How To Draw A Fish Step by Step Procreate Tutorial

Looking to learn how to draw a fish? This easy Procreate tutorial is here to help! Read along for a simple yet comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to draw realistic fish digitally using iPad Pro.

Digital drawing has become an exciting medium in the world of art. Many famous illustrators have created truly remarkable work using Procreate on iPad Pro, and now it’s your turn to try out the amazing tools this artistic medium has to offer.

This Procreate tutorial will break down the process of drawing on a tablet and set you up with the basics of this amazing app, using how to draw a fish as our example.

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How to Draw A Fish: Drawing on iPad

I’m a Toronto illustrator who specializes in book illustration, portraiture, editorial illustration and exhibition design. Over the last few years the digital medium has become an important drawing tool for me and a integral part of my illustration process overall.

If you are new to digital drawing I am sure you’ll be amazed, both by how easy it is to pick it up, and by the new range of drawing potential it provides. Creating illustrations of things like shimmering, brightly coloured and iridescent fish with an Apple Pencil on iPad Pro allows for new and advantageous ways of creating layers, texture, and dimension, and is also really quite fun.

Toronto illustrator Mark Scheibmayr shares tips on how to draw a fish.
Toronto illustrator Mark Scheibmayr shares tips on how to draw a fish.

Draw Fish While Traveling

One of the best ways to master the art of drawing realistic fish is by visiting wet markets or seafood vendors on holiday. You can chat with local fishmongers and fisherman about the days catch and take photos of a variety of fish on display to illustrate later.

Some of our favourite food markets that are famous for their seafood selection can be found inVancouver, Halifax,Hawaii, Seattle, Mexico City, Valencia, Morocco, Stockholm, Malta, Istanbul, Israel, Egypt, India, Maldives, Thailand, Tokyo, Busan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

If you’re learning how to draw a fish at home, visit your local seafood shop or grocery store to purchase fresh sustainable seafood. Purchase a whole fish to take home and place it on your counter to photograph in natural light.

You’ll of course need to eat up that fish once you’re finished drawing so why not cook one of our popular seafood recipes?

Some of our favourites include Cilantro Ginger Lime Cajun Shrimp Salad, Thai Red Curry Prawn Burger, Penang Prawn Noodle Soup Hokkien Mee, Seafood Laksa, Goi Xoai Vietnamese Mango Salad and Vietnamese Crepe Bánh Xèo.

Procreate Tutorial: How to Draw A Fish

Drawing fish is something we’ve all probably taken a stab at. I remember being shown how to draw a simple fish shape as a child along with things like a heart or a star shape. Taking your fish drawing to the next level, however, involves just a little bit more. Once you take your time and get a better understanding of the anatomy and quality of fish fins, scales, tails, etc. you’ll get to enjoy the artistic joy that comes from creating dazzling and life-like underwater worlds!

Fish have some features that make them a bit tricky to capture realistically. Their skin and scales often have an iridescent quality that can be difficult to recreate. But like so many visually complicated things, when broken down into pieces or layers the complexity tends to dissipate. And this procreate tutorial on how to draw a fish will break down how we see the unique qualities of fish into separate steps that will have you drawing these critters in no time.

Not to mention, the Procreate methods you’ll practice using in this tutorial will create the benefit of adding many exciting new tools to your art arsenal!

Learn the process of digitally drawing a fish with Procreate on iPad Pro
Learn the process of digitally drawing a fish with Procreate on iPad Pro

How to Draw A Fish with iPad Pro

Let’s first get set up with a new canvas in Procreate. When you first open the app you’ll be in the “gallery” where all of your artworks will be visible. Tap the “+” in the top right of the screen and a menu will appear where you can select your canvas size.

To choose your dimensions click “create custom canvas” and enter them (in mm, cm, inches, or pixels). You can simply select “screen size,” however I recommend going bigger so that you have the option to print your finished piece with a nice resolution.

For my mountains drawing I’ve created a 22″ x 29″ canvas. For a canvas this size I’ve gone with a resolution of 150 DPI. If you go too big the maximum number of layers you can have in your artwork can be too few for our purposes.

Procreate Tutorial: this toolbar features the most frequently used drawing tools
Procreate Tutorial: this toolbar features the most frequently used drawing tools

Now it’s important to explore and familiarize yourself with Procreate’s basic tools. Starting with the toolbar on the top right of your canvas.

