RECYCLED Tropical fish art project for Earth Day

Recycled Tropical Fish Earth Day Project



Have some cardboard lying around?

Of course, you do! I make it a point to keep a stack of trimmed cardboard pieces to use in the art room. I find many uses for cardboard: for printmaking, scraping paint, to act as looms for weavings and my personal favorite, to paint on.

And these painted Tropical Fish are simply the easiest and most colorful projects to do.

RECYCLED Tropical fish art project for Earth Day

Here’s what you’ll need:

–  Cardboard pieces about 10″ x 12″

– Oil pastel or crayons

–  Assorted colors of acrylic paints (I like Crayola Acrylics for classroom use), including white or GESSO

– Scissors

–  White school glue

– Small and medium brush

Watch Patty’s Facebook Live tutorial, demonstrating how to teach this lesson to your classroom of students. This video has been edited from the original Facebook tutorial.

To make this project easy for younger students (ages 6-7), I would encourage you to photocopy the Tropical Fish Template (included in the free download below) then allow kids to trace the templates onto the cardboard.

Or, for even younger kids, cut out the simple fish shapes for them. That’s what I did when creating a similar owl and fish project for Kinders.

For older kids (ages 8-over), provide simplified illustrations or drawings (I have a free drawing guide in the PDF below) so kids can draw their own fish.

Be sure to draw the fish as large as the cardboard. I would try and cut the cardboard pieces no smaller than 5″ x 7″. It’s easier (and more fun) to paint a larger fish.

RECYCLED Tropical fish art project for Earth Day

If you are using acrylic paints, it may not be necessary to paint a coat of white gesso over the fish. Acrylic paints are generally thick enough to cover any packaging printing.

If you are using liquid tempera paint, I would highly advise painting one coat of Gesso over the cardboard first. this will make the colors POP.

Once the BASE COAT is determined and finished, paint away! To help students pick happy, friendly colors (meaning when mixed together they won’t turn into a dull muddy color), pour pre-mixed acrylic paint colors into egg cartons.

I like to use plastic egg cartons (f you can find them) to add acrylic paint to the egg sections. Make sure to mix some of the acrylic paints with white to get a lovely bright pastel color.

The BASE coat can include sections or children can paint their fish all one color. Just avoid adding details. That will come in the next step.

RECYCLED Tropical fish art project for Earth Day

When the BASE coat is dry, bring out the acrylics again, select a smaller brush and start adding patterns. Using acrylic paints will offer the best opportunity for bright pops of color. And painting over dry acrylic paint will offer the best surface.

Grab your free download by clicking the yellow button below…

Just enter your name and best email address and we’ll email you the 4-page Drawing Guide and Tropical Fish Template…

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RECYCLED Tropical fish art project for Earth Day

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  • terri

    love this!!!

  • Lindsay Heinzen

    How long do you find this project takes for a classroom?

    • Patty

      Hi Lindsay,
      That’s a tough question because it depends on whether you have the students cut the cardboard or if you do. If you cut the shapes, then most classes for ages 7-12 could do this project in one 60-minute time frame. If the kids cut and gesso their shapes, allow one class of 45-minutes for this and another 45-minutes to paint. If you do thus project, I’d love to see the results. You can join and post here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DSSstudents/

  • Mari McGrordy

    where do the oil pastels or crayons come in?

    • Patty

      You can use them to draw patterns onto the dry acrylic paint. OR you can use Posca pens or other types of paint markers 🙂

  • angelinajeffery

    For projects like this, how can I access the pdf page as a member without having to resubmit my email?

    • Patty

      Because this isn’t a lesson inside the membership, but a free one for everyone, you won’t find it in the membership. BUT, I sent out the link to this freebie in last week’s Deep Space Sparkle email. Because you are a Sparkler, you may also be on the DSS newsletter list. I don’t know which emails you are subscribed to but our DSS newsletter is sent every Thursday. Did you receive it? If not, you can contact support@deepspacesparkle.com to request the handout.

  • jenny traviss


  • Sandra Greenleaf

    I love your art lessons!

  • michelle hairfield

    love the site

  • Mary Lou Arnson

    I need a good project for a difficult group!

    • Ross Sawyer

      Did you do this project with your difficult group? I am considering doing it with very difficult 3rd graders. It would be there first time painting.

      • Patty

        The hardest part of this project is the prep…the cutting of the fish. BUT, if you have the time to do it, the kids will LOVE it. Make sure to paint a base coat over printed cardboard so teh paint colors will really pop! Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

    • Elizabeth Culberson

      Mary Lou Arnson,try the Ted Harrison Inspired Landscape and Polar Bear. It should give them a really good start to somewhat advanced work. Don’t push them to finish it too much. It will rush them and lead to questionable artwork.

  • Mary Lou Arnson

    Love this! I want to try this asap!

  • Kate

    Your art classes look amazing. Looking forward to starting asap x

  • Julie

    I clicked the yellow button 3 times. It scrolled but the template for the tropical fish never downloaded. Can you help?

    • Patty

      You’ll need to click the button and then add your email address into the form. Then we email you the PDf 🙂

  • Umaiya Sultana

    Beautiful! I learned something new here while making this fish: Since I don’t have acrylic paints, I used watercolors mixed with just a little bit of water. It works! Doesn’t look like it was activated with water.

  • Elizabeth Culberson

    How do you get the fish to look like fish and not blobs of paint. Love your work, you’re so inspiring. That says a lot coming from a 10 year old.

  • Doha ahmed

    I’m excited to see what my kids will do
    Thank u 😊

  • Dhruv Yerawar

    how do you make the shape of the fish?

    • Patty

      You can see some ideas in the downloadable handout. Just add your name and email and we’ll send you some ideas. You can use any type of drawing tool 🙂

      • Becky D Tai

        I am going to do this with my special needs high schoolers this summer. Will you please send me the handout? Thanks 🙂 I love your work. I haven’t been teaching art for a while but this summer I get to! Yay!

  • Summer Kaylor

    I keep trying to download this drawing guide and it sends me an email, but when I log in to my DSS Account it sends me right back to this page and has me click on the button for the download….address…email…repeat….no download. Please help.

    • Patty

      You’re right! I alerted tech support and they’ll fix it. Sorry for the trouble! It’ll be fixed soon.

  • Maria Ombashi


  • Anita

    Great resource!

  • Debbie Rogala

    Where do I find the video??

    Watch Patty’s Facebook Live tutorial, demonstrating how to teach this lesson to your classroom of students. This video has been edited from the original Facebook tutorial.

  • Lori m Phillips

    I am teaching this very soon and need the video! Can you remind me where to find it? Thanks!

  • Tracey Cleeman

    Fantastic. ! Love it and especially using recycle cardboard 😀

  • Sabrina

    Just a small adjustment… I LOVE the lesson, but I don’t think it should be an earth day lesson as it uses acrylic paint which is actually known to be contributing greatly to our microplastics issue in our waters.

  • hazel


  • Kitty

    I think that this is a fantastic art project for my second graders for Earth Day.

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