Brazilian Mermaid


I would appreciate any advice you can give on this painting. I think the water will be very tricky to capture. I want the view to be partly underwater and I’m struggling with that a bit.

Any advice on how to make this better would be appreciated.

This painting is for my sister who wanted a portrait of herself as a mermaid. Im also planning on using this as a portfolio peice.

Ive attached some of my references. I wanted to use the parrot fish as a reference for the colors of her tail and also the photo of my sister.

Thanks in advance.


I added some water texture to the image to try and accomplish the look of water, which has been kind of challenging. Im still working on it. Eventually I will also add some water reflection on her too.

This painting has been fun to experiment with. Any advice is welcome. Until then I’ll keep plugging away.


Do you have references for the ocean’s surface and for underwater? They are crucial for getting this painting to look credible.

Compositionally, she’s too close to the right edge of the image. Put her face somewhere closer to the intersecting point of rule-of-thirds for a better sense of balance.

Also think about whether this is lit by direct sunlight or she’s in the shade (of a cloud maybe). You need to know exactly what your lighting scheme is so you can create the look you want.


Composition is something I struggle with and hope to get a better understanding of. She seems to be more in line with the golden ratio then the rule of thirds. I’ve attached the example. To me it still seems she is loosely following the rule of thirds as well. Her body is in line with the grid.

I look forward to your input as I’d like to better understand composition.

Thanks again for your valuable insight!

Here is the main references I’ve been referring to for the underwater. I’m still trying to refine it.


You’re not using the composition guides quite right. Do you actually want the main focal point to be on her breast and rib cage? Our general aesthetic sensibility (excluding the male gaze) will focus on the face as the main focal point, and right now it’s too far above and to the right, being shoved into the corner.

There are many different composition techniques, and those guides are just the most basic ones. In my workshop I spend an entire week just on composition. You can take a look at some of my students’ composition assignments at the bottom this course overview page:


I see what your saying. Falling short of zooming out and moving her. I tried to balance the image out more and add another element that brings the focus to her face. I think the flow of things in the image all seem to point to her face. The shell is pointing at her face, the pearls are leading up to her face and her arm/shoulder is also leading into her face. I’m still learning to understand composition- but I think the flow of things are aiming at her face.

Let me know if this is balancing out better. Thanks again for your help.


You could just extend the canvas, or shrink her (I hope you have the good habit of keeping your foreground layers separate from your background layers).

It doesn’t matter how you have everything pointing to her face if the main placement of your focal point is off. Every artist with proficient understanding of composition will look at this and tell you she’s shoved too much to the top/right corner. There’s no breathing room for negative space around her. It’s almost never a good thing to have your main focal point pushed so far towards the edge of your composition, and this is particularly true for standard portrait layouts.


Thanks for helping me with this lunatique. Their are just so many rules out there and variables in good composition that its been complicated for me to grasp. But I see what you mean that she needs head room and now that I did it- I see she feels less contained. Water and sky is still choppy But I’m working on it. Let me know if this feels right to you.

Thanks again for your help.


I changed it quite a bit. Here it is finished.

Thanks for the guidance.


Where do you imagine the sun is actually positioned in relation to the subject in this scene? The lighting looks like there are contradictions and not consistent. The water also looks like there’s a Tesla coil giving off electricity instead of looking like water from the shapes of the water ripples. Also, we should be seeing the details of the surface of the water at that angle, not the refraction under the water. Trying to “Frankenstein” something like this from just images you collected online will result in lots of mistakes because you don’t actually understand how the physics of lighting and shadow and refraction work, and those difference images you collected are all taken under different (and often contradicting) circumstances. The best course of action is to just take your own photo reference for the exact scene you want to depict, so everything is captured correctly and realistically in the reference photos.

Compositionally, the very right side could be cropped a little (before she was too close to the border, now there’s a little too much empty space).


Looking good sweetravin.

The feedback here is spot on. However, one thing I can see that could be improved is the contrast on the skin and the shape of the shadows (and light) on the body.

Think about the shadows on the body as planes (geometric shapes). In this piece, you tend to do a bunch of bending in soft arbitrary tones.*Think about the shape, edge, and value of the light as it hits the body.

Also,don’t be afraid to go a little darker with the shadows.

Google “Shadow Mapping in figure drawing” for more details - there are people who can explain it far better than me.