Paper Mache “Dark Butterfly”

Okay, so I decided to make a project that was  a little, well….darker.   My art is very animated, and fun I think.   I just want to try something a little different.   I’ll be curious to know what you think about it.   Let me know, even if you don’t like it.

You know the drill by now.   I crumpled balls into a torso (upper, right), hips (upper, middle), head (lower, middle), and a couple extras for who knows what.   You know I like to have extra paper mache balls around so that I can add details to the project.   As usual I used wire clothes hangers to put inside the legs, arms, and in this case the tail.   (Did you know that lizard-like lady butterflies have tails?  Well, they do.)   Sorry, it’s hard to see the white clothes hangers clearly.

Here are the crumpled paper arms and legs.   I also twisted paper around the wire to make a long, sleek, bifurcated tail.

Here she is after I paper mached all of the parts.  

Isn’t she beautiful so far? ha ha
So why are people still making paper mache piggies?  I don’t get it.
Paper Mache Dark Butterfly: The Head
I used my usual methods to start the head.   I looked in my pile of paper mache balls to see if I had one that looked like a woman-like butterfly head.   And I found one!  What luck.

As usual, I cut the paper mache ball in half.  I made some teeth out of Fimo and hot glued them onto the shell.

I made a tongue the usual way.    Here is what they look like together.   Don’t worry, I’ll cut away some of the paper mache shell on the bottom.   The lower jaw won’t look like that.

Here they are after putting on the cloth mache.    And here they are again after painting.

You know I love cats.  This is my neighbor’s cat, Phil.  This photo doesn’t do him justice.  He is enormous.  I mean, his stomach rubs against the ground when he walks.   They don’t feed him that much (they say).  He’s eating something.   Phil is super sweet.  He lounges on my front lawn, rain or shine and welcomes me when I leave the house.

Paper Mache Dark Butterfly: Begin Assembly

So I’m going to start putting her together.  Now just between you and me, I have more of the face and head finished than I want to show you.   I know that those photos should follow the last ones I posted of the jaws.  But  the face is just kind of disturbing.  I’d rather wait.   I’ll come back to it later after the body takes shape.  I put together two of the paper mache balls.  Remember, everything is really rough right now.   There is a lot of sculpting to do to get the shapes I want.    Here are the two paper mache legs I made.

Below on the left you can see that I cut the knee and bent it.   For the dillionth time, I love wire clothes hangers inside my paper mache appendages.   They keep the knees in the position I want until I can fill them in.    On the right is the basic body with the two legs added.
She will be hanging on a wall and I want her to lean out a bit.   So I cut her in the back and bent her forward (on the left, below).  I added arms, and although it’s hard to see, I gave her a six pack belly.  She is starting to take shape isn’t she?

I cut another of the smaller paper mache balls into two pieces and pulled out the wad of paper in the middle.   I added these as cheeks.  Then I added her tail.

Here she is on her back.

Paper Mache Dark Butterfly: Arms, Back, and Head
As I mentioned earlier, after I put together the basic shape with paper mache balls, I sculpt various parts until I have what I want.   I wanted to augment her back.  It has to be strong since she will have large wings to maneuver.    So I cut off a chunk of the paper mache ball and folded it over on one edge.  I repositioned it on the back and taped it on.   Doing this on both sides gave her some nice lats, a nice V shape to her back.

If you look closely at the back of the arms you’ll notice that I gave her some triceps.  No paper mache shells here, just some wadded paper and tape.   On the front side I twisted a long piece of paper, wrapped it with tape, and added a rather long bicep.   The trick here is determine exactly what level of exactness (is that the right word?) to achieve on this body.  I could go crazy here, like take a course on anatomy,  but I don’t have the time.   So I go with what “looks right”.    Hope it does to you too.

Now it’s time to be afraid.   I’m going to show you the current state of her face.   I put the jaws inside another, smaller paper mache ball.   I added some cheeks and cut holes for her eyes.  Using very small pieces of paper mache shells (that were laying around) and masking tape I fashioned a  nose.    I inserted some nice yellow, cat-like eyes and added some wadded paper above them to give her some brows.

I sculpted some ears with more small paper mache shell material.  This is where her face stands right now.  As I told you earlier, it’s kind of scary looking.  But remember, this is a face with no skin.  Yours would look just as bad without skin (of course, judging by my 64 year old skin, some faces might look better without skin).   I can see her face in my mind’s eye with lids and lips.   She will look very different at that point, trust me.   I’ll get there soon.
Paper Mache Dark Butterfly:  Wings!

