Trout are beautiful and hearty fish. I grew up sharing Sierra lakes with these amazing creatures. In this step-by-step demonstration, we walk through the process of illustrating one of these fish. With watercolor, it works best to start with the lightest values and build up into the darkest layer by layer. Here I use the glazing technique in which subsequent layers of paint are applied on top of existing layers once the paper is dry. In the course of this demonstration I make a few mistakes. Watch how I correct them as the painting develops.
Click on the first image to start a step-by-step annotated slide-show of how to draw a trout.
Begin with the posture or central axis of the fish. Look at the depth vs. length proportions and add a vertical line to approximate the depth of the body. Add an open ended box (no tail end) to rough in the body proportions. Check these body proportions in this simple shape before continuing. Continuing with the proportions, add a vertical line to show the head length. Add a second vertical line to box in the body mass. Add a third vertical line to show the length of the tail. Check your proportions again before continuing. Now rough in the body shape (there are not very many rectangular fish swimming around). Visualize the negative shapes of the forehead and chin angles and above and below the tail. Block in these negative shapes (you do not have to color the shapes). Add dots where the fins start and a line along the back edge of the fin to show the proportions and length of each fin. To help you place these dots and lines accurately, look at the length of the body segments between each fin. How far from the front or back does each fin begin and end? Also visualize how the fins overlap on the top and bottom edges. Where is the dorsal fin relative to the ventral fin? Using the dots and lines, draw in the rough shapes of the fins. Using negative shapes is again a useful trick here. Add lines along the front and back of the eye and note where the eye is located relative to the posture line (the first line). I make all my primary lines with an erasable col-erase non photo blue pencil. These lines are so light that I can draw over them with a graphite pencil and viewers will not be distracted by the blue lines. In this demonstration I have exaggerated the strength of these first lines for readability. The real lines don’t even show clearly on my scanned images. Start painting the fish with the shadow, here I use Daniel Smith Shadow Violet. Lay in the primary body colors with light washes of paint. While the green-brown back is still wet, add stronger color creating a soft edge to the dark zone along the back. I was so excited to add the pink on the side that I made it to wide and bright behind the fish’s head. You will see that I correct this problem later but if you are following along with the demonstration, avoid this mistake from the start. Add color to the fins, using more diluted paint on the ventral surface. I also made the mistake of putting dark values on the head to early. I am now going to need to work around these darks to insert lighter values on the gill plate. It would have been easier if I applied the lighter paint first. Working around the dark spots, add lighter washes on the face. Continue to develop the face with light washes. To make sure that the whole painting has a good value range, I add a dark “anchor” this is a bit of the darkest value. This spot will force me to match my value range to this dark. Begin to develop the fins with fine rays and tonal patterns. The cheek is still not dark enough so pop the color with bright magenta (Daniel Smith Quinacridone Pink). Once the dark point (eye) is on the paper, the relative values will be more apparent. The back needs to get darker so add another green-brown wash to build the color. Use gouache to add light fin rays in the dorsal fin. Now to fix another mistake. The pink band was too broad and bright behind the head. I fixed this mistake by wetting the paper, letting it soak a moment, then blotting some of the excess paint away with a paper towel. This works better on heavier watercolor paper and some pigments lift out more easily than others. Add light blue “parr marks” with diluted paint. Do not apply this paint in a watery puddle rather a thinned wash. Puddles form little lines around their edges as they dry. Now begin adding the spots on dry paper. Do them a little group at a time, carefully placing each spot and continuously checking back to your fish to make sure the size, shape, and spacing of the dots are accurate. Continue adding spots over the whole body but do not rush it. You are almost done and there is no need to hurry at this point. These dark spots will attract a lot of the viewer’s attention so place them with care. Add spots to the fins. Note that the spots form lines instead of being randomly placed. Make fine patterns of X’s across the body with a white jel pen. If the pen lines are too bold, blot them by tapping them with your finger while they are still wet. You can also add a few little highlights on the face and fins. Crisp up the line around the edge and add white spots at the tips of the tail with gouache or a white paint marker. If you are drawing a fish as it appears underwater, stop here. For a wet fish OUT of the water, see the next step. A slippery, wet fish that is out of the water will reflect the sunlight in crisp highlights. Add a few along the back, lateral line, and sides. Here I used a fine tip Presto Jumbo Correction Pen. It is soooooo hard to know when to stop. I was having so much fun adding white highlights that I went overboard on it. Restraint is still something I am working on. I think this fish was better in the previous step.