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How To Draw A Realistic Koi Fish In 5 Steps

Learning how to draw a koi fish is a great way to explore your artistic imagination and capture the vibrant colors of this beloved aquatic species. With simple and easy steps, you can learn how to bring these Japanese symbol-fish to life with lifelike skin tones and vivid colors, unlocking the art of koi fish drawing!



Step 1. Choose the Right Reference Picture


Finding a clear and accurate reference picture is incredibly important when it comes to drawing a realistic koi fish. Take time to find the perfect design with which to work from, either by visiting an aquarium or online photo library. Find something with vibrant colors and bright skin tones, as they will help you achieve the most lifelike look when it comes to the finished product. Location is also important. When choosing a reference picture, pay close attention to the background and make sure it accurately reflects the environment in which your fish live. If you’re looking for an outdoor koi pond look, choose a picture with plenty of foliage and textures of its own. Alternatively, if you are planning on depicting an indoor tank set up, look for images that have smooth and reflective surfaces such as glass or ceramic tilebacksplashes. This will help you replicate the look in your drawing more accurately. With all this in mind, the right reference picture can be the difference between a realistic looking image and one that falls flat on execution. When looking for a reference image, it’s important to pay attention to the type of koi fish you are wanting to draw. In today's world, there are numerous koi fish varieties, each exhibiting distinct physical characteristics that require careful consideration. Pay close attention to the shape, size, and color patterns of your particular koi fish to ensure a more accurate portrayal in your artwork. Make sure the reference picture covers both close-ups and wider shots so you can gain accurate insight into how it looks from multiple viewpoints. Additionally, choose a reference image that exposes the koi fish’s movements and behaviors. The best reference photographs are those shot in vivid color and right in natural lighting so you can see how the hues of its armor-like scales change with each move. This will help you capture the realistic grace of your subject in all its glory and tell a captivating story with your final artwork.


Step 2. Draw the Outline of the Koi Fish

9 koi fish drawing draft on a paper

The first step when drawing a koi fish is to sketch out its outline. Begin by picking up your pencil and lightly outlining the shape. Take your time here and look closely at your reference picture to determine where the fins, eyes, scales, and other details go. Make sure to draw your lines lightly as you will be able to erase them later on. Before you start the outlining process, it is important to learn about the anatomy of a koi fish so that you capture every detail accurately. An effective method for achieving this is to analyze photographs of actual koi fish, observing the flow of their scales from the head to the tail. This will provide insight into the appropriate line structure for your drawing. Next, lightly sketch a construction line from the head to the tail so it can serve as a guideline for your koi fish’s body shape. Slowly draw each scale one at a time, starting from the head and finishing up near its tail fin. Make sure that all lines are connected neatly without any breaks or uneven edges. Finally, draw two parallel curved lines above and below your koi fish to represent its flowing fins - voilà! Your koi fish drawing is complete!

Start by sketching the head, body, and tail of the koi fish, using curved lines. Finish the outline by drawing long arcs for the fins. Make sure to draw them facing upward so that you can really capture the shape of a swimming koi. Once you’ve finished outlining your koi fish, erase any excess pencil lines around it between the scales and fins. At this stage, you should have an outline that accurately reflects the reference picture of your subject with all its details in place. After finishing the outline, add the details that give your koi fish texture. Start by creating small scale lines radiating in one direction from the central part of each scale, and then add a few strokes extra to represent further distal parts. When this is complete, go over all of the outlines and darken them so that they stand out from the page as crisp lines instead of faint pencil strokes. There you have it – an outline of your koi fish complete with scaling details!

9 koi fish painting with acrylic paints on first resin layer

Step 3. Begin Adding Color to Your Drawing


After completing the outline of your koi fish, the next step is to infuse it with vibrant colors. Begin by applying a foundational layer of color, setting the stage for the remainder of your painting.Depending on your reference picture – think about the overall background, water and other elements that may impact the colors you choose for your koi fish. Use light layers to build up to the desired effect then move on to the next step in perfecting your koi fish drawing! The next step is to add more detail to the fish – this includes adding scales or speckles, variations in tone and shadow for a 3D effect, and making sure independent parts of the koi look accurate. If you'd like to maintain an artistic look to the painting, try watercolor pencils, watercolor markers and resist techniques applied with a brush. These tools will let you play around with shading while keeping an illustrative feel. Then finish your drawing by adding effects of glossiness or shimmering! When painting koi fish, it isn’t necessary to limit your colors; rather, use many shades to accurately portray their stunning beauty and variation. Look up photos or paintings of real koi fish as references of the colors they should have; in particular, observe the subtle variations in color and brightness that come with age and gender. For older fish, lighter colors can be used on the white areas of the body such as the chin and fins. As for younger ones, brighter colors such as those along a rainbow spectrum are your best bet for achieving realism. Select a cool color such as a light blue to fill portions of the koi’s body, such as its neck and the top part of its side. Then begin adding in other colors around it, anywhere from pale oranges to vibrant yellows, depending on the age and size of your fish. When painting the scales, use thin brush strokes followed by thicker ones to give it a mottled look as it appears on an actual koi fish. Lastly, contrast all these colors with stark black coloring for its head and tail fin; this move would vividly signify both age and gender along with providing sharp contrast.

