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Airbrushed Butterfly Collage | Arts & Activities
May 2018

Airbrushed Butterfly Collage

Airbrushed Butterfly Collage

One of my favorite parts of doing art in a group setting is watching the kids give each other technique pointers, borrow ideas from each other, and then ooh and ahh over how “cool” something turned out.

In the first part of this lesson, students collaborate to create a buffet of patterned paper using airbrushes and three different resist and masking techniques. The novelty of the airbrush is an immediate motivator to jump in and experiment.

For the second part of the lesson, the student artists select a variety of the painted papers they created, cutting shapes and assembling them into colorful collaged butterflies. Rather than using stencils or tracers, students create their own shapes, making each butterfly truly unique.

Colorful painted paper created with an airbrush and various resist techniques.

PART ONE: AIRBRUSH RESIST TECHNIQUES. Individual stations are an effective way for students to experiment with the techniques in this lesson. Set-up three art stations, each equipped with at least one airbrush and a few colors of airbrush paints. I find it helpful to leave a prepped piece of paper or a finished example at each station. Demonstrate for students how to operate the airbrush before painting. Also, encourage students to observe and learn from each other, and even collaborate on paintings together. Thanks to the quick-drying airbrush paint, any of the following techniques can be repeated multiple times on the same piece of paper.

At the first station, students wrap a long piece of yarn around a sheet of watercolor paper repeatedly, securing with tape on the backside. Wrap the yarn in vertical stripes or randomly around all sides of the paper. Use the airbrush to paint over the yarn-wrapped paper with one or more colors.

Let the paint dry for a minute or two, then remove the yarn. The paint dries quickly, so the yarn can be reused multiple times. Many questions can be posed at this station: What happens when you wrap the yarn tightly verses loosely? Would thick or thin yarn be more effective in creating a pattern?

This next station is always a favorite! Tear or cut pieces of painter’s tape and stick onto a sheet of watercolor paper. The tape pieces can be any size or shape, and they can be applied in a design or randomly. Airbrush over the tape with one or more colors, then let dry for 1–2 minutes before removing tape. This is a simple technique, but also one of the most effective. Students love pulling off the tape to reveal the sharp, crisp shapes left underneath!

The final station requires a selection of objects that can act as masks or stencils on the paper. Students choose their objects and arrange them on a sheet of watercolor paper, securing anything lightweight (like paper doilies) with a little tape. Airbrush the entire page, let dry, and then remove objects. There can be some trial and error to find objects that work well and don’t get blown by the airbrush. Encourage the students to persevere and come up with creative solutions!

PART TWO: BUTTERFLY COLLAGES. Once students have had a chance to try all three techniques, it’s time to create the butterfly collages. I like to cut all the painted pages in halves or quarters and lay them all out on a long table for students to peruse.

For the butterfly collage, each student draws and cuts two large upper wings, two smaller lower wings, and a body. I find it helpful to have a few photos of butterflies displayed for inspiration (see this month’s Study Print on page 45). Arrange and glue onto a piece of construction paper. Embellish with smaller cut paper shapes and markers. Metallic permanent markers or gel pens are always a hit!

Some students may create symmetrical butterflies, with identical wing shapes cut from the same paper. Other students prefer to experiment with a variety of shapes and colors when assembling their butterflies. Either way, this is the perfect time to engage in conversations about how artists’ choices can convey certain messages, moods, or ideas. All of these cheerful butterflies remind me of a warm and bright summer’s day! 



These students airbrushed paint over paper doilies to create delicate-looking wings.



Students used a variety of colors, masks and embellishments for their butterflies.



Upper-elementary students will …
• learn basic airbrush painting techniques.
• experiment with three different resist and masking techniques.
• use their knowledge of shape and color to create butterfly collages.

• CREATING: Generating and conceptualizing artistic ideas and work. • Organizing and developing artistic ideas and work.

• 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper (90 lb. recommended), 9″ x 12″ construction paper in various colors
• Yarn, cut into 1-yard pieces
• Painter’s tape or masking tape
• Variety of “found objects” (paper clips, key rings, lids, paper doilies, etc.)
• Airbrush (we used Testors® Amazing Air Airbrush Kit), airbrush propellant, 0.25 oz. bottles of acrylic airbrush paints
• Scissors, glue
• Black and metallic permanent markers

Based in Loomis, California, Amy Anderson, M.A.Ed., blogs about early childhood education, art activities, and parenting. Visit: lets-explore.net.


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