In 2020, I started three Mermay watercolor and ink pieces in my sketchbook, and I never got around to sharing them. So here they are now for Mermay 2023!
I’d love to say I have a whole, in depth backstory for each of these characters, but the truth is that I just wanted to see some fat, older, and disabled merpeople in pretty settings lol
I enjoyed using all the bright colors in the first two pieces and feel that they work really well with each other. I also wanted to play around with the idea of not-so-friendly merpeople with the third piece– a kind of answer to the combined questions of “What would a real merperson be doing?” and “What would frighten me if I were a small fish in the water?”
I experimented with rendering here and tried using a combination of watercolor and ink for the first two pieces and watercolor with colored pencil for the third one. The first two pieces were completed in 2020; although I don’t remember the exact dates, I know they were finished well after May ended 😂 The third piece was completed sometime in 2021, a long time after the first two, which is why it looks a bit different.
I personally really enjoy mermaid pieces that use real life animals as inspiration. I wanted to do that in my work, too, so I spent a few days looking around at the various fascinating creatures in our oceans and fresh waters around the world until I found a few that struck me as visually interesting and easy to work into a merperson figure.
Coral Beauty Angelfish
The first one I decided to work with was this Coral Beauty Angelfish merperson. The fish itself is just beautiful with so many colors to its scales. It was a challenge to work with them all in one merperson and to make them play well together, but I think I did a pretty good job of keeping them from muddying up.
I wanted to make a disabled merperson for this piece because A. that’s my jam, and B. I rarely ever see disabled merpeople in art! It really bugs me! I think a lot of that is not knowing that fish can also be disabled and in what ways they can be disabled, but also, a lot of that is due to ableism and rejecting the idea of disabled people in fantasy in general for one reason or another.
Fantasy art is so much more interesting, though, when it pushes against the limits of what is possible, and I wish more fantasy artists would explore disability in their work. This is something I definitely want to explore more of in my own work, too.
This merperson’s disability was based on a real disability that fish get from issues with their swim bladders which is the organ that helps them stay afloat and not sink to the bottom. Fish owners have created some clever disability aids (like the one in this piece) for their beloved underwater friends to help counteract the issue and enable them to continue swimming and floating. I love that for them 🥲
I think the ink work in this piece is a little thicker than I would like; I had a hard time controlling the ink flow on the brush. I’ve always preferred thinner lines in general when it comes to color– just enough to hint at the line art rather than hit you over the head with it. If I were to do something like this again, I’d likely use a thick watercolor or thin gouache and a glass ink pen to get better line art.
I think all the colors are fun, though, and I really love the way the long, thin pink coral branches interact with the other elements in the piece. I think they complement the merperson well, mimicking the stripes of the body while also serving as a contrast in color and shape.
Three Spot Damselfish
AKA the Domino Damselfish
Oh man, I love this fish, it’s so gorgeous! Inky black scales with these pops of white on them like eyes or pearls.
I imagined this merperson as an older treasure hunter. I can’t be sure if I’m remembering the timeline correctly since it’s been a while, but I think this merperson’s age was inspired by a documentary following these older Korean women divers called Haenyeo. Haenyeo dive without air tanks for seaweed, conches, sea urchins, and more. The oldest members of this group in Jeju are in their nineties and still going strong! These women are absolutely amazing!
This piece, like the previous one, could have benefitted from thinner ink lines. Also, imagine my frustration when I edited these photos and realized I forgot to include the remaining line art on the fins! lol I’ll go back and ink them another day when I remember. I think this will be even more striking once I include those later.
I absolutely loved painting this merperson. No matter what other kinds of rendering I explore, working with black ink and watercolor will always be one of my favorites. It’s such a striking color on the page, which is perfect for such a striking fish, and it really feels like the focal point in this whole piece. I also enjoy the way the coral in this piece interact more with the merperson than the first piece’s coral did. It gave it that cozy adventure feeling I was going for, which pleases me.
I also like drawing older merpeople, too. I’m only in my mid thirties, but it’s bugged me for years that we don’t see more positive representations of older people in fantasy art, similar to disabled and fat people. This is something I also try to remember to include more often, and I thoroughly enjoyed including that in this piece!
Albino Senegal Bichir
I chose the Senegal Bichir for this last Mermay 2023 piece because of its long, muscular body shape. It reminded me of a lion somehow, and I thought it would work well for a piece showing a less portrayed aspect of merpeople’s lives: hunting.
I imagined that this albino Senegal bichir merperson would adapt to their needs by changing the way they hunt: instead of going after prey in the open where they may be seen more easily, they change to a bait and wait type system and use the seaweed to lend them some camouflage. I like the intensity of the look on this merperson’s face as they watch and wait. Makes me think of a lion observing its prey from the grass. If I were a small fish, I’d be keeping an eye over my fin!
The combination of watercolor with pencil works much better in this piece than the ink and watercolor; however, I do think this piece is a bit bland, and the colors need some work and some shadows. I tend to focus too much on making something look “real” instead of leaning into the stylized art that I prefer, so I’d like to work on that more. I also think all three pieces could benefit from a bit more atmosphere.
I do love the way the seaweed came out, though, with all its waviness. I liked playing with the idea of a merperson using bait and a trap to ambush its prey. The small fish turned out better than I expected, too lol
Ahh, going over these pieces for Mermay 2023 has made me miss painting even more. It’s such a satisfying feeling, pulling the paint across the paper with your brush. I look forward to when I can get back to doing some of that mixed with digital art in the future. I’m still getting the images for the blog, my portfolio, and Patreon set up and have a few other works in progress that need my attention first, but after that!
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Thanks for reading! Which merperson do you like best? Let me know in the comments!