Home    Contact Me   Paintings Gallery


Butterflies Are Free Facebook Page


Butterflies Are Free: Reigniting the Creative Spark for kids and adults through art, creativity and fun!

Dedicated to Mrs. Joyce Willard, my third grade teacher who was the first to see me in my "cocoon" and try to draw me out.


I'm sharing this story idea so that others can be inspired and be part of the project. I want to open up this project so that anyone inspired by it can be part of it!


Thank you for letting me share this project with you. If you are intrigued, inspired or interested in this project, please contact me at the link at the top of the page or through the project Facebook page


Major milestones, goals and my wishlist for this project:
Turn the story draft below into a proper script or story board.
Enroll illustrators, artists, and filmmakers to create a short animated film from the story board.
Enroll art therapists, counselors or social workers to provide counseling support as needed due to the nature of the story.
Hold a community showing of the short film, with counseling support, as well as providing colored pencils, drawing paper and a drawing of a butterfly for participants to decorate and take home.
Make this available for screenings in different educational settings (schools, community centers, counseling centers, etc.)
Make this available to the Fort Worth Botantical Gardens for screening as an accessory to their "Butterflies in the Garden" program
Make this available nationally for screenings for all similar "Butterflies in the Garden" programs
Have this short film screened at the Sundance Film Festival!


Project Notes and draft of the "Butterflies Are Free" story

Friday, February 04, 2011: I first got the image of butterflies and someone growing their wings and flying through doing art, the night before the first SELP workday.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011: first got this idea for the line drawing animation after claiming the "Butterflies Are Free" title for the project.

Notes: I can see this as a line drawing animation, very simple yet with deeper meaning, pulling people in, inspiring them (almost “Dr. Seuss”-ish or similar to “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”).

Story synopsis: A young boy, Alex, is in an emotionally abusive (yelling, arguing, attacks to self-esteem) environment where his dad yells, terrorizes and traumatizes his mom and the boy. He’s trapped inside himself, but he is given pencils and paper and he begins to draw; that is how he starts to heal and grow his wings.


We see Alex in his home, going from a normal boy who played firefighter and cowboys and dinosaurs start to change, shrink back into himself after his father changed from the cool dad who’d played with him and smiled at him. His father began coming home, angry, yelling at Alex and Alex’s mother. It soon became normal for his father to be angry and abusive, saying horrible things and terrifying Alex (images of angry words and poison symbol from his father’s words).

A cocoon began to grow around Alex; he didn’t even notice it at first. It started to become normal, even a bit comforting to shrink back, stay small, not get attention.

Then he got a new teacher at school. He didn’t know it, but she had the power to see into cocoons. She was always patient with Alex, trying to draw him out to run and play or build things or paint and do art. He always shrank back, wary, but she never yelled or said mean things (images of nice words and flowers and a smiling sun and things like that).

One day she had an idea. She casually dropped a drawing pad and a box of colored pencils next to Alex’s cocoon and then went about her day. Alex watched and watched, itching to reach out and take the paper and pencils. He was so bored inside his cocoon! He almost reached out many times and then finally! He dared to reach his hand out quickly to grab the paper and pencils and pull them back into the cocoon. Alex’s heart was beating fast and he was afraid, but nothing happened. The teacher just smiled patiently and went on with her class.

At first, he just stared at the paper and pencils, not daring to do anything with them. Then he opened the box of pencils and took out a blue one and made some hesitant marks on the paper. He jumped when suddenly he remembered his father’s angry voice and words, like he was there inside the cocoon, telling him he wasn’t good and shouldn’t try to draw. It took a while but Alex kept drawing; he became a bit more confident, going from drawing lines and vague shapes. He drew a cup, the wastebasket, a book. He drew his teacher smiling at him. That one made him happy. He drew his mother and it made him a bit sad. She smiled at him too from the drawing but it was a bit afraid and sad.

Then he began drawing his dad.