As you can see below I attached her scary head.   I know, she still looks creepy.  As I said earlier, this will change radically when she has lips and eyelids and hair (well, the equivalent of hair).   You’ll notice I also added breasts.   Max was curious about these.   She will have scales when she’s finished.    That will change how you perceive her anatomy.  On the right you can see the beginnings of her wings.   You can also see her fingers and toes in the upper right hand corner of the photo.
Below you can see how I attached the framework for the wings.    I just punched holes in the paper mache back and stuck in the long, tapered spines (I’m not sure what you call these, they will be the substructure of the wings).   On the right she is ready to have the cloth draped over the spines.  It’s hard to see here, but I have strings connected to the ends of the spines.  These are connected to the ceiling.   This is to support the weight of large pieces of cloth soaked with glue.
Here she is with the cloth draped over the spines.   I let this cloth dry over night.   On the right you’ll see Eddie complaining.  He wanted me to stop working on the butterfly and to give him food.

Here she is with her wings trimmed.   I kind of like this hairless, handless, feetless look.
A little closer look at her upper body.

And, for what it’s worth, here is what she looks like from the back.  I added cloth mache to the backs of the spines.


Paper Mache Dark Butterfly:  A New Face!
So I’ve finished her hands and feet.  I have to say, that was not as easy as it should have been.   I will put together a post about those soon.  But first, I just wanted to show you her new face.   She looks a lot better with skin and hair…well, it’s not exactly hair.   They are tentacle-like things.    If you look at the photos below you can see that I twisted paper around pieces of wire tapering them at the end.  Then I cloth mached them.  That is, I wrapped strips of cloth dipped in Elmer’s glue around each of them.  I added some curves.

Then I poked holes in her head and stuck them in.  Of course I also added cloth mache skin to the rest of her face as well.

I’m showing her skinless, hairless face one more time for contrast.
And here she is with skin and hair.    Look how different she looks with tentacles.   Now I like her.   Of course she looks better in person.   Photos never do these projects justice.  
Paper Mache Dark Butterfly:  Hands and Feet
Before I get to her hands and feet…I’ve had a few questions about the tentacle hair.  Just want to show you what her head looked like as I planted her hair.  I just cut a bunch of holes in her head.  I squirted hot glue into the holes before pushing in the strands.

Now on to hands and feet.   These were much harder to make than I thought they would be.  The proportions had to be exactly right.   First, I started by twisting paper around pieces of wire clothes hanger to make fingers and toes.   Then I crumpled a small wad of paper and added a finger.   I wrapped masking tape on either side.

I continued adding each finger until I got a full hand.
I added wads of paper to the thumb and other parts of the palm.  I pretty much copied my own hand.   Then I hot glued some claw-like fingernails to the end of the fingers.
 Now I know what you are thinking.   I shouldn’t have modeled her hands after mine.  She’s long and thin.  My hands would look too wide.   And they did.   So I cut them off and made them thinner.  I just cut out some slices between the fingers and squished the hand back together.   This is as close to surgery as you get in the paper mache world.    I made the feet the same way I made the hands.  But this time I made the feet longer proportionally than my own.
Like with the hands,  I added some flesh to the under side of the foot.   I put them on the butterfly and added some nice toenails.
Then I added my cloth mache and was finished with these appendages.
Paper Mache Dark Butterfly: Breast Reduction
I know, this is a strange post.   As I approached the final phase of this project I had a strange realization.   More about that in a minute.  First, I started adding some horizontal plates on her tail.  I folded little pieces of cloth and laid them one over the other.   I worked my way up the tail…

… up the stomach and over the entire torso.  I ended under her chin.

So this is where I had my revelation.   She is supposed to be somewhat older, and craggy.  Yet when I looked at her I realized that while her skin was older and wrinkled, her breasts looked like those of a 20 year old.  I inadvertently constructed her like a high school boy would.   So she needed a breast reduction.    I wrestled with whether I should show this or not.   In the end I decided that I wanted to show the entire process.  I want people to see my equivocation.   I must say, cutting off her breasts was hard for me.  I worked really hard on them.  I think I spent two days making them.

So here is my breastless butterfly.

No paper mache here.  I just used wadded paper and masking tape to reconstruct the breasts.   These are much more in line with what I wanted.  They are smaller and it looks like she has some muscle.

