How to Draw a Mermaid

By Renée di Cherri

For the third year running, character animator Tom Bancroft has issued a challenge—#MerMay—inviting creatives to post a new mermaid drawing every day in May. Even if you’re not up for a daily illustration, you can try your hand at creating a fishy friend. Our simple tutorial will get you started.

To help you bring your ideas to life in Adobe Photoshop CC or Photoshop Sketch on your mobile tablet, you can download (for free!) our specially curated, mermaid-inspired brush pack from Kyle Webster


Art is subjective. There’s no wrong or right method, workflow, or technique. And techniques may change depending on your style—from realism to hyper-cute anime. In this short tutorial, I’ll show you how to make the basic shapes of a mer-creature, which you can pose and finish in any style you like. 

The basic shapes you’ll need are wavy lines, circles, teardrops, and a mustache. (Yeah, seriously.)

Begin with a circle for the head. Draw a line to represent the middle of the body. Animators call this the “line of action”. You can express a lot of character emotion in this line, depending on how you draw it. I chose a lazy ‘s’ shape to convey a relaxed feeling.

Draw a mustache at the opposite end of the line from the head. Yes, a mustache. But what does it look like? A flipper tail! This isn’t the only way to draw a mermaid tail. They can be any shape you like, such as flat, angular, or diamond-shaped. Look at pictures of fishes for inspiration and pick whatever you like best.


Imagine where the middle of the body exists: equally between the head and tail. Draw a line there. This will be the waist of the mermaid.

The teardrop shape will be her upper torso. Imagine if you twisted the teardrop like a piece of clay to follow the lazy body line. Start from the head, with the teardrop’s pinched end at the top and the round bottom of the teardrop touching the waist line.

Draw another twisted teardrop, but this time, start the pinched end at the tail, and the fatter end will be in the middle of the body. As you reach the waistline, make sure your upper torso teardrop and your fishy tail teardrop are roughly the same thickness.

At the top of the torso teardrop, draw a point-down triangle. This represents the mermaid’s chest. Use the triangle’s top points as a guide for the shoulders and draw a line down to create the arms. I wanted my mermaid to be texting a friend, so I sketched hands and a square for her phone.

Consider the details. I like to use a crosshair on the head to help place the facial features. Notice how my crosshair follows the circle as if it were a real sphere—like a line on a globe. I’ll use this line to place each eye so it's in the right spot. I also added her hair, a few extra details in the fins, and I fleshed out her arms a bit more.

What’s next? That’s up to you. We want to see your mermaid. But here are a few more tips to make things easier:

Use layers. The real power of digital art! Many artists keep parts of an image on separate layers, and the most common style is to have a sketch on bottom, the color in the middle, and line art on top.

Use brushes. Kyle Webster’s MerMay brush set has a lot of goodies to make art quicker; for example, you could use the shells and bubbles to add texture, decorate fishy parts with scales, and grow vines with his plants.

Clean lineart. Turn the sketch layer’s opacity down low. Make a new layer on top for the lineart. Follow your sketch as closely as possible. Take a hint from an industrial designer friend of mine: Try to hit every stroke in one clean line. It’s tricky but worth it.

If you erase edges of your lineart, it can begin to look lumpy. Instead of erasing, use Undo and try the whole line again. And again. And again! Keep trying until you get a smooth, solid stroke.

Does it have to be a mer-MAID? Nope. All mer-creatures are welcome here. Watch as I use a line of action, mustaches, and teardrops to create a merman and merpuppy.

Click above to see one more bit of inspiration: a time-lapse of my final mermaid.


When we originally published this article, it included a contest element. However, that challenge ended on May 15, 2018. The grand-prize winner, Vashti Harrison, will receive an iPad Pro and a subscription to the Creative Cloud. Other winners also receiving CC subscriptions are Jeanie Mao, Daniel FloresIsabella Walsh, and Jorge Acevedo Perez.

May 8, 2018