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Fish Printing Project

Here’s a quick lesson that will only take about one hour to do. It requires a supply of foam, so either purchased the foam sheets from your favorite art catalog or recycle the foam lunch trays or even meat trays from home.
Step One: Painting the Background
I used glitter liquid watercolors for this project but any paint would do, even a nice even coat of tempera. In any case, set out one color and a few large wash brushes and ask the students to lay a wash over the entire sheet of watercolor paper (size is up to you). If you use tempera paints, water them down significantly and use just one color. Set aside to dry (about ten minutes for watercolor).
Step Two: Etching the Fish Design
Hand a small piece of foam to each child (approx 2″ x 4″). Draw a fish along the entire length or foam. Add scales, eye, designs, etc. Then, with a dull pencil, push down all of the foam surrounding the fish. This takes a bit of time.

Step Three: Printing the Fish
Place a palette of blue tempera paints of the table. I selected greens, blues, whites and purples.

With a dry brush, apply paint to foam fish and gently press the fish onto the watercolor paper. if your foam is thin like mine, encourage the kids to tap gently instead of rubbing so the fish won’t move or smear.

Step Four: Repeat Fish Print
Encourage the kids to overlap their fish and point them in the same direction so they look like a school of fish.

Third Grade Results!

Fish Printing Project Art Lesson Gallery



  1. Just in time for my Letter F week! Thanks!

    Confessions of a Homeschooler

    November 9, 2009

  2. hi I'm an art teacher in Houston and I just started a blog if you want to check it out! I am sure I have used some of your ideas in the past and I love reading your blog! Thanks,Natalie http://www.elementaryartfun.blogspot.com


    November 10, 2009

  3. great! I'm doing printmaking and need a young kid project..


    November 10, 2009

  4. Wow, the prints look great! You are such an awesome teacher!

    Kathy Gallo

    November 15, 2009

  5. They turned out great, and I'm sure the kids had a lot of fun making them!

    Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog

    November 20, 2009

  6. Very nice! you made a very unique arts I really love it,I think you have a future as a catalog designer try to study about this.=)


    April 12, 2010

  7. I love this project BUT we have done this project with kinders using REAL FISH!! they had a blast and it was fun trying to get 5 year olds to touch a raw fish. The key is to not use too much paint so you can get a good print of the scales.


    March 10, 2011

  8. thanks for the site. I needed an idea for my printmaking lesson with 1st grade and I think i found it.
    I will tie this in with the japanese fish printing art form. Also, if you did not do this, a piece of folded tape on the back of the fish, like an upside down “t” makes a great handle to both put the block down, and when finished, to pick it up. Keeps the prints sharper as the kids do not have to pry the block up with their fingers.


    April 12, 2011

    • That’s a good tip. Thanks, James!


      April 12, 2011

  9. October 16th, 2013
    Wow, who knew foam trays could do more then be pallets? Got a HUGE box of foam trays different sizes in my class room, can’t wait to do this activity with my students.


    October 17, 2013

    • Oh yeah, those trays are golden! I used to forage the dirty ones from the cafeteria garbage cans and wash them off until the janitor told me he couldn’t stand by and let me do that anymore. So on his breaks, he secretly washed them for me and brought them to my art room. His name was Bill and he died two years ago. I’ll always remember him for doing that.

      Patty Palmer

      October 17, 2013

  10. Patty – have you ever used real fish? I would like to do this same idea, but printing a real fish. Any thoughts? Virginia


    March 19, 2015

    • No. Just not worth it for the amount of kids I have!

      Patty Palmer

      March 19, 2015

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