DIYdiy projects

diy project: fish scale pendant lamp

by Kate Pruitt

This is the second project we’ve shared from designer Kara Paslay in recent weeks, and again she’s managed to reintroduce me to a cool technique I had long forgotten about. Inspired by the ocean, Kara decided to transform a simple paper globe into a beautiful sculptural pendant lamp. By dyeing and dipping cut paper rounds into wax, Kara has transformed the material into an almost unrecognizable state. The “scales” have a glowing, translucent finish and a gorgeous deep watery hue, giving the lamp a beautiful texture, whether it’s unlit or switched on and glowing from within.

I can’t get over how far removed the end result is from a simple paper globe, and given that the whole project cost around $20 and can be done in an afternoon makes it even more appealing! If you’re looking to add some oceany colors and textures to your home for summer, this inexpensive and easy project might be the perfect choice. Thanks for sharing, Kara! Kate

Have a DIY project you’d like to share? Just shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Read the full how-to after the jump . . .

Every year around this time, I start to daydream about the beach and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it. My beach dreaming, coupled with my love for the fish scale pattern and obsession with unique lighting fixtures spurred the idea for this fresh and fun DIY project. The different dye baths used in the project create a ton of watery texture, while the wax technique allows light to filter through the piece and adds to that “scale like” feel. The project can be completed in an afternoon for about $20, which means all of us who can’t make it to the deep blue sea this summer can at least surround ourselves with something sea inspired! Happy creating! — Kara Paslay


  • 110# paper
  • circle cutter (available at most craft stores)
  • Rit Dye
  • paraffin wax
  • mineral oil
  • crock pot
  • extra bowl
  • white paper lantern
  • glue gun



1. Use your circle cutter and use 110# paper to create around 200 circles. The 200 circles will cover a 14 in. paper lantern.

2. Place the cut circles into a bucket of Rit Dye (I used the purple and purple mixed with teal) and allow them to darken to your taste. I chose to make my circles different shades to enhance the texture of the final piece.

3. Create a double boiler with your crock pot and extra bowl. Put a block of the paraffin wax in the extra bowl to melt. Once the wax is melted, add mineral oil to thin the wax. Make sure your circles are dry and then dip each one into the wax, making sure to leave a portion of the top clean and clear of any wax. Lay the circle on wax paper to dry.

Note: Dipping the circles in the wax makes the paper transparent and allows the light to pass through it more easily.

4. Once the wax has dried, start attaching the circles to a white paper lantern. Use a glue gun and be sure to place the glue on the portion of the circle that does not have wax on it.

5. Work your way around the lantern until it is fully covered. I started at the bottom and overlapped my circles in a fish scale-like pattern so the top layer would be at the top of the lantern.

6. Use the lighting kit that comes with the lantern to create an amazing light fixture!

Note: I tested the lantern using a 60 watt compact florescent lightbulb, and the wax stayed cool and completely intact. I recommend sticking with compact florescent bulbs to keep the heat in check.

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  • This totally reminds me of one of my favourite childhood books ‘The Rainbow Fish’ by
    Marcus Pfister!

  • Gahhhhh, this is so beautiful! I’ve been needing to fancy up a paper lantern for my sewing room. This is so what I’m doing. Get ready, candle supplies, things are about to get hot!

  • This is really cool. I’m a tiny bit concerned about mixing wax and hot glue (doesn’t it pop apart when it dries?)….but I’m willing to try it for something this nifty. I just love the look of colored wax. Great stuff!

  • Gorgeous! It sort of reminds me of a softer version of the famous artichoke lamp. I’d love to try this in a more neutral colorway too.

  • Thanks for the comments ladies! :) You’ve made my day! If you do make one for yourself, I would love to see pictures of it. I know there could be so many different and beautiful versions of this idea!

    Peaches- You are right about wax and hot glue not working together. To avoid this problem, don’t dip your circle all the way in the wax- leave a portion at the top dry for the hot glue to stick to. Hope this helps! :)

    Julie- I never actually measure how much mineral oil I mix in- I just keep adding it until the mixture is a little thicker than a water consistency.

  • I was thinking the same thing as Lise – this totally reminds me of The Rainbow Fish. I love it! The range of colours and textures are remarkable.

  • Beautiful! It looks like so much fun to make – and a lovely outcome! I love all the coordinating elements in your photo too :)

  • Wooooow so pretty! I love the colors you did, thank you so much for sharing. I would a bunch of these glowing from the trees during our summer parties I think it would look gorgeous – cheers!

  • Making this with gold and yellow for my sister’s wedding reception. She’s gonna freak!

  • Beautiful work Kara! I’ve got tons of ideas from this and hope I can show you my own version in a few weeks.

  • How in the world did you get all of those colors on the circles? did you just sprinkle different colors on the circles? how did you get the white splotches? I love the colors you specifically use, but I am confused on the process of how you got it that way.

  • This is really pretty!

    Do you have any problems with the wax melting when the lamps gets hot? Or do you just need to use a CFL bulb so it stays cool?

  • Just stunning. I love the color and texture she was able to achieve. The scales elevate this lamp to artwork. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • brilliant! I’m a huge Kara-fan and this project is definitely going on my list. It’s perfect for my daughter’s room. She’s going to love both the project and the results!

  • This is beautiful!!! I want to make this for my daughters room but can anyone tell me what 110# paper is and where I might find it? Thank You!

  • This is lovely … but wax is a dirt magnet and can’t be cleaned. So for all the work…

  • Could some kind of vellum paper be dyed and used instead of dipping it in wax? How big are the circles used?

