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How to Create Fish Paintings with Gouache

Dive into the world of fish painting and learn how to create beautiful marine works of art with gouache. With a few simple steps, you'll be creating intricate fish compositions with lifelike shadows and highlights.



Preparing the Canvas and Priming


Before settling down to paint, it’s important to make sure your canvas is properly prepared. Start by priming the surface with two coats of white gouache. Then, wipe the excess off with a paper towel and let the canvas dry for about 30 minutes. Once dry, flip the canvas over and stretch it into place with artist clips or masking tape. After the canvas is firmly secured in place, you’re ready to start painting!


Oftentimes, when painting a fish in particular, it’s helpful to first apply a very light layer of yellow ocher or raw sienna to the background. This helps provide a subtle contrast between the usually darker hues of the fish and the frame. When working with acrylic paints, you can also draw your sketch directly onto the canvas with chalk or white charcoal for an muted but vivid drawing. Just remember, priming your canvas and stretching it properly are key steps that take time and effort but make a huge difference!


Applying your primer is a critical step in painting a beautiful fish. Primer creates an even surface and prevents the paint from bleeding through the canvas. For this project, you will want to use either gesso or white acrylic primer, depending on whether your canvas is cotton or linen. When working with oil paints, it’s important to condition the canvas by lightly brushing it with a clean brush before you begin. This will help create more evenly layered coats of paint and richer colors that have better blendability after they dry. After priming, be sure to stretch the canvas over wooden frames so that it can be displayed safely against walls without warping.


Now that your canvas is prepped and primed, you are ready to begin painting your masterpiece! Take your inspiration from photos of fish or nature. Select a color palette and start sketching lightly with your pencil on the canvas. When you’re sure of the composition, position your paint brushes and create beautiful layers of shadow, light, and texture until you achieve the desired effect. Use fine brushstrokes or bolder ones to bring your painting to life. Let it dry over night before displaying it proudly on a wall to admire its finished beauty!


Choosing a Color Palette


The right color palette can make a big difference in the impact of your fish painting. Before you dive in, take some time to consider which shades will truly bring out the beauty of your subject. If you’re painting a goldfish, for instance, you may want to opt for warm tones such as oranges, yellows, and reds. Blue saltwater fish may require more muted blues and greens, while bright freshwater varieties look best when painted with vivid tones. Once you’ve settled on a palette that suits your subject, it’s time to start experimenting with the gouache!


Layering colors can be an effective way to create texture and realism in your fish painting. Start with a thin base layer of washes, then add finer details with more vivid hues and thicker pigment. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may want to try layering different media such as soft pastels or even some bright colored pencils onto the same canvas. This will give your painting even more depth and make it truly unique!


Prior to commencing the layering process, it is essential to dedicate some time towards planning your color scheme. Generally speaking, fish tend to possess a single primary color, such as an off-white, brown-yellow, or light green tint. Additional highlights, midtones, and shadows are then incorporated using an extensive range of colors, which can span from vivid oranges and blues to more subdued greens and greys. It is advisable to consider the type of atmosphere that you wish to convey through your artwork, such as a lively and energetic vibe or a more mystical and surreal ambiance. Once you have established your fundamental color, the remainder of the process should naturally follow suit.


Prior to commencing the actual painting process, pause for a moment to ponder over the intricate details of your chosen fish. What kinds of scales does it have? Are they large or small? Does the color transition seamlessly or abruptly? These things will not only help inform your color palette but also add texture and dimension to your painting. When building out your palette, consider using complementary, analogous and triadic pairs like warm oranges with blues and greens or vibrant reds and yellows with purples to give depth to the overall piece. As you apply more layers of paint, use muted tones in areas that don’t need as much attention (like the fins) while making the bolder colors in other areas pop.


First, choose your base colors. For the brightest hues, pick up a tube of oil paint or acrylic paint. A limited palette of 7-10 shades will be enough to bring your painting to life. When choosing colors, make sure to look at swatches of each of the hues and shades in person since the color in pictures aren’t always true to life. Don’t forget about white and black for creating value when making shadows and highlights! Finally, add extra layers of detail with thin pencils and pens which can help create intricate details like scales and sparkles on the fish’s body.


To enhance the intricate details of the black goldfish in this artwork, the artist mixed acrylic paint with water and applied it to the dry resin layers. The goldfish's head was given extra attention, with careful brushstrokes bringing out its features. Additionally, the artist added delicate lines to the sides of the fish body, creating a stunning portrayal of scales that catches the eye.

Blocking in the Shapes


When painting a fish, the first step is to get the shape of your subject down on the page. To do this, lightly sketch out the main outlines with a pencil or brush. Work slowly, paying close attention to details like fins and gills as you go. If you’re having trouble with proportions, use a ruler or other straight edge as a guide. Once you're happy with your drawing, go over it one more time with your chosen color of gouache. This will help lock in those shapes so that they don't shift as you work.


One of the most important parts of painting a fish is capturing the shape and pushing how it moves through the water. When blocking in your main shapes, it’s best to start with larger gestures and work down to finer details. Your initial strokes should include any swirls or patterns that will be in the background, like reflections from light on the scales or surface of the water. By working up this base layer, you will create an angle and movement for your next layers to build upon.