  • The Brush Tool: This is the tool with which you draw/paint. Tap it to open your Brush Library. Procreate’s brushes are categorized in a list down the left side of the drop down menu. Tap any of these to see your brush options in each category. Choose what you like and then tap the brush icon in the toolbar again to close the menu. Now get scribbling! Try a few different brushes and use different pressures and angles of the Apple Pencil – it’s remarkably realistic in its response to your hand.
  • The Eraser Tool: It does exactly what you think it does! Tap it and you’ll open an identical Brush Library as tapping the brush tool. Try a few and see how it erases your scribbles.
  • The Colour Tool: This is your colour palette. Tap and it will open in its default view of “Disc.” Use the outer wheel to select colour, and the inner circle to select lightness/darkness. When you’ve chosen the colour you want to use, tap the colour icon in the toolbar again to close the menu. Again, do some scribbling! Choose a variety of brush and colour combinations to get a feel for the colouring process.
  • The Smudge Tool: This is used to blend colours and create gradients. This tool has the same effect as taking your finger to pencil on paper and rubbing it to blend. The smudge tool mimics the real thing fairly well but it does take some getting used to.
  • The Layers Tool: You can use this menu to create multiple layers on your canvas, and select between them. How to do this, and the benefits of layers, will be best understood by following through my own example here in this Procreate tutorial.
Procreate Tutorial: brush size and brush opacity sliders are also important tools.
Procreate Tutorial: brush size and brush opacity sliders are also important tools.

Then there are the slider toolbars on the left side of your canvas.

  • Brush Size: The top slider. Tap, hold and move up and down to adjust the size of your brush tip. A preview window will open up to help guide you. This slider is used for your brush, smudge and eraser tools in the same way.
  • Brush Opacity: The bottom slider. This works the same way as the brush size slider, but is for brush opacity.
  • Undo/Redo: Under the sliders you’ll see these two buttons. Tapping the undo button will undo the last stroke you drew/erased. Vice versa with the redo button. This is a very useful tool you’ll probably use a lot. You can also undo by tapping once anywhere on your canvas with two fingers.

There is also the toolbar in the top left of your canvas. For these tools I will point them out and explain them along the way as we need them.

Learning how to draw a fish from a reference photo is easy with Procreate on iPad Pro
Learning how to draw a fish from a reference photo is easy with Procreate on iPad Pro

How to Draw A Fish Step One: Choosing a Reference Photo

If you can take your reference photo yourself, great. You can use the iPad itself to capture a good photo. If you can’t, which may be the case with a fish, you’ll need to choose a good quality image that is clear and in-focus. The best fish drawings are done from a well-lit, high resolution image that shows the small details and textures on your fish.

For my fish drawing I’ve chosen an image of a herring. I like this fish because it has a pleasing classic fish shape and proportions, and a very shiny quality and colour to its skin and scales. Herring are also delicious! Yep I’m that person who loves pickled herring and tries to get everyone I know to try it. I’m German so it’s not my fault!

Procreate tutorial: iPad Pro makes setting up a convenient split screen for working easy

The first thing to do before you get to drawing is setting up your reference photo to work from. A great option with iPad Pro is that you can keep your photo open in a window beside your Procreate canvas while you work.

To do so, tap and hold the bar at the bottom centre of the screen in Procreate, then slowly pull up the iPad menu (if you swipe too quickly you’ll close Procreate).

Once the menu is up, tap and hold the photos icon, and drag it to the left side of the screen (or right side, for the lefties out there!) Pull it past the edge of the Procreate window and drop it there and tada, you have both open at the same time. You can also adjust the size of the photo window by holding and sliding the side bar of the window.

How to Draw A Fish Step Two: Rough Sketch

Now you are set up to start drawing your fish. The first step is to do a rough sketch of your fish and all of its major features as a guide for colouring it in. For this outline I used one of the pencil brushes under “sketching” in the brush menu, because it gives a realistic sense of sketching something on paper. Your sketch does not need to be perfect by any means. However it is meant to be a drawing guide to work from, so take your time and adjust until you get the proportions and placement of all the features where you want them.

Later, once you’ve finished using your guide you can take it out of view by turning off its visibility in the layers menu. Just unclick the checkbox on the layer.

How to Draw A Fish: A rough sketch can be a great guide for your final coloured illustration
How to Draw A Fish: A rough sketch can be a great guide for your final coloured illustration

How to Draw A Fish Step Three: Create Your Background

The next thing I did was fill in my background. I wanted a clear sense of the fish being in water, but at the same time I wanted to keep it simple so that the fish would really be the star of the drawing. I used a different photograph to reference an underwater gradient of colour from light at the top to dark at the bottom.

To create your background add a new layer by tapping the “layers” icon in the top right menu and then tapping the “+”. You can then tap, hold and drag the layer underneath the sketch layer in the drop down.

Chose a blue from the colour menu and fill the entire layer with it by tapping and holding the colour icon in the top right corner, dragging it to the canvas, and releasing. For the gradient, create another new layer on top of the blue layer. Then use a painting brush of your choice to add a darker blue to the bottom of the canvas and white at the top. Don’t worry if the paint strokes aren’t smooth, because we’ll be blending them out using the “smudge” tool. That is the tool in the top right menu that looks like a finger pointing. Select it, and then use the brush size slider to increase the smudge tool to it’s largest size. Then blend the light and dark until you have a smooth gradient to your liking.

