Hand painted oyster shells may not be your first thought for home or wedding décor, but in the coastal regions, they’re incredibly popular. They’re easy to paint and make for beautiful jewelry dishes and wedding name tags.
So, how to paint an oyster shell? To paint an oyster shell, clean the shell and dry fully. Then paint with multi-surface acrylic paint, allow to dry, and seal with Mod Podge or a clear lacquer spray.
Painting oyster shells can be a fun way to spend an afternoon. There are several different styles that people use for painting oyster shells, so let’s dive in to explore the details.
Supplies For Painting Oyster Shells
Before you can paint your oyster shells, you’ll first need to gather some supplies. The list below is what we recommend for painting oyster shells.
- Oyster shells
- Apple cider vinegar or bleach
- Old toothbrush
- Multi-surface acrylic paint
- Mod Podge or clear lacquer spray
- Optional: decoupage napkins
- Optional: gold leaf pen or gold paint
Of course, if you live on a coast, you can always get fresh oyster shells locally. You can either find whole oysters and shuck them yourself, or you can see if a shop in town sells them.
For those who live in a land-locked state, you can order oyster shells online. We recommend buying the 3-4” shells we listed above because if you go to the 5-6” size, you’ll pay more money but likely still end up with 3-4” shells according to customer reviews.
There are different methods for washing your oyster shells. One uses apple cider vinegar and water, while another uses bleach and water. You can use whichever cleaning solution you prefer.
To get a good clean on your oyster shells, use an old or cheap toothbrush to scrub the exterior and interior of the shell. This will help remove any lingering sand or grime hiding in the crevices of the shell.
Many people use Mod Podge as the final sealant, but if you prefer a more durable and long-lasting finish, you can always use a clear lacquer spray as well. Just don’t use this if you plan to put food on the shell.
While this article is mainly about painting oyster shells, it’s also incredibly popular to decoupage them. Many people use decoupage napkins to decorate the interior, then paint the exterior white and the outer edge gold.
If this sounds like more of what you’re looking to achieve, you can grab some decoupage napkins while you pick up your other supplies too.
Best Paint For Oyster Shells
Acrylic paint is a go-to for many crafters because it’s so versatile, and oyster shells are no exception. We do recommend using the multi-surface acrylic paint instead of regular acrylic paint, but either way you do it will work great.
If you choose to use regular acrylic paint because it’s what you already have on hand, just be sure to lay down a layer of Mod Podge on the shell before painting.
This will help the paint stick better rather than putting it directly on the shell. You can use any colors you like, though we think it works best to keep it in the nautical theme. Blues, whites, and accents of gold look beautiful on oyster shells.
These colors really help to bring out the natural elegance that the shape of an oyster shell exudes.
If you want to get a little more creative with colors, you can even incorporate soft, pastel colors such as blush pink or mint green. These colors lend themselves well to oyster shells.
Hand Painted Oyster Shells
Now that you’ve gathered your supplies, let’s paint some oyster shells!
- Clean the oyster shells. You can use a combination of apple cider vinegar and water, bleach and water, or just plain water with a little dish soap. Scrub the oyster shells while wet with an old or cheap toothbrush. Rinse, then dry thoroughly.
- Once the oyster shells are dry, you’re ready to begin painting! No matter what color scheme you’re going for, start with a coat of white acrylic paint on the interior of the oyster shell. This will help even out the color of the shell where all the dark spots are so your main color shows up nicely. You can add another coat of white if you want the shell to be pure white, or paint it another color.
- Allow the paint to dry, then add another coat, if desired. It works best to start with one side and finish it completely before moving on to the next. For example, start with the exterior and get all the coats of paint you needed on that side done before moving on to the interior (or vice versa).
- Once the paint has dried, you can add the gold around the edges, if desired. This adds an elegant touch to your hand painted oyster shells. Use a gold leaf pen or gold paint on a flat paintbrush. Rather than stroking the paint along the edges, try holding the brush so that the bristles lie flat against the edge of the oyster shell and dab it. This will give you more even coverage and nicer lines.
- When all coats of paint are dry, cover the entire oyster shell in either your final sealant of Mod Podge or clear lacquer spray.
Once your final sealant has dried completely, you’re done! You now have an incredibly beautiful oyster shell to use for your next party or as a cute piece of home décor.
Try using it as a paper clip holder, salt dish (only if your sealant is food-safe), or a name place card for a special event.
How To Decoupage Oyster Shells
If you like the idea of painting an oyster shell but want to incorporate a pattern rather than just a solid color, the best route is to use decoupage napkins.
Decoupage napkins are specifically designed to be applied easily to any surface to create a fun, patterned appearance.
You can find plenty of great decoupage napkins online. We recommend sticking with the nautical theme or finding any pattern that incorporates blue and white, as these colors look great on an oyster shell.
Remember to use a small, repeating pattern. Big patterns such as this one with seahorses and seaweed will be too large to fit on an oyster shell, so the pattern won’t come across.
Instead, try a small pattern like this one. The varied polka dot and lined pattern is small enough to fit in an oyster shell and repeats often enough to look right in a small space.
The best part is that you can follow the steps above for painting shells for most of the process:
- Clean the oyster shell according to the process listed above.
- Paint the interior of the oyster shell white. As we noted above, this will cover the dark spots and help the pattern of your decoupage napkin stand out well.
- Separate the decoupage napkin layers so that you’re only using the top, patterned layer.
- Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the interior of the oyster shell and on the back of the decoupage napkin.
- Lay the decoupage napkin carefully on the oyster shell, patterned side up. Press it gently into the oyster shell to help it conform to all of the curves and crevices on the inside of the shell.
- Once the napkin is stable in the oyster shell, peel off the edges of the napkin that you don’t need. It works best to use a large piece of napkin and peel what you don’t need instead of cutting out a piece to size. Using a large piece of napkin ensures that you’ll cover the entire surface.
- Apply another layer of Mod Podge on top of the napkin once it’s been trimmed to size. This will help seal it into the shell.
- Once the Mod Podge has dried, you can paint the gold edges according to our instructions above.
- Seal the entire oyster shell in Mod Podge or a clear lacquer spray.
There you have it! An easy, decorative oyster shell ready to be put on display.
For a video tutorial, check out the video below from the Hallmark Channel. They’ll show you the best techniques for the decoupage and painting the gold edges.
Can You Spray Paint Oyster Shells?
Yes, you can spray paint oyster shells. We recommend using acrylic paint and brushing it on for best results, but if you’re in a hurry and need to coat the entire shell one color, you can certainly use spray paint.
Remember that spray paint needs to be applied outdoors only for proper ventilation and to protect your home and belongings from extra paint mist in the air.
Lay the oyster shells out on some newspaper or a piece of cardboard before spraying. Spray one side at a time and allow each side to dry fully before flipping over.