When sketching out the various parts of your fish, try using thin and dynamic lines that follow the curves of it’s body. Pay close attention to the joints and small ridges. To ensure accuracy, you can draw small arrows at each joint to note the direction in which its moving. Focusing on these individual elements will add depth and realism to your painting that viewers will be able to appreciate.


This step is the basis for blocking in each shape of your fish in its entirety. With your sketch as the guide, you can fill in the body boundaries and backgrounds before adding in details. For a semi-realistic approach consider using light, bright colours like blues, purples, and pinkish hues to produce a vibrant and inviting illusion of aquatic life. Make sure to keep your shapes bold but concise within their surface. This will help bring further detail out later on during finishing touches.


As you go, consider the direction you want your light source to come from and how it can create highlights and shadows on our fish. Light sources should always be angled in a manner which subtly outlines each shape of our subject for dimensional perspective. You can even try playing around with warm and cool temperature distinctions within colour and see where that takes you! Be spontaneous but keep each shape in mind as though it were an intricate jigsaw puzzle – one wrong piece could throw the entire picture balance off.


Once the black goldfish body and its characteristic bubbled eyes were meticulously painted and the brushstrokes smoothed out, the artist poured resin over the painting and allowed it to dry completely. The use of resin not only adds depth and dimension to the artwork, but also provides a protective layer, ensuring that the painting will last for years to come.

Detailing the Fish


After you’ve got the shape of your fish complete, it’s time to start adding the details. This is where you get to be creative and have fun with color! To create the look of scales and make your fish look realistic, mix a trio of colors together on your pallet - one lighter tone, one mid-tone shade, and one darker tone. Then, use these three tones to build up your shapes as you work outward from the darkest areas of your painting. Adding highlights and shadows will really help to bring out the texture of a fish's skin.


To create the look of swirling water, or to suggest movement in a still image, use a few shade variations around the edge of your fish. Begin with a medium value and then slowly fade it out with lighter or darker tones until you reach the desired effects. Blend those various shades gently into one another to create an ombre effect which will give the illusion of movement or texture in your painting. Finally, adding highlights along the edges of your image will help to make each area more defined and bring out any finer details that you’ve included on your fish painting.


For an even more realistic look, consider adding tiny details such as scales. Painting scales is a tricky task and will take some practice, but small dots and brushstrokes in various shades of the same color can help give your fish a more polished finish. Once you have finished adding scale details, use a few finishing touches such as glints of light along the edges or fins to give your fish painting a bit of sparkle and shine.


To begin, draw a fish and lightly sketch in some careful details. You can vary the color of your fish to create a more interesting and dynamic look. Brush on thin layers of different colors onto your canvas using smooth blending and sweeping motions to create the texture of a real-life fish. To make the painting come alive, consider adding highlights and shadows to make it look dimensional. Don’t forget to give your fish a glossy finish as well by using complementary colored hues for reflections or add an extra layer of shine over the entire painting with glossy varnish or paint.


To further accentuate the intricate details of the black goldfish, the artist applied white acrylic paint to highlight the scales on its back and the bubbles on its eyes. This technique adds depth and contrast to the painting, bringing the goldfish to life.

Finishing Touches for Definition


To give more definition and realism to your underwater scene, use the three tones you’ve created to add depth and texture to other elements. For example, create highlights on fins or ripples in the water to make your painting look even more vibrant. For more intricate details such as plants or rocks at the bottom of your painting, consider using a small brush to achieve finer definition. There are countless creative opportunities when it comes to painting aquatic scenes, so allow yourself to fully explore your imagination and creativity.


If you want to enhance the vitality of your fish painting, consider incorporating a light pinkish hue to create textural highlights along the length of each fish's body. This technique will provide an added layer of depth and realism to your artwork. This can be done with thin brush strokes or broader washes depending on how much detail you want to create. To make the fish appear to be even more alive, take a darker shade and blend in subtle shadows from the underside. Finally, darken some areas of the fins and tail for more definition and realism.


To add more definition to your painting, look for areas that could benefit from a bit more texture and detail. The eyes, mouths, and gill plates are all great spots to focus on; try using a fine brush to give extra definition around these details. You can also use various shades to bring out the scales or create the illusion of movement; this can be done by mixing complimentary colors together or blurring one color into another with a large brush stroke. These techniques will help make your fish painting look more realistic and lifelike.


It’s also important to add reflections and ripples to your painting. You can do this by mixing together a light color with blue or green, and then brushing them onto the painting in a wavy pattern that follows the flow of water. This will give the impression of movement; depending on your technique, you can either make the same size wave patterns throughout or make them bigger and more defined closer to the surface. Finishing touches such as these bring out the vividness of your painting and make it truly unique.


Adding details such as scales or fins is another excellent way to give definition to the painting, and it’s easy to achieve with a few thin brushstrokes. You can also add light accent lines on the body if you wish. If a head or tail has orange and yellow stripes, be sure to add them in around the edges of your fish. Remember that these lines should usually be softer and more subdued than brighter and bolder accents like eyes and teeth. With these techniques, your painting should capture the essence of swimming underwater and bring character to the illustration.


An acrylic painting of a black goldfish swimming in a wooden bowl on layers of resin, set against a dark green cloth with a dry lotus in the background. The painting is a serene and peaceful depiction of the aquatic creature in its environment.

I hope you found these tips helpful for creating your own stunning fish paintings! Practice makes perfect! If you have any questions or ideas on fish painting, please feel free to share them with us and leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

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