Fantasy Mermaid Drawings in 4 Steps With Photoshop

While making fantasy mermaid drawings may seem difficult at first, these instructions will guide you through the steps to create a convincing mermaid. That is, we will draw mermaids by breaking it down into manageable objectives.

When you are dealing with fantasy mermaid drawings, not only are you imagining a fantasy creature that takes parts from the human and the animal world, but you are also introducing the element of water.

Water itself is a challenging subject because you have to draw how your subject is suspended in the water as well as light patterns as it moves across your subject. This requires some knowledge on illumination.

There are very little secrets to this drawing, either. It's just good old fashion hard work using a strong artistic foundation and to take it one step at a time. This is why this guide is split into four major parts. Just follow along carefully and you would be surprised on how well you can create convincing mermaid drawings on your own.

Sketching fantasy mermaid drawings

On a new layer, start your gesture drawing of your mermaid. As you sketch her humanoid upper body, decide how you want her torso to flow into the lower body. Will she have leg-like bends or will her backbone flow right downwards to create a natural tail?

Will she have a dolphin-like tail or a fish like tail? Are there any extra features that you can include? Personally, I went with a dolphin-like lower body. I have also decided to add flying fish-like wings to help her move in the water.

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While you are doing the sketch, think about zero gravity. Suspend her body in the water with cues like wavy hair, a curved posture, and folded clothing. As you finish off your gesture sketch, decide on how you want separate and fill in your layers.

For instance, I filled the background layer with a gradient fill to start my water colors. Then I drew a grey solid object outlining my mermaid. From there, I merged both the mermaid sketch and my grey solid object together to make a nice solid form that the background cannot show through. Other stuff, like the wings and the clothing, I can add on through additional layers.

Smudging fantasy mermaid drawings

Preserve the transparency of your mermaid object (allows the brush strokes to remain in the object boundaries) and begin blocking in muscle tones. You will be switching between your smudge tool, your digital art brushes, and your eraser tool to get this right in this step on fantasy mermaid drawings.

For example, block in parts of muscle mass with a chalk brush, smudge that into place, switch to a smaller brush for details, and use the eraser tool to refine the outer boundaries of your mermaid object.

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Toggle the preserve transparency option on and off to lock or unlock your layers to help you properly define your mermaid as well as making it easier to paint things (like each individual finger or changing how the tail will look like entirely).

For clothing, think about adding it through a different layer. Of course, make it a solid object first so the background doesn't show through. After that, change the transparency of that layer as a means to adjust the translucent nature of clothing underwater.

Detailing fantasy mermaid drawings

There are a few tips here that you can use to draw translucent cloth. First, preserve the transparency of your cloth layer and start working on the details by painting white marks on a black cloth object to signify folds in the cloth.

Once you are done, the trick here is to change your cloth layer from 'normal' to 'screen.' What this does is effectively change all the black parts of the cloth into negative space so that the background can show through.

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As for the lighting, the trick for that one is to erase into your mermaid. To do that, start a new layer and begin painting streaks of light where the light source is. Place this layer at the very top.

User a large round brush to emphasize the large light source and smaller brushes to dab surrounding spots of light. Use an eraser and erase parts of the light rays on that layer to reveal your mermaid layer underneath. Then, lower the transparency and change the layer blend to 'soft light/overlay' to bring out the lighter colors from the darker colors.

Shading fantasy mermaid drawings

Perhaps one of the most common things that artists will forget to do is create underwater lighting effects as it shines in on the subject. Again, on a separate layer, create random crisscross patterns around the subject.

Then, just blur your layer using internal filters in your digital painting software. You can even set this layer to a different blend mode to further emphasize the lighting effects.

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Depending on your software, you can change this lighting layer into a clipping mask (Photoshop only) as a means to paint within the boundaries of the mermaid object. Otherwise, just erase parts of the lighting layer that are out of place just like before.

You can put in additional effects like bubbles. Just select a hard round brush tip, set the option to scatter on pressure, and gently paint in where the bubbles are. These bubbles should be done sparingly.

After that, you can repaint some of the lighting on the entire composition. Use a darker hue as you approach the bottom of the water to give an illusion of depth. Any gradient tools are very good for this part.

In conclusion, seeing the overall form first and then refining it slowly is the best method. From there, a bit of patience can go a long way to create mermaid drawings you and your audience can visually enjoy.