Draw a grotesque mermaid

Why must all mermaids be beauties?

Introduction

In this tutorial we are going to address the wonderful world of merfolk and ways to bring them to life beyond their traditional representation. How to think outside the box with Photoshop as the medium of choice

Step 01: Setting the Parameters

In honor of the Mermay hashtag I wanted to tackle a mermaid design, but one that stepped outside the norm. It’s a good idea to set questions for yourself to answer when designing. What evolutionary leaps would the mermaid have to go through to survive? What do they eat, or do to avoid being eaten? Why don’t we see them anymore?  The last in particular sparked my imagination. This is an initial stage. Be free, uninhibited. Sketch the most bizarre shapes without judgment. Be sure to have plenty of reference in this stage. Nature is a pool of inspiration.

grotesque mermaid

Exploration of different mermaid anatomy, in particular the idea of hidden in plain sight.

Step 02: Sparking inspiration

After sketching and exploring different ideas there may be a particular design that captures your attention and starts inspiring you beyond the design and into a world building exercise. For me this is key; I like my designs to be rooted in some way, to have a history. What if that hammerhead shark isn’t one, but a mermaid who’s evolved to resemble one?

grotesque mermaid

As a means to protect itself this mermaid has evolved to resemble a hammerhead shark.

Step 03: Adding base color

After the design is finalized, I lay a rough color. Once again it’s good to reference real animal’s coloration. Take inspiration from the natural world. Rough blocked coloring allows you to make quick changes but still a good idea as to what the final coloration will be.

grotesque mermaid

Keep it basic. This stage is purely to set the stage for the main coloring.

Step 04: Rendering

Fancy brushes are great but my favorite is the standard soft round brush on low opacity. Pick your darkest dark and slowly build form. I am also localizing detail. Be sure to put most detail in the areas the will pull most focus. Here it would be the upper body, in particular the face.

grotesque mermaid

Painting the “rib cage” Be sure to have reference by you when dealing with anatomy.

Step 05: Layers, layers, layers

You can never have too many layers. Be willing to explore the various effect layers. The ones I most frequently use are Multiply, which allows for great shadows, textures and form building as you layer and Overlay for highlights. The three circles in the image illustrate how different colors in Multiply mode can interact with each other and how they can change when a yellow and pink overlay is done. Here I felt the overall body was to narrow so I bulked it up a bit.

grotesque mermaid

Detail is great, but be sure to localize it. Too much causes a design to be busy.

Step 06: Willing to change

Be willing to “murder your darlings” as you are painting. If something looks off don’t be afraid to change it. I added larger fins to balance her frame; these are blocked in for now. While I do keep some of my original drawing as a base, I will start painting over certain areas to build form.

grotesque mermaid

It’s a slow building to reach desired from. Continue to build layers.

Step 07: Creating Atmosphere

I create a new layer and fill it with a gradient of two colors, blue and dark gray.  From there I turn the layer to multiply, this will instantly give me a shadow. Being deliberate, I will go in and erase some of the gray multiply layer to create a light. I will further intensify the light by creating rim light. This is done with your brightest bright following the outline of the mermaid to give the illusion that light is hitting its body. For added atmosphere I added little specs of debris.

grotesque mermaid

Rim lights should be used sparingly, too many and they lose their effect.

Top tip: Stay Inspired

Inspiration is all around you, be inquisitive. Try thinking outside the box - when approaching a design trying flipping it upside down or sideways when you feel stuck. It helps jumpstart your creative juice. Read and watch plenty of documentaries, nature ones in particular when designing creatures.