The Mysterious Mermaid: Crafting Story With Details
Reiniere Aimée Blokhuis Liu breaks down how steady work and feedback helped to create her mysterious mermaid in Digital Portrait Painting.
Hi everyone, I’m Reiniere Aimée Blokhuis Liu (or Renée, for short). I’m from Utrecht in the Netherlands, and I live in San Jose, California with my husband and cat. I’m an artist in my free time, drawing in phases throughout my life. I went through an acrylic paint phase that transitioned into oil paint, and then my in-between-jobs situation allowed me to take in-depth drawing and digital painting classes through CGMA.
I chose Digital Portrait Painting because out of all subjects, I mostly enjoy drawing or painting faces, and I wanted to become better at painting them — digitally, specifically. Also, I love using a lot of colour in my work, and this class is taught by Mélanie Delon whose art and colour use I really admire. All in all, it was a perfect fit!
I got my design inspiration from my love for mermaids. Who doesn’t love drawing them? Because they live underwater, their design allows for fluid, weightless lines and shapes, which are very pleasing to look at and soothing to draw! My goal in creating this portrait was to evoke a sense of mystery, and from the start, I also wanted to include a sense of danger. I like the idea of mermaids not just being cute and pretty, but awe-inspiring and maybe even a bit dangerous.
The three-quarter composition shows my character looking straight at us after she spotted us from the corner of her eye. In the first sketch, I made her look more sad and secluded, looking down and away from us, but through the lessons, I learned that eye contact has so much more impact on the viewer, so I changed her gaze. The added jellyfish give the composition more dynamism and contribute to the sense of mystery and danger.
Colour choices were easy. We see my character in her natural habitat, underwater, so I chose dark green-blues, purples and a bright turquoise as the accent colour. I thought it would make sense to make her skin purple: as there’s not as much sunlight underwater there’s less need for melatonin, so in my mind, her skin would be an almost translucent blue-ish. Combined with the fact that she is red-blooded, her overall skin tone would come out as purple.
When it comes to painting facial proportions, my main challenge is to not draw the head and eyes too large or the nose too small for the style that I’m aiming at. I like drawing a face in cartoon proportions, but even then I have a tendency to overdo it. I think this comes from back when I learned to draw through copying cartoons and anime characters as a teenager. It’s a certain style that can work great in cartoons and line art, but less so in a more realistic painting style. Knowing that weakness, I try to draw the head and eyes slightly smaller than I feel they should be, and then they usually turn out OK. But sometimes it’s hard to ignore those feelings!
Silhouette & Hair Style
For her hair, I definitely wanted to achieve a flowy and weightless look. First, I drew the shape of the hair and then I refined it according to Mélanie’s instructions, which basically meant first defining the shadow and highlight areas and eventually drawing a lot of tiny strands of hair. That was not exactly how I expected to draw hair, but I think it turned out beautifully. I still struggle with hair, especially coming from a cartoon style background where the hair is way less refined and often has clear and simple highlights. Coming from a cartoon style background where the hair is way less refined and often has clear and simple highlights, I still have a hard time defining beautiful shiny hair with appropriate highlights, but this week’s lesson helped me a step in the right direction.
The story around my mermaid character is that she’s a hunter, luring in her prey (fish) with the glowing marks on her face before catching and eating them. I wanted to make her slightly dangerous and mysterious instead of just cute. I surrounded her with glowing jellyfish because they add to the sense of flow, danger, and mystery. They might aid her in hunting! Her ears are actually gills to allow her to breathe underwater (she hears through tiny ear holes behind these gills, in case you were wondering, and her skin is covered in shiny scales from her chest down. These features further alienate her from us humans and add to the sense of mystery.
I decided to keep the overall atmosphere dark with a soft light coming from the top, and soft secondary lights from the jellyfish and her face marks. Because she’s underwater, the light is much more diffused and causes less contrast. Not very dramatic, but using her bright turquoise eyes combined with her glowing face marks as focus points brings back a center of attention and adds drama.
During the final week, my mermaid truly came alive. I love adding the final highlights and details. I’m very happy with how she turned out, and I haven’t worked on her since I finalised the painting. If I really had to, I would probably try to redo her hair and make it even softer and flowier, but I really like how she is now. She’s a character that definitely deserves more exploring! I think her scales gave me the most trouble. I had never drawn scales before and they were so repetitive. I think I could definitely do a better job next time, but I like how they turned out for now.
I improved the most in drawing realistic skin. I try to apply what I learned about skin in all my new paintings. The brush I made during this course is also one of my most used brushes now! I think I’ve grown a lot as a painter, but truth be told, I have a hard time remembering everything and applying all the new knowledge gathered over multiple courses to my new paintings consistently. Growth not only comes from lessons but also from plain practice, which I don’t do often enough. Filling out this interview definitely confronts me with this truth and motivates me to start practicing more again.
Mélanie is a fantastic instructor. I definitely recommend following her course. She’s kind and helpful, and your painting knowledge will improve so much from working with her. I just applied all the feedback she gave me even when I couldn’t see the problem like she did (for example, she repeatedly told me to use more light in the face, and I just couldn’t see why), and my portrait came out so much better! So if you’re interested in learning to draw better portraits, don’t hesitate to sign up for this course.
If you want to follow my art journey, make sure to check out @reiniere.aimee on Instagram! See you there and good luck!