Turning point:

Alex is in his cocoon, drawing his father, who goes from his regular angry yelling self and then morphs and grows into a big huge monster. Then there’s a monster there from the drawing threatening Alex. He tries to hide and then has a “waaaaait a min” realization, looking down at his pencil. It starts to click for him that HE is the one drawing and he can draw anything or make up any story he wants! [Big lighbulb going off over his head] The monster first stops, then looks quizzical [Big ? over his head] then Alex does a stubborn resolved face and points firmly toward another drawing of his father (as his more normal angry self) and the monster has an “oh yeah” realization [ ! over the monster’s head]. Alex has begun to take charge!

Alex’s wings start to sprout and grow a bit at this point

[comical bits of the monster chasing his dad and cartoonish things happening to him. One is a Monty Python-esque huge foot dangling in mid-air then STOMPING on his dad

After a while, Alex starts to get bored with drawing the monster getting revenge on his dad and starts drawing other things. Firemen with a firetruck and ladder and hose and a barking dalmation and them being brave and putting out the fire. Even Alex gets to be a junior firefighter and help put out the fire!

He draws other things too, all with him as the hero, getting positive attention and praise.

Alex’s wings start to grow larger, stronger, more decorated and beautiful from this point on]

Finally one day, it happens; Alex has been growing into himself, growing and strengthening his wings that he can no longer fit into the cocoon. In a dramatic scene, we see Alex BURST from his cocoon, a fully grown boy-butterfly with huge beautiful wings. He is startled then laughs happily and flies off, swooping and diving.

He flies and flies, seeing other towns, rivers, animals, birds, farms. One day he is flying over a park where he sees a little girl hiding behind a tree and crying. The cocoon had formed around her but somehow, he could now see through cocoons! Amazing!

He was sad for the girl crying and he thought then realized [!!] of course! She could learn to draw her monsters and have grand adventures too! He brought her paper and a box of colored pencils, like he’d had.

At first she ignored him and the paper and pencils, but he was patient. In the meantime, he had fun flying around the park, swooping, diving, gliding. He saw the girl peek out at him now and then but pretended not to notice. He saw her little hand sweep out and grab the paper and pencils and rush back inside the cocoon, much like he’d done.

He watched as she drew her monster; a mean dragon that breathed flames. But later, it became a huge butterfly that looked like Alex. Then she drew a smaller butterfly that looked a bit like her. She drew and drew and her little butterfly flew and flew until! Her wings unfurled and she BURST from the cocoon too! 

The girl was amazed to find her wings and that she could fly, just like the boy-butterfly. What freedom!

They flew out into the world and found more children in cocoons, bringing them paper and colored pencils and hanging out with them until they, too, grew their wings, burst from their cocoons and flew too!

Penultimate scene: view of one huge butterfly filling up the view then moving up and away to reveal a huge flying cloud of butterflies, flying so high and colorfully across the valley, the sun shining brightly and warmly, burning the last of the fears away. 

Storyboard final scene:

After the released butterflies all fly away, off into a sunny shiny day, the little boy Alex, now a fully grown beautiful butterfly, flies to his mother, who is alone now and is in a big cocoon and weeping because her husband had been abusive and spoke horribly to her and then left her. Her son had grown up and flown away. She is all alone.

He flies and perches next to her, like on a tree branch or windowsill, so she can look up and see the beautiful butterfly; she doesn’t even recognize him. She almost tries to reach out to touch the butterfly wings then shrinks back, afraid of being yelled at or sneered at for daring to reach out to a beautiful butterfly.

She looks down and noticed that Alex had dropped a drawing pad and box of colored pencils, just like he was first given. She hesitates but starts drawing as well. It’s slower for her but she keeps seeing the beautiful butterfly inspiring her and patiently waiting for her to grow her wings.  She slowly grows her wings as well. [images of night and day going past or a calendar flipping to illustrate time passing]

She suddenly BURSTS! From her cocoon, a huge beautiful butterfly and flies out, Alex meets her, embrace as she realizes it’s him and they fly off into a beautiful shiny day

Final image: The teacher from Alex’s class looks at the camera, smiles and winks then turns and flies away with butterfly wings of her own.

The End. Or is it Just The Beginning?


Picture credit: "The Butterflies" by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863–1935), an American illustrator famous for her work in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and for her illustrations for children's books. (public domain image)



Landmark Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP) Project initally created/conceptualized by Kathy Tulley Spring 2011