Thoughts & Process: Drawing Mermay 2020

It’s May, which means for artists, it’s time to draw lot of mermaids! Mermay, for those who don’t know, is when a bunch of creators make pieces of media involving mermaids to celebrate the month of May, similar to how others create black and white pieces for Inktober in October. Last year, I did an illustration for Mermay that I’m still happy with, and thought would make a good piece to discuss. Thanks for joining me in my reflection on my Mermay 2020 drawing, and the thoughts and process behind it.

An illustration of a grey mermaid resting on a sushi plate.

First off, I definitely have a lot more to say about the “thoughts” part of this illustration, so let’s start with the actual process and specs of this piece.

Specs:

  • Made in Medibang
  • 5 pixel black pencil brush for lineart
  • RGB color profile: sRGB IEC61966-2.1
  • CMYK color profile: U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2
  • Perceptual rendering intent
  • Exported for web at 72 dpi, 1080 pixels wide x 846 pixels tall

This was one of the first few illustrations I did in Medibang, as before I had been using Photoshop. With everything going on in 2020, I decided that the Adobe creative suite was getting too expensive to keep paying month by month. Medibang seems to market themselves as an art program for manga or comic creators, but it’s plenty suitable for flat illustrations too, and while it is much more limited than Photoshop, it has all the necessary features to make average illustrations streamlined. Can’t complain too much about free software after all. Maybe I’ll use Photoshop in the future again if they stop the subscription pricing model, but that most likely won’t happen for the foreseeable future.

I will say briefly, if I had known about image compression the knowledge that I do today, I would have used some compression software to make the file size better on my social media platforms. I recommend Compress PNG mainly because it just downsizes your file when possible that your art exporting program might have missed, without ruining your artwork. Compress PNG also compresses other file types that are linked on their page, if you don’t want to compress a PNG specifically. But you may ask, why PNGS as opposed to JPEGs? While JPEGs lose quality with multiple saves, they can still be printed and sold. I prefer posting PNGs online because PNGs get rather wonky upon printing, since this file type is really only suitable for web. So this compression and exporting as a PNG makes art theft more difficult. Not IMPOSSIBLE, just harder to pull off successfully.

Thoughts

For the actual concept of this illustration, I honestly just got an idea stuck in my head of a mermaid on a sushi plate. It was one of those ideas that I thought was so unique that I didn’t want to give it up, even if it looked a little strange to others. However, because the concept was so unique, I had to get creative with finding a reference. I ended up having to splice an image of a woman lying down on a bed, and edit her into a sushi plate to see how the character would rest. I apologize for not having that goofy reference image anymore to show, you would have found it hilarious. But with just that edit, I was able to illustrate the rest. I had thought about a background other than just a single color gradient, but came to the conclusion the piece would look too busy since there was already a lot going on with the sushi plate. The character I drew for this piece was just a one off sadly. I still don’t have too many original characters with proper designs and backgrounds yet.

A zoom in of the lineart of the mermaid on the sushi plate drawing.

I’ve realized something in the past few months about my process that I didn’t know last year: if I don’t draw something, I don’t execute it properly in the final piece. This is in regards to the detail on the food in this illustration. I was also worried that elements such as the lighter orange lines on pieces of the sushi might look out of place if they didn’t have outlines. But the mermaid is pretty simplistically drawn, why is this? I simply felt that what her design was in this piece was good enough to fit together with the food and plate. She’s already a decent size on the page, and her fin’s size already draws the audience’s eyes to her form.

The lineart of this piece ended up being a bit of a pain, not in the sense of actually drawing it, but when it came time to actually apply the base colors on each object, the finer details on pieces like the leaves and sushi lines caused me to keep revisiting and filling in missing spots on each layer. The trick that made this process ultimately easier was using the magic wand tool on the empty space outside the lineart, and then inverting the selection to fill with a base color. After that, many, many clipping mask layers.

Now why the grey mermaid? I decided to draw this mermaid based off of the red eyed tetra fish. I like the idea of basing my fantasy creatures, such as mermaids, off of real species and natural phenomenon. The red eyed tetra caught my eye because its color palette is pretty simple, but its small bits of red saturation I thought would work well with my idea of a food plate. I also found that the choice of fish led me to an interesting observation on average Mermay artists. Others seem to like drawing the mermaid fins in a more flowy manner, such as how those same artists would draw hair, or possibly similar to fins of a beta fish. The red eyed tetra simply doesn’t have fins that allow for that extravagant flow, after all they’re pretty short, and the fins seem to also have a thickness to them that don’t exist in other fins like the beta fish. This also extends to the fin having a more uniform edge. Overall, the red eyed tetra choice ended up causing me to make a different kind of mermaid than normal, but one that was fun to fully realize.

A photograph of the red eyed tetra fish.

The next element I want to talk about with the color is why the palette as a whole. At the time, I wanted to really explore color palettes similar to what artist Satoshi Kon did in his films such as Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers. The types of palettes that I really admire from Satoshi are ones where he pushes the dark color values of his hues but still don’t read as black, while having higher contrast paler colors to illuminate expressions or atmospheres of various situations. Satoshi also seems to be a lover of browns and reds in his color themes, which appear to ground his characters in a more realistic setting. The colors of the food were selected from the original reference I used to draw, and I adjusted these hues to better align with a cohesive color palette that I considered to be in line with Satoshi’s style.

Poster shot of the movie Tokyo Godfathers.

One popular idea in design is that the color red makes the viewer hungry. So you’d think that with an illustration of food, you’d try to paint it more convincingly by using reds, whether in the base color itself or shading. Despite this, it’s funny how this illustration ultimately doesn’t have very much solid red at all. There’s some red in the sushi rolls, and red in the character’s eyes, but overall, the picture doesn’t really look too appetizing. I also tried to shade with a desaturated red for the most part, but it’s not really noticeable as a whole. The only idea I have really for this piece was basically to look at this particular plate twice. It’s kind of funny how the character doesn’t seem to mind what this image might imply.

That’s all I have to say about my 2020 Mermay illustration. It was definitely unconventional compared to what other artists do for Mermay, but I really enjoy illustrating some of the more random ideas that get stuck in my head. I also only managed to get it done just in time for May to end, yay my 2020 work ethic… Next time I’ll definitely be covering the sibling pieces for this year’s Mermay. If you’ve read this far, I would like to thank you for your time reading my writings. I wish you the best, until we meet again.

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