Adding more details and colors on the 9 koi fish resin painting

Step 4. Define Colors and Apply Details


This step focuses largely on the color of your koi fish drawing. Pay close attention to the scales, fins, eyes and other details as these will all contribute to the final product. Determine which colors you want to use and then start layering them in to create a realistic-looking effect. Once you’ve filled in the body with your chosen colors, move on to adding highlights and shadows for a bit more depth and detail. With patience and practice, you’ll have a beautiful koi fish drawing in no time! When working on the other details, use lighter colors and draw short strokes in the direction of the scales to create a realistic-looking effect. When drawing the background, you may want to leave certain areas of your paper white as this will make your koi fish drawing really stand out. To properly emphasize its features, use darker tones for shadows and lighter tones for highlights. Finally, use ink or a waterproof pen to ensure that all your work stays intact even when it’s exposed to water. Taking your time and practicing patience will be an important step when drawing koi fish. Start with a ‘Sketch’ of the fish, then lightly block in dark basic shapes for its body and fins, as well as a few lines to represent the direction of scales. Once you are happy with your sketch it’s time to add detail. Using medium tone colors, carefully apply shading around its eyes, mouth, and make sure to fill in all the spaces between scaling lines. You may also want to create an interesting pattern of scales or abstract designs on the fish’s body. Adding highlights and defining details with colors will give dimension to your koi. For instance, use a light pink for the cheeks, a medium greenish-brown for the belly, a dark blue down its spine and red around the eyes. To make your drawing look vibrant and realistic, you can use warm yellows and oranges into the mix. Allow yourself time to practice adding small touches of color, water patterns around its fins or the glittery effect that reflects from the scales. A good tip is to alternate overlaying colors-light over dark—to help bring out different tones in the finished piece.

Adding more colors, painting scales and pattern on 9 colorful koi fish on resin layers

Step 5. Add Highlights for a Shiny Effect


Bring your koi fish drawing to life by adding highlights. Use lighter colors and long, smooth strokes to create a realistic looking shiny effect. To find the brightest areas, look for parts of your koi that reflect light such as its belly or its fins. Highlight these parts of the body lightly in order to make it appear more lifelike. Remember, you can always erase and adjust until you get it just right! To really bring your koi to life in your drawing, use the highlights to make it look even more natural and realistic. Start off by finding a color that is slightly lighter than the base layer of your koi’s body and carefully lightly brush along areas that would naturally catch the most light, such as its belly and fins. Use long, smooth strokes with a very light touch as you go making sure to keep a consistent shade throughout the entire fish. When you’re done, stand back and take a look at your piece to see if there any areas you want to adjust or enhance. Finally, when you’re happy with how it looks feel free to add some shadows underneath for even more depth! Highlights are key when it comes to making a realistic koi drawing, so take your time and avoid going too dark with the layers. Highlights should be subtle with only small changes in color intensity as you go along. Don’t forget to also consider how shadows can add extra life to your painting. Darker tones underneath the body and fins of your koi will pull focus to make the highlights pop that much more! Drawing fish can be tricky so don’t be discouraged if you need a few attempts before you get your desired outcome. With patience and practice, adding those finishing touches will give you a beautiful piece of art that any fish lover would treasure. When you’re finished adding the highlights, it’s time to pay attention to the detail. To make your koi look as realistic as possible, use multiple shades of gray for depth and a hint of color for contrast. Make sure you vary shadows, textures and light around certain areas to add more realism. You can also use metallic pens and pencils to draw halos around the eyes or gills. Last but not least, take a step back and soften some of the edges with an eraser or brush tool to give your koi drawing a natural shine that will bring out its true beauty!


In conclusion, this guide provides an excellent starting point for anyone interested in drawing a koi fish, emphasizing the importance of finding a good reference picture and taking the time to focus on details and colors. With patience and practice, anyone can create a beautiful and realistic koi fish drawing that captures the essence of this beloved aquatic species.

The 9 colorful koi fish resin painting in a wooden plate completed and being displayed

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