In this butterfly drawing tutorial, learn how to draw a monarch butterfly step by step with coloured pencils and graphite.
I break each step down so you can easily follow along, from drawing guides to make the butterfly symmetrical in shape, to creating smooth colour transitions with your pencil. This is an easy tutorial that anyone can follow along with, no matter what your drawing experience is!
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The first step is to draw guides, so that you can ensure that the butterfly’s wings are the same size and shape.
The width of the butterfly is double the height, and the wingspan of the upper forewings is double the bottom hind wings.
From this information, we can make the guides. I created my drawing on A4 paper so I drew a light line with HB graphite pencil across the top 20cm wide. This is for the top wingspan. Then, I marked halfway across this line to show where the body would go. Next I measured 10cm below the line for the bottom of the wings, then created a 10cm line running parallel to the top, centred at the halfway point. I also measured 2.5cm below the top line, to show where the wings start to curve downwards and 5.5cm down to show where the forewing overlaps the hindwing. Join the lines up and you should have a hexagon shape like the image above. Erase the guidelines as soon as you’ve drawn the outline.
Draw the outline
Draw the outline of the butterfly, for the wing, start just below the top guide, curve upwards to the top, sweep across, then curve slightly down again. Then it’s a straight line down to the 2.5cm marker and curve gradually inwards by about 4cm. Next draw a semicircle for the bottom of the wing and curve up slightly to meet the middle where the body will be. Then repeat for the other wing.
To draw the outline of the body, it’s only about cm wide, so draw it half a cm from the middle marker at the top, curve downwards, then draw the head at the top, creating the outlines of the eyes and the antennae.
You can optionally darken the outline of your butterfly drawing with a black coloured pencil. Make sure to erase the guides when you’re happy with the butterfly drawing ouline.
Draw the patterns on the butterfly’s wings
Follow the outline of the wings and draw the patterns on the wings of the butterfly. Draw where the black outline of each wing and where the intersection of the upper wing and hind wings will go. Then draw the cells and veins on the wings. Copy the patterns from the drawing, working one section at a time.
Shade the butterfly drawing
Draw over the veins on the wings with a black pencil and shade the black sections, leaving white markings along the bottom and upper wings.
Then, shade with the orange pencils. I used a mid orange that is slightly neutral in tone, with the name Terracotta from the Polychromos range.
The lighter orange-yellow sections are coloured with dark cadmium yellow. I shaded over the terracotta with the light yellow to make blended transitional shades.
For the deeper orange sections, I used dark cadmium orange to shade around the inner sections of the upper wings.
You can create multiple layers of colour, if your shading is looking too light, or there are areas that look patchy. Apply more pressure to achieve better coverage.
And that’s the butterfly done!
Check out our coloured pencil drawing techniques if you want to learn unique and interesting shading techniques like hatching, blending and burnishing. If you’re looking for some more inspiration for what to draw, check out our drawing ideas blog. For complete beginners, we also have an easy drawing ideas blog with step by step tutorials.
Butterfly drawing tutorial supplies
You can use any kind of drawing supplies to create a butterfly drawing, if you want to create a greyscale tonal piece, stick to a soft graphite pencil. For coloured pencil drawings, here are some recommendations:
- Coloured pencils: get a few different tones of orange and yellow so you can blend colours together. Polychromos pencils and Prismacolor pencils are high quality options. Expect to create smooth blends with vibrant tones! If you’re looking for a more inexpensive option Koh-i-Noor Polycolor Pencils.
- Paper: coloured pencils work best on paper that has a slight tooth or texture. This will help you build layers of colours and create transitional shades. I use Pastelmat, which is archival quality, extra thick and has a fine tooth that allows pencil to adhere and layer beautifully.
- Erasers: I use two erasers when coloured pencil drawing, I use a kneaded eraser, which is moldable and doesn’t damage paper fibres. Then I also use a fine point eraser, to lift small details and fine lines.
- Sharpener: it’s important to get a quality sharpener, so that it shaves the wood around the core without breakage. This pencil sharpener by Prismacolor is a brilliant quality mechanical sharpener that sharpens pencils to a fine point.