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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section

How to Draw Mermaids and Merfolk

By :-) Sarah B Seiter aka MisticUnicorn

Greetings everyone! I am Sarah B. Seiter, and I have been drawing seriously since about 1998 when I bought my first computer and joined Elfwood, which at the time was called Lothorian. This article is more for inspiration than for an actual how-to. I hope it convinces more of you out there to draw some merfolk, there seems to be a bit of a shortage in my opinion.


I always find it amusing when someone looks at one of my mermaids and asks 'Did you draw that from a photo?'. I feel like replying 'Yep, I keep a couple of mermaids in my bathtub.' *chuckles* Anyway, at least for the top half, you can use a photo reference. For the little mermaid used for the banner I used the reference at the right. I changed quite a bit though.
The tail is a bit trickier, but you can sometimes use a fish picture for reference. I usually go from my imagination.

Other photos that would be a good source of reference: motion images that show hair in motion, dance images (ballet has some neat poses that make good mermaids).


There is no set technique for drawing merfolk. They can look however you want them to. Below, I am going to list some ideas and personal preferences. Please feel free to apply these things or not, it is your own choice. But most of all, make sure you have fun!



I feel that an important part of designing a merperson is the hair and its motion. If the mermaid is swimming, her hair should look weightless. If the mermaid is on the surface, her hair should be wet. Unless, of cource, she is basking in the sun, in which case you could get away with dry hair :) I see a lot of art with mermaids that have thier head above the surface of the water as if they just surfaced, but they have dry hair?!

I used to put a fin on my Barbie dolls and play with them in the swimming pool, it is helpful to remember how the doll's hair looked as I moved her underwater. Even short hair would react somewhat to the water.


Mermaids and merfolk can look however you would like them to. I like to make mine fancy. Big side fins, scales, gills, webbed fingers, arm fins, elaborate tail fins… the list goes on. With fantasy, only your imagination is the limit. Scales, stripes, spots, fancy patterns, smooth. Your mermaid can be made to look however you choose.

As for tops, I prefer to have my maids covered. Though I know many people like to leave them bare. I have used many different ways of covering my maids: starfish, cloth, fins, hair, and of course, the ever popular seashell brassier.

Another thing I like to do sometimes is to give my merfolk gills, usually in the rib area. It just makes sense to me :)


I have always liked mermaids without a knee bend better than those with one. I mean, if you think about it, how would the bone structure work if the mermaid had bones like a human? As the simple image at the left illustrates, the bones would be rather cramped and awkward. Even if there was only one lower bone instead of both.

The mermaid bones on the far left are more like a fish structure. After all, isn't a mermaid's bottom half supposed to be a fish? It looks so much more natural to me, but it is a personal preference, of course.



I drew this base mermaid for you to practice different designs on if you would like. Try different scales, fins, hair, tops, and so on to your heart's content. Have fun! Remember to place a link back to this tutorial if you post your practice work anywhere.

If you would like to see more of my mermaids, click Here

Feel free to leave comments and let me know how I can improve this page. Ask all the questions about mermaids that you would like, and I will do my best to answer all of them. Thank you all, and watch for my upcoming fairy and elf tutorials.

All text and graphics in this tutorial are copyright Sarah B. Seiter. For permission to use any part for any use, other than those allowed for practice purposes, email MisticUnicorn@hotmail.com

FARP Article Guestbook

16 Aug 2008:-) Mikala Dawn Green
Thanks for the tutorial! 1 Much appreciated! ^^
29 Sep 2008:-) Tarna Ashford
Great work in the mermaid tutorial! I already knew everything about mermaids that was posted here but it was still fun and exciting to read ^_~.
6 Oct 2008:-) Leah leahir Runyan
Love the tutorial. I tried to do a mermaid for a project in school, but it turned out like a coloring page from a coloring book. Then I started another one and I can’t quit get the hands and head the way I want them. Anyway, great advice on your tutorial.
25 Nov 2008:-) Rachael Elenwye Green
Last time I looked at this I thought there was a lot more? I’m probably just going crazy! I still love this tutorial! And Ellie, I think you mean indescribable, sorry, spelling is something that for some strange reason, jumps out at me sometimes! (Ok, I will stop rambling...)
7 Jun 2009:-) Nathan Joseph Smith
OMG!! Thanks SOOOOOOOOOOO much, I’ve needed tips on mermaids since 2 years ago (when I was 10) because I’ve wanted help on mermaids because I was horrible, now I’m not half bad!
4 Jul 2009:-) Tanvir H Dip
I prefer sirens more than mermaids... still it helps a lot. Thanks.
4 Apr 2010:-) Nicole Madden
Nice tutorial, but I need one that shows how to draw the scales on the tail. That’s the part that I have trouble with.
26 Feb 2012:-) Gabbi ODwyer
I love the way you drew the fins, and the description of how hair should look in water? Priceless. 1
16 Jan 2013:-) Nikki Tognetti
thank you very much, this was very informative. I’ve never thought about using ballet dancers as models. What a great idea. Thank you again
23 Feb 2013:-) Taylor N Brown
This is so informative thanks 4 the tips!!!
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