  • Oh wow! Again, thanks for all the positive responses! To achieve the different colors on each circle, I did a couple of different things, mainly I dipped some in two different dyes and dashed powder dyes on top of a few others. The white is just where the wax is a little thicker in areas. Also, I’ve found a wet cloth works fine to remove dust from the wax.

    Sarah- you can get 110 lb paper at any office supply store as well.

    Lorene- I tested the light with a 60 watt bulb and everything stayed nice and cool, but I definitely recommend using a CFL bulb just to be safe! :)

    Hope that helps! :) Can’t wait to see other people’s versions!

  • I don’t know if my attempt at this failed because of using the wrong paper or if it was because of the wrong ratio of wax to mineral oil, but mine is definitely not transparent. It still looks pretty nice and more like a lotus then fish scales due to how the circles were arranged. I love the idea, though, and will have to try this again!

  • When dying the circles, did you add any water or anything to the dye? If so, how much?

  • Totally LOVE ! Would the weight of the paper be about like cardstock ?

  • So glad I pinned this! Gonna try it soon for a bedroom upstairs that is slightly nautical, without all the oars and life preservers – just a hint :D

  • This is such an old post I don’t know if I’ll get a response or not. I am DYING to make this but I have 2 problems. 1. what size circle punch do I need to buy and 2. where can I get #110 paper. I have tried several craft stores in OKC and nobody even knows what I’m talking about much less whether they have it or not. One person told me the paper would be thinner then tissue paper and another said it would be thicker then card stock!! Please help me!!! I can’t wait to make this!

    • Get the paper at an Office supply, Office Depot, Office Max or Staples. No the paper will be heavier. Card stock is 50-110′, business cards are usually 80′. 110′ is heavy like a cover of a booklet or a report.
      3 1/2 seems big but cut one out & see if it looks like the one in the picture with her hands as a reference. Good luck & let us know how it comes out!

  • I want to make this too and am wondering about the circle size as well. The 110# paper can be found at Staples – I believe it’s a similar weight to index cards. I went to Joann’s at first and they didn’t have it either. Hope that helps.

  • I just did this project. However mine is blue and teal. I used a 2 1/2 in circle cut out. I needed closer to 270 circles. To get really cool patterns and diff textures on the circles sprinkle some dry dye on a some wax paper and wipe a few wet dyed circles over it gently. Then take some plain white ones wipe it over the spread out dye that is now wet. Let the circles dry for 5 mins then dye them like you would the other circles. They come out wicked cool!
    The hardest thing to find was the paraffin wax, go to a beauty supply store. The paper I found at Walmart in the scrap booking section. Its just thicker than normal paper. As for getting the water to dye ratio. I winged it. I poured 5 cups of hot water into a bucket with a sprinkle of dye. Tested it with the paper left over from the cut outs. I just kept adding dye until the color was right. The longer you let the paper sit in the dye the darker the paper will turn.
    One thing I found if you add to many circles to the dye at the same time they stick to each other. You spend your time pulling them apart and only the edges get the dye. Hope you have fun making your own!

  • Just completed this project last week and I’m in love! This looks great in the apartment, I hung 3 in the hallway. I wasn’t able to find a paper lantern that already had a light of some sort in it so I went the the party store and bought a pack of 3 smaller sized ones, decided to find lights for them later.
    I ended up buying what was almost poster board and cutting circles by hand (crazy, I know). The dye was super simple, but I wasn’t totally satisfied with just plain dipping the circles in. I ended up putting them on a sheet of plastic and randomly sprinkling them with the powder dye I had left over and more drops of dye. It turned out wonderfully!
    Only thing I am concerned about is the next time we move… the wax paper is of course a bit fragile and if they are bent far enough the wax falls off of them. But they look SO cute hanging up, better than anything bought in a retail store! Thanks so much for the idea, it was a fun weekend!

  • I know I am kind of late on posting…but you can get paraffin at any grocery store in the aisle with baking supplies.

  • This is a fantastic idea! Definitely going to give it a go using a similar colour scheme.

  • Love this project. I was wondering if the paper has to be #110lbs what 90lbs? thanks again for sharing a wonderful project.

  • This project is an awesome idea but I am so frustrated because it’s so delicate and flimsy. The hot glue won’t even hold the card stock in place on my lantern at least. I’ve been making this for 3 months (on and off) for my friends nursery and she hasn’t even gotten it yet and it’s already falling apart. Just sucks, wish I wouldnt have wasted my time and money on this.

    • Adrienne did you ever find out how much? I’m about to start the wax dipping process and I don’t know either!

  • Thank you for the great inspiration /explanation. I’ve just made something like this in pastels last week. But I used a smaller lantern and therefore smaller circles. Because I don’t have a papercutter or a hot glue, I cut everything by hand (I think over 80 circles) and used wallpaper glue to stick it on. Worked for me. Only thing is I used 120gr and 210gr paper. The last one is to thick for sure because it was hard to make it follow the curve of the lantern.

  • I’d like to make this without cutting circles but dye and wax the paper in a similar way.
    Can I just make pieces to make some simple shades to cover a string of work lights
    in a tent? Will the heat from the bulbs be dangerous with the wax?
    thank you,

  • Has anyone tried adding glitter to it? I have a glitter obsessed 7 year old and I was thinking I could sprinkle a bit on after it’s dipped in wax. Unless i could add it directly TO the wax.

    • Wax is used to resist watercolor, so no, the color would not adhere except perhaps a bit around the edge of the paper where there is no wax – the portion that remains wax free so the glue can stick. I suppose you could use the watercolor first and then do the wax dip. You never know, it might just work.