DIY Paper Nautilus Canvas Art

A beautiful canvas project inspired by one of the most intriguing of shelled creatures.

The paper nautilus.  I say that with utmost reverence and awe: this is truly a rare and extraordinary animal.  Related to the octopus (see its tentacles?), this creature has a personal significance for us that goes back to childhood…

photo credit: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
photo credit: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

It was a stroke of unbelievable luck when my husband, a 5 year old at the time, found a perfectly intact paper nautilus shell on the beach.  He was so proud of it that he brought the fragile shell into show-and-tell, only to his devastation to have it be mistakenly broken. To this day he pines over it, still marveling at the memory of the precious relic and regretful about bringing it to school.

I have thought a few times to try and find one to purchase to replace it, but not wanting to encourage the decline of this rare species, I thought perhaps a piece of handmade art might somewhat fill the void?

So, here’s what I attempted!


supplies for diy paper nautilus art supplies for diy paper nautilus art

  • 12″ x 12″ linen canvas
  • printed image of a paper nautilus (see steps below for the one I used)
  • scissors
  • tissue paper 1-2 sheets
  • Mod Podge (I used satin)
  • pearlizing medium (found with the acrylic paint bottles in the craft store)
  • paint brush
  • acrylic craft paint (I used a dark brown called “raw umber” from FolkArt)
  • jar of water and lid for painting

1. I first did an image search to find a paper nautilus I liked.  I copied and pasted it into Word and blew it up as much as it would still fit on the page.  Since my canvas was 12″ x 12″, that should be a good size.  Then I printed the resized image and cut around the edges. Click on the image below for my .pdf file so that you can easily print it if you want – I removed the black background for you so you wouldn’t use as much black ink as I did 🙂

paper nautilus print ready

{image courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection, Ref. 0716/06 found at this link}

diy paper nautilus canvas art

2. Trace the cut-out nautilus onto tissue paper and cut around the edges.  I stacked mine so that I would be able to get a few copies in case one tore.

3. Align the printed paper nautilus on the canvas how you want it, then glue down with Mod Podge. (Paint underside and stick down, then paint top of it too.)

diy paper nautilus canvas art

4. Lay a tissue paper nautilus down on top of the freshly Mod Podged version and paint more Mod Podge over it.  It will wrinkle and add texture. Be careful, as the tissue paper can tear easily when coated in Mod Podge!

diy paper nautilus canvas art

5. Paint some pearlizing medium on the Mod Podged tissue paper to give it a nice iridescent sheen.  I dispensed it right on the paper and then spread it evenly with my brush.

diy paper nautilus canvas art

6. To make the paper nautilus stand out, I decided to paint a fringe around it with dark brown paint:

And that was it!  No paper nautilus harmed in the making and much less expensive too. I know it can’t put my husband’s broken paper nautilus shell back together, but maybe it might lessen the heartache over it.  Hopefully he thinks so 🙂

Live porpoisefully, The Taylors

diy paper nautilus canvas art steps

2 thoughts on “DIY Paper Nautilus Canvas Art

  1. I would love to try this, thanks for the instructions. I found a nautilus on our beach several years ago, it is so fragile feeling, almost like if you knocked the edge it would fall apart but at the same time the structure is so hardy

    1. You’re welcome! I’d love to know how it turns out if you try it. You are very lucky to have found a nautilus on the beach – they are indeed fragile but well-built for their purpose. What a treasure!

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