Kids Arts and Crafts Activities Watercolors

Watercolor Butterflies with the Rubbing Alcohol Technique


How to paint beautiful watercolor butterflies using the rubbing alcohol technique for the decorations on the butterfly wings. This is a fun art idea for kids of all ages, and adults, too!

Painted watercolor butterflies

Updated April 2021

One of our favorite watercolor techniques is rubbing alcohol on watercolors.

We don’t use it as much as salt on watercolors, just because it’s a bit more of a commitment and a tad smelly. But the rubbing alcohol has such a dramatic effect on the wet watercolor paint, repelling it and leaving a perfect, lighter circle wherever we drop it. It’s mesmerizing!

So, the other day, we used this watercolor technique to create patterns on butterfly wings. We also used it to make bubbles in water, stars and lightning bugs in the night sky, decorations on hearts and flowers, and even some abstract art.

Here’s a brief video showing the rubbing alcohol technique in action as we painted watercolor butterflies and other artworks.

Watercolor Butterflies with the Rubbing Alcohol Technique

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*You can also use watercolor cakes, but if so, be extra generous with the water so that the paint is pretty liquid.

Here is the link for the 6 cups in a base that is shown here holding our watercolor paints. We have a couple that we use all the time and love for liquid watercolor projects!

Art Supplies for Watercolor Butterflies with Rubbing Alcohol


  1. Paint the butterfly wings

    Use the paint brush and liquid watercolors to paint the wings of the butterfly freehand . Be generous with the watercolor paint.

    How to paint watercolor butterflies - single butterfly

  2. Add drops of rubbing alcohol

    Use the dropper to add drops of the rubbing alcohol on the wings where you want the decorative dots.

    Watercolor Butterflies with Rubbing Alcohol

  3. Paint the body and antennae of the butterfly

    And repeat with more butterflies!

    Watercolor Butterflies with Rubbing Alcohol Dots

Sometimes the watercolors all bleed together a bit when using wet on wet watercolor like this, which can look really cool.

Watercolor butterfly painting with rubbing alcohol detail

You can use this rubbing alcohol technique to create all kinds of beautiful effects on your paper: tentacles on an octopus, bubbles in water, a night sky, abstract art, or anything else you like! You and your children will want to keep coming back to this fun watercolor option!

Rubbing Alcohol over Watercolor Paintings

Want another fun butterfly painting idea? Try Butterfly Symmetry Paintings!

More Watercolor Ideas for Kids

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Watercolor butterflies - pinterest
Watercolor Butterflies with the Rubbing Alcohol Technique


  • Reply
    June 17, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Can you use this technique to paint on fabric?

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      June 18, 2018 at 4:18 am

      Hi Debbie – I’m not sure. If you wanted to try this on fabric, I’d try a different kind of paint or dye that is permanent (liquid watercolors aren’t) and then I’m not sure how that different kind of dye/paint would interact with the rubbing alcohol. It might be worth experimenting, though! If you do, I hope you’ll come back here and leave a comment telling us what worked and didn’t work.

      Good luck!

  • Reply
    June 22, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    What is that container you pour the watercolors in for kids to be able to dip brushes? Link?

  • Reply
    June 29, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Jean!

    Thank you for the wonderful tutorial! I was wondering if tempera paint would work as a substitute for the liquid watercolor?

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      June 29, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      I don’t think so, Alexandra. But if you don’t have liquid watercolor, you could use a set of watercolor paints in palette or watered down food coloring.

  • Reply
    October 4, 2018 at 7:08 am

    Where do you get the tray that is very helpful

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