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DIY: Iridescent Watercolor “Fish Scale” Artwork

Last Updated on December 18, 2012 by Kristi Linauer

The 30-minute acrylic artwork that I made to go over the pet station in my breakfast area has since gone to live in the hallway.  (Matt thought the hallway needed the brightness and cheerfulness of the painting.)  🙂  Since I needed something else to go over the pet station, I decided to make this iridescent watercolor “fish scale” artwork.  I’ve seen other “fish scale” artwork projects over the last couple of years using one color of paper, like this one from Just A Girl, or using paint chips, like this one from Lansdowne Life.  So I decided to put my own spin on the fish scale artwork project.

Just a quick disclaimer first. The name of this project is a bit of a misnomer. While I did use watercolor paper for the project, and the final effect has a bit of a watercolor look to it, I actually used acrylic craft paints. 🙂 I already had those on hand, and didn’t feel the need to spend more money buying watercolor paints that I’d probably never use again. The acrylics worked out perfectly.

To make my “fish scale” artwork, I started with a stack of watercolor paper*, a paint brush, and acrylic craft paints in several colors.  I also kept a bowl of water nearby.

*I used a pad of Strathmore 140-pound 300 series watercolor paper with 12 sheets in it, and I used all 12 sheets for this project.  I found it at Hobby Lobby for $9.97, and used a 50% off coupon.

Then I started randomly mixing the colors as I painted each sheet of watercolor paper.  If the paint had trouble spreading and blending, I would dip the tip of my brush in to water and continue painting.  (It’s watercolor paper…water won’t hurt it or wrinkle it at all! But just a little water goes a long way.)

Here’s what a sheet looked like when it was completely finished.  I actually think it would be beautiful just to frame that!

I also made one sheet each of my three main colors, using lots of white paint and water to get the color variations.

With all 12 of my watercolor sheets painted and dry (which doesn’t take long at all), I used a circle cutter to cut 2.5-inch circles.  FYI, there’s no way I’d do this project with a pair of scissors!!  I used another coupon at Michael’s and picked up a circle cutter for $9.  It was very well worth the money, and I’ve wanted a circle cutter for a while now anyway.

After all of the circles were cut, I went back and lightly brushed a bit of metallic silver craft paint over each one.  It gave each one a beautiful iridescent-looking glimmer, and also added some depth and dimension to the colors.

With all of my circles finished, I decided to do a “dry run” to arrange them just like I wanted them.  I wasn’t initially planning on doing this, but I’m glad I did so that I could be sure that all of the different colors were spaced out.  I’m way too much of a control freak to leave things to chance.  🙂

Next I used a piece of luan that I bought at Home Depot for under $5, and I cut it to fit my frame (22″ x 26″) with a circular saw.  Then I marked lines on the luan at 1.25-inch intervals (since my circles were 2.5″ in diameter).

Then starting on the bottom row and working my way up, I attached the circles with my hot glue gun.

After all of the circles were attached, I just trimmed off the excess on the edges, and then put it into a frame that I had purchased at a garage sale for $2.  With a fresh coat of white paint, it looked (almost) as good as new!

I think this might be my favorite art project I’ve ever made.  Seriously.

There’s just something about a repetitious pattern that I find calming, and I love the streaky, shimmery colors.

It’s very difficult to capture the subtle shimmer of the metallic paint with my camera, but I don’t think I would have liked this project nearly as much without it.  The metallic paint just gave the paint colors a look of dimension that they didn’t have before.

It definitely took longer than I thought it would to make, but considering that the whole thing cost under $20 (including the paints, which I bought on sale, and the frame, which came from a garage sale), I think it was well worth the time.

Not too bad for $20 artwork, right?  🙂

This project was for my condo breakfast room makeover. Click here to see the whole before and after of the breakfast room makeover.

Or click on the thumbnails below to see other DIY projects that I did for my condo breakfast room makeover.

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  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sharon B.
    December 3, 2012 at 10:20 am

    That is SO beautiful! I love the colors and the texture. So creative. Sharon

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Angela Conley
    December 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Very cool! You did a great job!

    Did you frame the piece or seal it? I ask because those colors could change, especially if in sunlight.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Beautiful, Kristi!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I love it! I just hope the cats don’t love it too much. 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Lisa T
    December 3, 2012 at 9:04 pm


  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    SheilaG @ Plum Doodles
    December 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    It’s gorgeous, Kristi! You are a true artist- if I gave this a try, it would look like a kindergarten project!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Vanessa Dawne
    December 4, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Wow Kristi, what a wonderfully inexpensive artwork with a gorgeous look. I love your colour scheme & can imagine the shimmer from your excellent closeup photo. I think I’ll try a smaller version for a Christmas gift. Thanks for another great idea.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I love this, Kristi! Have just the place to put one!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    This is so pretty! I love it and it looks like something I might be able to do. : )

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 7, 2012 at 9:42 am

    This is so very cool! Might do this for a friend that is buying her first home! Great, cheap, meaningful (bc it’s homemade) housewarming gift? I think so!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Home and Garden Blogger
    December 27, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Going to be trying this myself as I think it looks great! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    January 17, 2013 at 6:07 am

    I was looking for something different for my bedroom wall and I think I found the perfect art piece. I’ll definitely try this in my bedroom colours!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    January 23, 2013 at 12:07 am

    Love this project…will have to try it soon!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    How To Make A Fish Scale Watercolor Wall Art
    February 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    […] Iridescent Watercolor “Fish Scale” Artwork […]

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    April 2, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    This was such a unique diy project and I love how it looks! I’ve never used a circle cutter and went shopping online – the only kind I can find are much more expensive than the $9 you mentioned, and many of them look as though they might poke a hole in the middle of the circle. Am I looking for the wrong item?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    July 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

    What circle cutter did you get? The one I bought is awful!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    August 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    This turned out beautifully, congratulations!
    I was wondering if there’s a reason that you painted the silver after cutting the circles instead of before? Did you just think of it later? I want mine to look just like this — do you think it’ll be the same if I paint the silver all over the paper? Thanks!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Julie Box
    January 20, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Absolutely love this. It is beautiful. I can’t wait to try it!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Linda Crandall
    January 21, 2014 at 10:51 am

    I love it! It’s amazing how the paint and paper have given you such a rich looking art piece- guess what I will do in the snow today for a project!! 🙂

    Love how it’s all coming together! I need new art now that I went all Grey’s – any suggestions?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    January 22, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Very nice. At first I thought you used thin wood/veneer circles. The silver paint gives them that “capize shell” appearance.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    February 11, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Hi, what brand of circle cutter did you use? Thanks!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    July 10, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    I’m thinking of doing this for our living room, but in differing shades of gray/silver. We have a huge wall and I’m trying to think of DIY ideas. Thanks for the idea!