This past weekend, I had the joy of being asked to do a DIY demo at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore’s “Fall for All” event. As soon as they asked, I had a spark of an idea. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at some 3d cut paper butterfly art for my future niece’s nursery and the event would be a perfect practice. For all those visiting because we met at the ReStore, WELCOME!
I swear, it is so much easier than it looks! I was able to put one together in 2 hours at my Demo table at the ReStore. All it takes is a frame, some paper, and some exacto knife skills.
After my demo, I recreated the art for my soon-to-be niece’s room. I started with an empty frame from, you guessed it, the ReStore, a piece of thick watercolor paper, a piece of thick chip board or thin cardboard for the backing, and one curious kitten. (no kittens were harmed in the making of this art)
After cutting the 2 pieces to fit within the frame, it was time to get messy! I chose to layer some rice paper onto the backing with Mod Podge to add a pop of color to the background. Painting the backing piece would have the same effect, but I had some rice paper on hand and an idea in my head. Don’t you worry, it’ll dry clear!
Once you have the backing covered, set that aside to dry for a while. Now on to the butterflies!!
The prep step that I’m not showing you was figuring out a few butterfly shapes. They could totally be drawn freehand, but I thought it would be easier to create a template. Using a scrap of paper folded in half, I played around with butterfly shapes and sizes until I had 8 of varied sized that I thought could work. I traced them onto scrap cardboard from the recycle bin and cut the butterflies out with an exacto. Thus a template was born! If you ask really nicely, maybe I’ll scan it in and make a printable template available.
Next, on your watercolor paper, figure out a flight path for your butterflies. I decided I wanted to start small in the corner and fan them out at the top. I drew to guide lines for the general shape planned, then started tracing butterflies willy nilly. Go crazy! Fill up your paper!
Just make sure to leave about a half inch around the outside for your frame and don’t allow your butterflies to touch or overlap. While tracing my templates, I made sure to leave a space between the 2 halves of the butterfly. This is an important step when you’re cutting since you want to leave a gap where the butterfly body would normally be. I tried to bump up the contrast on this one so you could see my light handed butterflies, but the color got a bit wonky.
Once you have your butterflies all drawn out, break out an exacto knife with a new, sharp blade. Sharp blades make cutting much easier, so I’d be sure have a few on hand. This part is not as challenging as it looks, I promise!
Go slow, be careful, rotate your paper as necessary to get the best angle, and make sure to leave a gap between each butterfly’s wings. This ‘body gap’ is what allows you to fold out the wings. The best part about this is you don’t have to be exact! If you don’t follow your lines precisely, it doesn’t matter, as long as it still resembles a butterfly wing.
Be prepared to spend a bit of time on this step- although it doesn’t take hours, its the longest part of the process.
After all of your butterflies have been cut, you have 2 options: take an eraser and erase all of your pencil lines or flip your paper over and use the back as the front. I chose to erase since I had some patches on the back where I overcut a few of my fliers (oops). If taking the erasing route, I recommend holding down the wings as you erase so they don’t get crunched up by an overzealous eraser.
Now it’s time to make them fly! Carefully peel up each wing and crease it at the body.
Repeat until all your wings are taking flight.
Bring back your backer piece which should be totally dry by this point. I decided to use Mod Podge again to adhere my butterflies to the backing. Spread a THIN layer, wait for a few moments until its a bit tacky and not totally wet, and carefully place your cut paper over the backing. If the glue is too wet, it’ll warp your paper… trust me, I’ve learned from experience…
Once aligned, run your finger between the butterflies to make sure that the negative space sticks down and your wings stay flying free.
While it’s drying, you can take this opportunity to put it in the frame (make sure if you’re using a frame that has glass in it, remove the glass since it will just flatten your flying friends). Since I was using an empty frame, I used framing points to hold the art in the frame.
All that’s left is to hang and admire!
It even earned the kitten stamp of approval (which naturally is indifference, but I’ll take it!)
What I love about this project is that it’s so customizable. Want to make it smaller or bigger? No problem! Want to make your butterflies into a letter? Go for it! Whatever way you want, they butterflies will be dynamic and playful, but still the right amount of elegance.
So, what do you think? The perfect addition to a little girl’s nursery?