Thoughts & Process: Drawing Mermay Sibling Pieces

As we finish up the month of May and we start seeing less and less mermaids on our social media feeds, I wanted to write one more analysis on my most recent Mermay illustrations, and then get ready to move on ahead with the rest of the year. However, today’s write up has a bit of a spin to it: I made sibling pieces for Mermay this time! If you don’t know what a sibling piece of art is, it’s another piece of artwork that has some relationship or connection with other existing artwork by that same artist. If you also don’t know what Mermay is, it’s when artists create pieces of work with or about mermaids during the month of May, similar to how Inktober works. The core idea between these two pieces is that these characters are sitting on a window on two different sides of the same wall, but what else is there to these drawings? So let us finish Mermay with an in depth analysis as to…why do these pieces look like this?

An illustration of a red and green mermaid sitting on a window sill, with the flower adorned with red flowers.

First piece: Red and Mint

For some reason it seems that when it comes to Mermay, I get ideas stuck in my head I have to realize. Last year, it was the mermaid being on a sushi plate. This year, it was mermaids in faux fur coats. I had been reading my current issue of InStyle at the time of conceptualizing this drawing, and came across this page of a woman in a beautiful coat. I thought to myself, why don’t I ever see mermaids in fur coats? The obvious answer is that mermaids live underwater, and that fur coats get heavy when drenched. But as I’ve mentioned in the past, art can be a nice wish fulfillment that ignores logic, so into the coats my mermaids went!

When it came to the background, I had found another shot in InStyle magazine (seeing a pattern yet?) with actress Keke Palmer and I absolutely loved the background in this shot below. Just the window structure and the obvious aging of the set I thought looked really nice. I tried to translate some of the aging of it by drawing the bricks less straight and with cracks. I also got the inspiration for the swimsuit design from Keke’s same photoshoot. First, I drew the female character in my sketch book just sitting down by herself. When it comes to the actual set up of the background, I ended up making my own setting via CorelDraw. I made vector shapes, such as multiple rectangles and lines, in order to make a symmetrical window and a good brick layout. Once I finalized that, I placed the file into my illustration file, scanned the drawing and moved the sketch of my character to properly sit on the window sill, and edited from there. While I originally had window lines in the glass of my original set up, I ultimately chose not to draw them, as I had felt it simply didn’t look very good.

A collection of three photographs from InStyle's May 2021 magazine. From left to right: Nicole Kidman in a fur coat blowing her fingertips. Middle: Keke Palmer in a light grey swimsuit standing in front of an aging building. Right: Keke Palmer standing in front of a chain link fence in a blue swimsuit.
From InStyle’s May 2021 magazine. From left to right: Nicole Kidman & her fur coat reference, Keke Palmer and the background reference, Keke Palmer and the swimsuit inspiration.

Now for the flowers taped to the wall. I struggled at first because I knew I didn’t want the wall to just be empty, but I originally had no idea what to put there. After doing lots of DuckDuckGo image searching, I found this photo below and knew I wanted to draw this. I didn’t want to put too many lines of flowers on the wall because I didn’t want the composition to be too busy, and another interesting challenge I applied to myself, was that the limited colors I wanted to implement meant that I had to draw different types of flowers to make the wall look more unique.

Now, why is this character so upset at the audience? Well that idea wasn’t concrete at first and only became clearer when I finished drawing the lineart for the man’s illustration, but I’ve been aware for a while that a lot of my character’s expressions are either just happy or neutral, so I wanted to give my spin on a more negative emotion. I do greatly enjoy her “what do you want” face that came out of this experimentation.

I knew from the beginning of this illustration that I wanted to have a red and mint green color palette with white. It’s honestly one of my favorite color palettes and I find it so aesthetically beautiful. I did have to play a bit with where I wanted those colors on the character, but I knew from the beginning I wanted her hair to be red, so that made the process a little easier. I also wanted to challenge myself slightly with this illustration, by limiting the colors to just one variant of red, green, and white. However, I found it looked better to just allow for lights and shades when necessary, but I did try to keep the shadow and light colors universal throughout the piece.

An illustration of a man mermaid sitting and relaxing on a window sill, with magenta plants aligned with the wall by him.

Second piece: Cyan Magenta

This illustration was funny in the sense that I had to get certain parts of this piece done before I could completely finish the first one. I wanted the male character’s silhouette to appear behind the woman in the window, giving the idea that the man mermaid was on the other side of the wall alongside her. So before I could finish up the first illustration, I had to draw the man, place him in the composition, edit any anatomy errors, then draw the lineart. Finally after all that, I could create an accurate silhouette to place in the woman’s piece. To do this, I filled the shape with a solid color, went over the edges with a pencil tool so the edges didn’t look so harsh, placed the shape into the woman’s window glass on a clipping layer, then flipped the shadow and made sure it aligned with its placement. The sketch drawing of the man mermaid took me a couple tries to get right, in terms of how different his hair and pose came out. Originally he had a longer ponytail and a side part, and held his tail closer to his torso. Those elements got scrapped out in the second version of the sketch.

It’s probably obvious to the audience, but the background window and bricks lines are shared between illustrations, they are just simply flipped. Some of the bricks and window lines I did redraw to look a bit more unique, and the coloring and shading are definitely new, but I wanted it to be clear the man was on the other side of the wall.

A black, grey, and white render of windows and bricks mock-up design for a background.
The CorelDraw background mock-up I used to make realistic proportions for the illustrations.

One challenge of this illustration was that I wanted the man to look happy to be alongside the woman character on the other side of the window. But I had a thought… how do I convey this without making this man look creepy? The idea of someone being behind the woman character on another side of the glass, could be creepy if the connotation exists that the woman character doesn’t know he’s there. My solution was to try and make the male character look as relaxed as possible. My thought process was that if he looked relaxed, this would also convey the idea that he wasn’t afraid of being caught by the woman character, meaning she would have to know that he’s there. I think I did a good job at making him look relaxed, with details like his right arm just loosely leaning against his tail and his hand dangling down, and his hair settling as if he hadn’t moved in a while. This thought process is funny in hindsight to me, because this implies the woman character sees the audience intruding on their intimate moment, and she’s scowling as if she’s telling you to go away.

Originally, I wanted the connection between the two illustrations to be really clear. I wanted the male character to have an indigo blue, skin tone brown, and the same red as the other illustration, for his color palette. For most of the coloring and rendering process of the illustration, it was exactly that. However, when I showed some progress shots of the illustration to my friends, they called into question what these characters would be about. I had realized I wanted both the woman mermaid and the man mermaid to be official human OCs at some point, so I revisited the color scheme after I thought about what these characters represented. This is when the colors changed from an indigo blue to a cyan, and the red changed to magenta. The background alone does correlate with the other illustration anyways, so maybe the original colors were overkill. But what do these characters represent? That’s a secret for now!

Now for something I think I could have done better: I wanted the man’s illustration to look like he was underwater. When I was studying reference images on how to make something look like it was underwater, it seemed the general idea was to make plants more flowy, and other objects look not as affected by gravity. There’s the obvious bubble idea, but considering the environment the illustration was in, that idea didn’t seem to make much sense. However, looking at the finished illustration, I don’t think the idea of the male character being underwater is very clear at all. Next year I’d like to revisit these two and do this concept better.

That’s all I have to say about these two. I normally don’t do sibling pieces like these, but not only was it fun to explore their dynamic with these two illustrations alone, I was just enthralled seeing them come together. I hope to do more similar pieces in the future. Thanks for reading this far, I hope I was able to be both informative and entertain you. I wish you the best, until we meet again.

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