I added new plates.    I know it doesn’t look in these photos to be all that different than they were before the operation.  But in person this change made a big difference.
Paper Mache Dark Butterfly:  Finished!
Well, I’ve finished my Dark Butterfly.  I think she turned out very well.  But, as always, I must add the disclaimer that the camera just doesn’t capture the subtleties.  Her colors are much richer than these photos suggest.   The camera inordinately pulls out certain colors.
I don’t often do this, but this time I used spray paint for my base coat.   On the left I just blasted her wings with some bright colors.   And I blasted her hair and face with some flat black paint.  I did that so that I would be committed to using very dark colors.   Then, I used masking tape to mask off parts of the wings.
 Then I finished spraying the black paint over her entire body.  Then I peeled off the tape leaving nice, crisp black stripes on the wings.
There is always a tendency at this point to want to resist blackwashing, to preserve the bright colors.  Many people who use my paper mache techniques simply can’t bring themselves to add black paint at this point.  They get severely attached to how pretty the colors are.  But it’s necessary.   The black brings out the colors.   On the left you can see part of a wing after I blackwashed.  It looks so much better!   Now I did something kind of fun on this project.  Not only did I blackwash the project, but I also splattered it with black paint afterwards.   Then I used a blow torch to burn holes in the wings and to singe the edges.    It was fun until  I almost lost the project.  I didn’t realize that the underside of the left wing was still burning when I lit the right side.  Luckily where there is fire, there is smoke.  I caught the extra fire just in time and was able to extinguish it.  That would have been a real bummer (as I used to say in the 60s)(okay, so I still say it all the time) if I’d done all that work only to watch her go up in smoke, literally.

Finally I added some highlights.  In this case it was various shades of blue.  Below is a close up of the bifurcated tail.

Finally, the thing I love the most.  I scraped the paint off of her eyes and I cleaned up her teeth.   I love these eyes with these colors.   Nice, don’t you think?
Here she is!If you’d like to see the time-lapse video of this project being built, click on the photo.
Dark Butterfly

63 Responses to Paper Mache “Dark Butterfly”

  1. Lisa says:

    She is amazing! But, I would classify her more in the line of a Harpy.

    The BEST book to pool info on historical monsters is the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. It contains the descriptions and lineage of many of history’s monsters and is a great reference manual.

  2. Margeaux Rossouw says:

    Wow, you are too talented!
    You make us mere mortals look bad! lol

  3. Sherri says:

    Wow, that is amazing! Thank you for posting your whole process (even where you have to make changes). I am pretty new to this and plan to make something quite large and this post has been very informative and helpful. Thank you!

  4. Elaine Daugherty says:

    Amazing. I think I’m in love. And I’ve definitely found my new favorite artist. 🙂

    I have begun collecting all the supplies I will need to create some amazing paper mache creatures, and I thank you for your generous offering of all your hard work, as well as all your years of trials and errors.

    I started a unicorn mask after watching the making of maleficent’s son, and with in one night realized how incredibly labor intensive these are. I started it the beginning of October, with the hopes of having it complete by Halloween… No such luck. Lol!

  5. Elaine Daugherty says:

    Oh! Question: where do you get your eyes?

  6. vorpax says:

    Hi. Your work is pretty amazing. I just wonder why don’t you create positive creatures as well?

    • Hello. I think all of my pieces are positive. Except for maybe my Dark Butterfly, which is a little dark, and my zombie, I think the rest of my pieces have a nice vibe to them. Of course I’m biased. Thank you for writing. Take care

  7. Latish Flynn says:

    Awesome, luv your work.:)
    About what size scale is she? and what size eyes would you suggest?
    Thanks Latish

  8. Toni McCullough says:

    Amazing work! And on such a grand scale! I’m new to the process but am fascinated! I was only googling making wings when I came across this~ Thank you so much for sharing your world!

  9. Donna says:

    I live your dark butterfly..I am try my hand at this one ..very time consuming,but I am having fun! thanks for the video’s . I also bought your Monster book.

    • Hi Donna. I realize, as you do now, that my videos make it seem like these projects are easy to make. The steps aren’t hard to understand but the they are much more time consuming and take much more effort than the videos suggest. But I think that most things that are worth while take effort. I’m glad you are enjoying the process. That helps. Good luck!

  10. Donna says:

    Hey Dan,just giving you an update on my dark butterfly.I have done things a little different on some things,but she is coming along pretty good.It can be a little rough on my hands but I work thru it.I really enjoying making her.I will somehow get a picture to you when she is done 🙂

    • Hello Donna. Of course you can do anything you like on your own project. So long as you think it’s going well. Sounds like it is. Have fun on the rest. Yes, would love to see her when finished.

