Usually, butterflies aren't really my thing. They're a little too cutesy wootsy. They don't have the beaky, creepiness that draws me to birds. Nonetheless, a few years ago, I saw an installation of butterflies in the window of a gallery on Queen St. West in Toronto. (I wish I could remember which one.) A little Googling has revealed a NY artist - Paul Villinski - who did a series of "beer can butterflies," but I have no idea if the work I saw was his.

Nathan was engrossed in college football on Saturday, so I finally got around to doing some butterflies of my own. I know that what I've done isn't art. What Paul Villinski does is art. What I've done is just a bit of DIY decor. Nonetheless, it's a fun project. You should try it.

Here are the results of my attempt:

Like it? I do! And it was really easy. I used pretty handmade paper, but I laid the pretty sides down. I spray painted the backs gold for the effect seen here. It creates a nice little surprise when the paper flutters and you catch sight of the patterned undersides.

I adhered each fly with a bit of pre-fab, sticky-back velcro, which allowed me to reposition. (Important if you don't want to plan a layout in advance.) Finally, I folded the wings away from the wall to give each butterfly dimension. (If they lie flat, the effect is completely different.) Villinski actually adheres his on posts or pins (see photo of the orange butterflies, below). They cast shadows, which is nice.
Anyway, like I said, it was an easy project. That said, I did learn some things along the way. To avoid my mistakes, here's what you should know before getting started:

1. You need a lot of butterflies to make this work. If you make too few, your installation will look banal... like something pre-fab or purchased. I have just under 30 in my display and I feel that's the bare minimum.

2. Small butterflies work much better than large ones. The large ones I made almost ruined my display. Aim for butterflies with a wingspans ranging between 2 and 4.5 inches. Also, remember that bigger butterflies weigh more.  I used a light weight paper for mine and the big ones droop. The little ones don't.

3. Sharply cut shapes are much more striking than the blobby, amorphous butterflies I made. I was lazy. Go the extra mile and make sharp cuts. Think points. Plenty of wing points.

4. A heavier material, like cardboard, will work better than paper. I actually like the way my butterflies flutter and droop, but I know they'd be more durable and easier to work with if I'd used something tougher.

5. Placement is difficult. You want the display to look natural and appealing. At the same time, you want it to look random, but to imply movement and direction. Play around until you find a configuration that appeals, and be patient. The trial and error placement method could take a while. (Tip: try to put each bug at a different angle, like they're headed in slightly different directions, and don't space them evenly. Crowd some, put others at a distance.)

For more inspiration check out Paul Villinski's site or this Apartment Therapy post. (Or, just peep the final photo of one of Villinski's installations, below.)

Love, love, love.
* European Peacock butterfly image (top) by Holger Handstein from Stock Xchng.


Jessica Perryman
09/13/2010 11:35am

Jen, I love it. It turned out looking great!

09/13/2010 12:00pm

Thanks, Jess! I'm really pleased with how it turned out. Now I'm a little obsessed with the idea of making more.

09/13/2010 12:39pm

This is so beautiful. When are you going to get your own tv show? And then when will you help me redo my place?

09/13/2010 2:00pm

Thanks, Sara! As for a TV show... I wish! But if I ever DO have one, I will be sure to head your way, armed with insects and birds.

09/13/2010 2:08pm

Jen, I love your "I can do that!" attitude. Your butterflies turned out great, though I see what you mean about making pointier wings. Thanks for the tips, I just might try this to go with my wall of birds (which by the way I moved from my old place to my new place, and they still look fab) :)

09/13/2010 3:42pm

Looks great! What did you use for a stencil?

09/13/2010 4:05pm

Thanks,Angela. You are always so supportive. :) Glad the birds survived the migration! I'd love to see some pics.

Nici - actually, I didn't use a stencil. If you want one, just try Googling butterflies and you'll find lots of different shapes to copy.

09/13/2010 7:28pm

Wow! I love it. I need to try this one


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