' in the dark patterned areas.

While still on the wings, the second layer of detail would be the veins. Once you are done with the splattered black patterns, use a very small light colored brush and draw in the vein lines. Use this brush as well to create a tonal separation between the lower and upper parts of the wing.

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Details surrounding the body can be worked on using the same method: scatter brush the patterns on the abdomen and using the light small brush to work on the legs. Should any part look too light or dark, consider using the dodge and burn tools to lighten or darken patches, respectively.

The last level of detailing work would be to refine the entire butterfly object. From here, unlock your layer and then gently erase into the butterfly to define the thin legs and antenna areas. Should the wings or body look too large or have extra textures from the smudging process, use this step to erase those excessive areas.

Shading the realistic butterfly drawings

While you have drawn in the dark spots, there are some light spots as well. Using the same splatter setting or a sponge brush tip, gently create little white patches on the wings to finish up the final details. This can be used for the main body too if there are white spots on your specie.

The next step would be to draw in the other three legs on the other side. Again, this is just a simple process where you suggest the other legs without worrying too much about details. Also, add in the spiral mouth piece if you haven't already done so.

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As we worked only on one side of the butterfly in this profile view, the other wing needs to be drawn in. We have saved this step for last as we want to have a finished wing first as all this step requires duplicating the entire wing and moving it behind the butterfly object. Once duplicated, shrink, skew, and darken the wing to make it work in this perspective.

The final step would be to add lighting and shading. You can use the dodge tool to glaze in large areas of light near the tips of the large wing. As well, since the wings will create a large drop shadow, you will need to darken the entire body a bit.

Sharpening the entire drawing will also yield better results in terms of the spots splattered on as well as highlighting the small fur on the body. You can do with this with the sharpen tool or use a global sharpening filter.

Since you have an entire butterfly drawing finished, you can also cut out and duplicate the wings and specific parts of the body to form typical realistic butterfly drawings where only the wings and the main body is shown. In other words, you are utilizing what you have finished to create something new.