  11. jenny says:

    your dark fairy is amazing i can,t wait to have a go.Thankyou for sharing your wonderful creatures

  12. Mark Elford says:

    I was going to send you a picture of my creation,but i see you only put up certain self conscious emails,so i will leave it alone.

  13. Sam haq says:

    wow that scared me. That is amazing!!!!!!!!

  14. Tae says:

    My gosh! Your sculptures are beautiful, this one is especially so! The details are stunning and I am so impressed with how you are able to judge what looks right and change things accordingly. I am glad paper mache is easier to change up than other mediums of sculpting!

    This probably goes without saying (as it’s probably a little jab, for the most part) that people are probably still making dinky paper mache piggies on account of individual skill level and comfort zone business. I’d personally rather start off sculpting my original creatures and characters rather than dinky piggies, but I have had at least a little practice doing art; (namely digital and traditional painting, and a little tiny bit of digital sculpting using the free program Sculptris, but that was mostly for my own reference to be used with the 2D stuff and figuring out my own characters’ strange shapes from different angles, I haven’t done anything “complete” using that program).

    I will admit, though, your videos and blog progress images have really helped me gain a better understanding of certain things! I have already loved painting dragons and monsters, but I feel like I have a better understanding of their eyes and mouths after seeing them in a 3D rendering done step by step and layer by layer.

    Sorry for the big comment!

  15. checatt says:

    what are teeth made from? thanks!

  16. checatt says:

    Could you tell me what you make the teeth out of? Thanks!

  17. Sharon says:

    Very talented! And amazing! How long did it take to make? Have you’ve done things on a bigger scale?

  18. Lenea Howe says:

    (Big Fan!!!) After baking your teeth, do you glaze them (with Triple Thick perhaps) so that the black doesn’t stain them?…or is that not a problem. thanks!! You are amazing!

    • Hello Lenea. I just paint over the Fimo. I use a little water to soften the paint later, but then it comes right off with a rough washrag or knife (to scrape, not to cut).

  19. Glynis says:

    You are Freakishly Scare, Utterly Amazing; Remarkably Clever, Huggable for the Sharing and a True Artist. And now we know who really is the cheeky “nymph” who turns the green leaves to fiery reds, blazing oranges and sparkling yellows, so she can play tricks on the unsuspecting, while she blends into the woods each fall. Love the fall and your “Dark Butterfly” brings one more element into my meandering through life. Cheers.

  20. Suzy says:

    I am just getting into the ‘paper mache thing’ and looking for my first project. My God! I love, love, love your Dark Butterfly! Now I’m going to have a good look through all of your work to give me some inspiration. Brilliant!

  21. Natasha says:

    This is incredible. I just discovered your page and I’m blown away by your talent! I’m an artist myself(painter, cosmetologist, salon owner, and photographer, I dabble in making props).
    Seriously, I’m very impressed by your work! Someday, I want to make my son a full body dragon that he can sit on 😉

  22. Julie says:

    Your creations are AMAZING!!! Far from what i used to do in girl scouts!! Hahaha

  23. Anne Francis says:

    Hi, I have just seen this a few years after you made her, so inspirational. Thank you for the detailed explanation answering many questions forming in my mind about seems we are the same age and mind both ruled by cats, I wish to return to some form of sculpture formally working with clay this seems the answer and not as heavy!

  24. Linda says:

    Wow!!! I don’t care for the subject matter, 😊, but the piece is absolutely amazing !! What fine work you do. You are VERY talented

  25. Christian Lemieux says:

    WOW! 😍

  26. Kris says:

    Holy cow… What a project! And you have truly been creàtive here. Thank you for showing us your project all the way through. It is so compelling that it’s well after 3am and I’m still studying what you have done.
    Now my question is why? Why did you choose to create this creature?

    • Hello Kris. Thank you for the nice note! I’m very happy that you like this project. It was a challenging and fun project to make. I chose it for that reason. It is difficult to get human proportions right. If you are just a little off it will stand out. And to put it in a the context of a butterfly-type analogy added more complexity. Considering those things I think I did a pretty good job. Take care

  27. Misty says:


  28. Judy monroe says:

    Amazing, I hope you include her in your next book. hint hint. big fan, judy

  29. Jackie says:

    omg she is amazing!! your work is so inspiring! I dressed up as a siren at Halloween, yes the dark knarly vicious kind, and this has inspired me to attempt a papier mache version!

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