As #Mermay draws to a close, let us reflect back and honor that which is most sacred during this time of year... THE MER-TAIL!
It is the tail that sets the mermaid apart from her leggy cousins up on the surface, and connects her to the waters in which she dwells. A legend in fantasy lore, the mermaid and her tail have been inspiring artists of all disciplines for centuries. And although we have depicted the mermaid and her shimmering scales in hundreds of different ways, the tail still presents a unique challenge that each artist must tackle in their own way. Questions arise such as, "How should the tail connect to the human torso?" "What shapes should I use?" "What colors?" "How many scales?!" One can easily drown in all the choices to make!
I hope in this tutorial, I can offer some tips to help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of drawing mer-tails!
CONNECTING TO THE TORSO
My approach is pretty much the same with every mer-creature I create. I connect the tail at the hip and taper the connection with scales that fade into the torso. I feel this sort of placement works for a variety of poses and situations, allowing the mermaid to explore a range of movement and body expression with ease!
TIP! Consider scattering scales elsewhere on the body such as the arms, neck, even the face! Scattering scales helps to connect the mammal top half to the aquatic bottom half of the character. This can also be a useful tool to re-iterate that the creature belongs in the sea if the tail is partially cropped as it is below.
FIN AND SCALE STYLES
Fins and scales come in all shapes, sizes, and arrangements. Though my mer-creatures are all fantastical in nature, I do reference real life fish to inspire me on what sort of scale and fin arrangement would work best. For the Capricorn above, I chose to add a belly fin to mimic the fantastic chin beard this fellow is sporting!
I wanted this "Sea Bull" to appear large and powerful! So I took inspiration from whales when creating this tail. The shape of the tail fin and the girth of the overall shape reminds the viewer of great and majestic whales, reinforcing the character's strong and authoritative personality.
Sometimes I am inspired by more transparent fins, I frequently pair these with a softer treatment on my more innocent characters. Here the transparent fins emphasize the pure and vulnerable nature of childhood.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, torn and tattered fins can communicate age and a sense of foreboding. This mermaid has seen some rough days, the somber pose paired with the helmet and weathered fins hint at a story of much woe here.
Pairing rounded fins with a rounded figure is a great method for crafting a "cute" character with endearing appeal. All the round shapes in the silhouette scream "PET ME I'M ADORABLE!" and sends a clear message of this creature's temperament and personality to the viewer.
When it comes to scales, the main factors to consider are size, shape, and depth. Generally, scales are pretty round so that's one decision down! But what about size and depth? You might notice when observing fish photography that sometimes the scales are very pronounced, large, and easy to see. Other times the scales are quite small, or they blend together so tightly that the shapes are barely visible.
For this spooky "Black Phillip" inspired Capricorn, I went with small tightly bound scales to make the tail appear smooth to the touch. I wanted the tail to mimic the "sly" feeling we get from such a trickster character. The small scales also make the character itself appear bigger by the differentiation of proportion.
Other times, larger or more defined scales can add texture to an otherwise sleek character, adding some opportunity for visual interest! For this baby mermacorn, I used large chunkier scales with some fun slight variations in the shapes. The large scales also proportionally make the character seem smaller by comparison. Since this character's torso is less busy than the previous Capricorn example, adding some more complex and defined scales offset the open space at the top, and creates a nice balance of detail overall.
One of the great things about aquatic life is that it comes in literally EVERY color you can imagine! Explore some tropical fish photography and you'll see what I mean! Your mermaid can convincingly be whatever color you like! I do however, find that using references helps me with choosing which colors fit together best, and shading the figure.
Adding highlights to the scales is important too! But I wouldn't highlight all of them, that would look over- rendered and unrealistic. I chose to add a speckle of highlight to a selection of prominent scales where the light source hits strongest. This placement also helps guide the eye along the curve of the figure, which makes the viewer's eyeballs happy.
I GOTTA DRAW HOW MANY SCALES????
Ok, I know technically this is not a mermaid but "The Leviathan" is by far the most scaly thing I have ever drawn. AND I had to draw them multiple times for the drawing and the painting.
The prospect of drawing so many scales may send some artists sailing for safer shores out of pure terror! But I say "Fear yee not the scale!! For the delicious texture and depth it bestows to thine work is beyond compare! Do not forget them, prey, learn to LOVE THEM! I tell thee, I have the secret to making hundreds and hundreds of scales easy and dare I say... FUN! I shall reveal the super secret method below... but beware... this knowledge comes with a price!!"
VOILA! The secret formula to perfect scales. With practice, drawing scales will eventually become easy for you, even - dare I say - a therapeutic exercise! Some tips to remember...
Practice drawing these FAST, don't worry too much if each scale is identical. I find getting caught up in perfection with scales really slows me down. So long as they read as uniform as a whole, it's smooth sailing!
Once you've got the pattern down, practice changing the direction of the scales, tails are twisty turn-y things and the texture follows along with the form. It may seem tricky at first, but with practice you can find the flow.
Aye, so the secret is hard work, diligence, and determination. All it will cost to unlock this precious skill... is your time
And that, deviants, is my collection of tips and tricks about mer-tails! I hope for your next mermaid you will take the plunge and try some new art tricks in your own work!
If you'd like to follow along with my work and see more tutorials and content from my paranormal fairytale world of Terratoff, you can follow me here DeviantArt, on Instagram for daily updates, or join us in the realm in Patreon for exclusive sneak peeks and benefits I only share there! Until next time!