Sometimes I am commissioned to illustrate something that I know absolutely nothing about. That said, however, you have to learn very fast when it comes to specialist subjects because the client is quick to point out all your howling errors.

I was asked to illustrate three groups of fish in in three separate illustrations for ‘Pets at Home’ magazine.

A selection of:

  1. Tropical fish
  2. Temperate fish
  3. Cold water fish

It all appeared pretty simple in essence so I began to draw a few of the suggested fish out and send them along for approval. The feedback follows as.

“It’s a big no no to keep single tailed goldfish with fancy twin tailed goldfish, and so the Shubunkin and Sarasa Comet are fine, but we should NOT have the Black Moor with them.”

Quickly followed by

“Angelfish will eat Neon Tetras, but are fine with Cardinal Tetras, which are very similar, so you could swop these quite easily. Cardinals are red all along the bottom whereas Neon have a white/ silver belly.”

Why the angel fish finds the Neon Tetras a tidy meal, and the Cardinal Tetras unpalatable I cannot imagine, and I never did find out why the Shunbunkin and the Black Moore should never be seen together. I assumed aesthetics. Back to the drawing board.

So once the Black Moore was booted out, and the Neon’s were replaced with the Cardinals I received client approval on the drawing. With all this keen eyed expertise about, I knew that when it came to the painting stage it all had to be perfect. If those Temperate Danios were not the right type of blue I was in the Dog (fish) house.


Painting fish

I have to say prior to these illustrations, I have painted fish just once before in my life so I was not completely at ease. That said, the pedantic planning, and drawing had got me this far so I just needed to think out the painting stage in the same way.

A painting of Coldwater fishA painting of Coldwater fish

I felt I knew the colours ok, however, to my mind, the big trick to painting most fish is to ensure that they look reflective and shiny. If they look shiny they will look alive.

Getting things shiny is not all about bright colours. It is more about tone and contrast. One dark tone right next to one light tone gives the illusion of a shiny surface.

The angel fish was the biggest challenge here, as they look almost metallic, so I decided to paint that one first. After a bit of messing about and even the use of the odd flick of China White (that’s paint not a fish) it all started to come together.

Once that was done, I moved onto the other reflective fish, and finally the black and orange Clown loach which has a matt surface so no worries there.

A painting of Temperate fishA painting of Temperate fish

Delivery to the client

Once they were all painted and the backgrounds added I delivered the illustrations to the client with fingers crossed. I was most pleased to get a sign off right away and the client was really happy.
I still know very little about fish though, thankfully, I manage to learn just enough to get the job done right.

Client feedback

“The illustrations are signed off and everyone absolutely loves them so thank you so much for all your hard work on them. Really beautiful!”


Post suffix