I have a fun DIY Mermaid Art project for you today. It’s a Disney’s Little Mermaid theme, but with a contemporary inspiration for an adult.
* Post edit: I have since made a larger version & added its photo here to the right of the small one.
This project uses your basic painting and paper crafting skills. Grab your tools, a cup of joe, and let’s get started! As always, your supplies list is at the end of the post with convenient affiliate links for some items you may need to purchase.
Step 1: Paint the Scales
Start with two pieces of 9 in x 12 in, 90 lb. Cold Press Watercolor Paper.
*Note: If you’re making these 3 x 5 or smaller you’ll only need one piece of paper.
I chose this paper because it has a little texture to it and I knew it would hold-up well.
Using a wet on wet watercolor painting technique or just drop some wet paint on your paper in greens, blue, and purples. Mix some of these colors together to create additional colors to use, too. When painting watercolor you don’t want to overwork an area, so move around your paper constantly. For example, start at one corner then move to another corner then go back to the first corner and add more paint, and so on. If you get it too wet you can dab it with a clean paper towel. Try not to water down/thin out your colors too much, so that they stay vibrant.
*Note: You may opt to stretch your paper first, but if you aren’t familiar with watercolor painting skip this- you shouldn’t be saturating it with water too much. If your paper warps it’s won’t matter since you’ll be cutting it apart anyway.
Allow the paper to dry thoroughly overnight or use a heat gun/blow dryer to speed-up the process.
Step 2: Enhance the Colors with Chalk Pastels
Next, use chalk pastels in the same colors as your paint, and go over your watercolor painting to enhance the corresponding colors. Rub the chalk in and blend it all to not have any harsh lines-fingers work just fine here! Think of how scales look under water, all the colors flow together.
Step 3: Seal Your Painting
Now you’re going to want to seal and protect your painting. This Mod Podge sealer will darken the color just a little-almost like a wet look. I opted for two coats which enriched the colors to my liking.
Spray according to manufacturer’s directions in a well ventilated area, and allow to dry accordingly. This sealant allows you to layer another medium without the risk of your watercolor being affected, so when you go to the next step you can wipe off a mistake without ruining your painting.
Step 4: Design the Shape of the Scales
After the sealant is dry, it’s time to turn your painting into individual scales. I chose to design mine in a ‘U’ shape, but if you have a 1”-2” paper punch in the scale shape your work will be much easier and faster (and I’m jealous). Just find something around your house that’s round and the size of the scales you want; trace on card stock-half the rounded side then use a ruler to finish off the straight edge. I made a couple different sizes until I found the one I liked best.
Using your card stock scale template, trace scales across the entire painting. Try to trace them as close together as possible to make sure you don’t run out of paper.
*Note: Make sure to trace the scales in the same direction, so that the textured lines on the paper don’t end up going in different directions on your scales. I preferred my lines to go horizontally across the scales.
*Post Edit: I barely had enough when I did the small frame, so when I made the larger version I traced my first row as seen in this image then I flipped my stencil down to trace the next row. That allowed me to tuck the curved part in between the two curved edges of the previous row. The third row I matched the flat ends together still keeping the lines horizontally across the scales though. I had just the right amount with two pages for the larger frame.
Step 5: Cut Out the Scales
Cut out all the scales using a pair of scissors for detailed paper crafting. Precision is key!
Step 6: Add Shimmer to the Scales
After you have all the scales cut out, it’s time to add a little shimmer. Dry brush with Modern Masters metallic paint in Warm Silver. I actually used an old cosmetic brush that’s full and fluffy as you can see here. Use what you’ve got!
Dry brush from one direction focusing on the lower portion of the scale since the upper will be covered when it’s tucked under the scales above it. Going the same direction & focusing on one side mimics how a single light source would shimmer under the water.
Step 7: Attach the Scales
Next it’s time to assemble and attach the scales. Do a ‘dry run’ first by laying out the scales on the paper to make sure you have enough. Using the frame’s backing as a template, cut a piece of card stock out for your base to glue your scales on.
At first I used glue, but I didn’t like how the scales were looking and I had to carefully tear all the pieces off the paper which was a hot mess. I then used a tape runner and found that to work best since it gives you a little work-ability/move-ability.
With your tape runner in hand, run a strip of adhesive along the back, upper/straight edge of the scale. I did one at a time to not get too ahead of myself, but you could opt to have all the scales taped and ready to apply.
Starting at the top, apply one row of scales butted-up next to one another but not overlapping. The second row will go below that one. Tuck the scales under the first row while alternating where the scoops are. Ya know, like when you lined-up in PE and used the ‘windows’ layout so the teacher could see you all.
As you’ll see, you’ll have some half ones to cut off the sides. Go ahead and cut them as you go and set those pieces to the side. You may be able to use them further down the paper.
Just eyeball the rows by lining-up the bottom of the scales with one another. If you prefer, you could use a ruler as your guide. If some of the rows are tucked under further than others, don’t worry about it. Once all the scales are on you won’t notice any little differences. Once you’re all done and satisfied with the look, press down on all the scales to make sure they’re adhered well. Gently tug at each one and re-tape or glue it if you need to.
I liked leaving the bottoms of the scales free, so they stood up a little from the ones below it. You don’t want it to all be flat. This is also why I focused my metallic paint on the bottom portions, so that each would stand out from the scale below it.
Step 8: Make Your Quote to Finish Your Mermaid Art
Choose a quote to use. The one I chose from The Little Mermaid is Ariel saying, “Who says that my dreams have to stay just my dreams.” Find a free font online or type your quote in a word program in whatever color you like, then print it out on white copy paper. I used colored pencils to write mine out.
Cut out each word separately leaving a little margin around each word. To make them pop and not look half-fast, use Glue Dots and adhere the cut-out words onto silver foil paper. Then cut out the silver foil, leaving a little more margin around each word. This is again why those precision scissors are important!
Step 9: Mount the Words Onto Your Painting & Ta-Dah!
Do a dry run first to figure out your preferred layout of the words over the scales.
To mount the words, I used mini clear Glue Dots. Glue Dots will also give you a little work-ability upon initial placement. Using your Glue Dots go ahead and stick your words onto the scales and enjoy your gorgeous artwork!
If you’re using a purchased frame for your artwork you should be all set! If not, I wrote this separate post just for you to re-purpose and customize an old frame just for this!
Watercolor Paints & Brush
Mod Podge Matte Water-Based Sealer
Glue Dots: Clear, Mini
Modern Masters Metallic Paint: Warm Silver
Silver Foil Paper
Paper Crafting Sissors