How to Make Fish Out of Cardboard

Updated April 25, 2018

Fishing games are fun for toddlers and young children. Making cardboard fish provides small-motor skills practice while drawing, colouring and cutting out the fish. Children learn the parts of the fish while drawing, which also provides a chance to exercise decision-making and engage in creative expression. If you number the fish, children can practice counting. Make pairs of fish in different colours to encourage children to use colour words and sort by attribute.

Cover all surfaces and the floor around the work area with newspaper or drop cloths. Don plastic rain capes to protect clothing.

Dip the laying-in brush in water and brush one entire side of the cardboard. Repeat for the other side. Brushing the cardboard with water on both sides ensures that it will not warp when painted. In his video tutorial, Introduction to "Acrylic Painting Materials," acrylic painter Bob Davies of How to Draw and Paint advises that you apply one or two coats of acrylic paint to prime the cardboard and ensure that it will not warp.

Allow the primed cardboard to dry overnight.

Choose a fish outline drawing from colouring pages or a full-colour fish image. The drawings or images can be of whole fish or fish skeletons. Kaboose, Family Fun and Enchanted Learning have printable fish colouring pages you might use. National Geographic and Aquaculture in the Classroom have full-colour photos of a variety of fish species.

Rough-sketch your chosen fish on the cardboard with a primary school pencil or black crayon, using your chosen fish outline or image as a guide. It is not necessary to be exact.

Squeeze a blob of acrylic paint into each section of your paint palette. Use colours that match your fish image or choose bold, bright, contrasting colours for a fantasy fish. Use a colour mixing chart to create your own custom colours. "Mixing with a brush is messier and it is harder to keep a clean mix," so Australian acrylic painter and art instructor Julie Duell, who has been teaching art since 1970, recommends using a palette knife to mix colours instead.

Paint your fish as desired. Allow paint to dry overnight.

Cut painted fish from the cardboard sheet. Brush water onto one side of each fish. Apply two to three coats of clear acrylic sealant to the other side and the edges of each fish. Allow to dry overnight between each coat of sealant. The water will prevent your fish from warping.

Apply two to three coats of sealant to the other side of each fish. Allow to dry overnight between coats. Do not apply water to the side of the fish that is already sealed.

Cut 1-inch squares of magnet strip, available at most hardware or craft stores. Glue one strip on each side of each fish, as close to the edge of the mouth as possible.


Make a fishing pole from a 3- to 4-feet twig or dowel rod. The twig should be at least 3/4-inch diameter at the butt end, tapering to 1/4-inch at the tip. If you use dowel rods, they should be 1/2-inch diameter. Tie a string to the narrow end of the twig or to either end of the dowel rod. Wrap the first two inches of the tip and knot of the string with two layers of brightly-coloured duct tape. Wrap the other end of the twig or dowel rod with three to four layers of duct tape, 4-inch wide to create a hand grip. Glue the loose end of the string between two pieces of magnet strip. To play, hide fish behind a screen or the back of an easy chair. Drop the line behind the chair and pull up any fish that attach to the magnets.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspaper or drop cloths
  • Plastic rain capes
  • Cardboard sheets
  • Water, 4- or 6-inch laying-in brush
  • Primary school pencils or black crayon
  • Acrylic paints
  • Watercolour brushes
  • Palette, palette knife
  • Scissors
  • Clear acrylic sealant
  • Magnet strip
  • String
  • Coloured duct tape
  • 3- to 4-feet-long twigs, 1/4- to 3/4-inch diameter from end to end, or 1/2-inch diameter dowel rods
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About the Author

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.