 How to Draw A Fish: working in layers is one of the benefits of drawing on Procreate
How to Draw A Fish: working in layers is one of the benefits of drawing on Procreate

How to Draw A Fish Step Four: Blocking Out your Shapes

Next you’ll get started on your fish! The first step is blocking out the shape of the fish with a solid colour. You’ll do this on another new layer. Before you start drawing though, it may be helpful to bring the opacity of your sketch layer down a bit. To do so, open the layers menu and you’ll see an “N” on each layer. Tap that for your sketch layer and you’ll see a slider appear. I brought my sketch layer down to about 50%.

How to Draw A Fish: Work easily from your guide sketch by adjusted the opacity using Procreate
How to Draw A Fish: Work easily from your guide sketch by adjusted the opacity using Procreate

Now you are going to trace out the outline of your fish shape, and then fill that outline with a colour. I chose the “technical pen” tool from the inking menu for this stage because it has a nice smooth edge. To determine which colour to use, I took a look at my fish reference photo and tried to match it to the darkest tone on its body. This way, the details I would later add could be building up from dark to light. Now using your sketch as a guide, trace the shape of the body until you have a fully enclosed shape. Then tap and hold the colour icon in the top right again to pull and “fill” the shape with that colour.

For my fish drawing I didn’t include the fins in this first body shape because they are quite a different colour than the body and have a sharp edge against the fish body. For parts like that it is much easier to block them out on a separate layer.

How to Draw Fish: Blocking out your shapes is a great way to start your painting
How to Draw Fish: Blocking out your shapes is a great way to start your painting

How to Draw Fish Step Five: Underlying Gradients

Now that you have your base layers of colour you can start “painting” and adding layers of colour to build up the texture and details of your fish. Take a good look at your reference photo and try to see the underlying gradients of light a dark tones beneath all of the finer details. Using the same method as with the background you can roughly paint out lighter and darker areas and then blend and smooth them out using the smudge tool. My fish is a silver colour, however there are highlights of blue, pink and green in certain areas that altogether help create that shiny iridescent quality, so make sure you pay attention to those.

How to Draw A Fish: Procreate makes blending and creating colour gradients easy
How to Draw A Fish: Procreate makes blending and creating colour gradients easy

Procreate has a feature that makes this blending part a lot easier, and that’s called the alpha lock. If you “alpha lock” a layer, you can only paint on what already exists on that layer. Meaning when blending out some colours you don’t need to worry about your smudges coming past the edges of you blocked out shape.

To alpha lock a layer, open the layers menu. Using two fingers, swipe the layer you want to lock to the right. If you’ve done it successfully the layer thumbnail will get a checkered background. To un-lock the layer at any point simply swipe it with two fingers to the right again.

How to Draw A Fish Step Six: Highlights and Lowlights

Once you have the underlying tone gradients complete you can start adding in the finer details. I recommend doing these on another new layer so you can edit them without messing up the gradients you’ve already created underneath. The finer details on my fish exist largely around the sections of the face, the eyes, and in the brightest highlights and darkest lowlights. For some of these details I did no blending at all in order to keep their sharp edges.

How to Draw A Fish: Highlights make for a more compelling illustration
How to Draw A Fish: Highlights make for a more compelling illustration

Next you’ll paint your fish fins in the same way you did the fish body. I started with a near white colour to block them out on their own layer, alpha locked them, and then painted up the details and blended them out. I used a trick for the edges of the fins, which are quite transparent. To create that effect you can adjust the opacity slider on the left side of the screen (under the brush size slider) so that you can erase enough that the background colour shows through without erasing it completely. Handy!

How to Draw A Fish: Make editing easy by working in multiple layers on Procreate
How to Draw A Fish: Make editing easy by working in multiple layers on Procreate

How to Draw A Fish Step Seven: Final Details

The final detailing I added to my fish was the scales. This can be tricky because the pattern is very consistent, tidy and detailed. This is again why having a rough sketch is very handy as a guide. While the pattern is consistent, the way that the light hits these scales in my photo varies quite a bit across the body of the fish. And this variation is what creates the beautiful iridescence we want to capture. Some of the scales have a harsh white outline on their edges, some of them have small gradients within each scale. Take your time here and fill in the details in stages, using as many layers as you like, and the methods described above.

How to Draw A Fish: Attention to fine details make for more lifelike drawings
How to Draw A Fish: Attention to fine details make for more lifelike drawings

Remember if ever you want to undo a certain stroke, just tap the screen once with two fingers. You can go back as many strokes as you like this way, Procreate remembers everything!

Helpful tips:

  • To return to a colour you’ve already used, tap with one finger on the area with the colour you want to reselect, and hold. A magnifying circle will pop up and you can move that to the exact colour spot you want. Lift your finger and it will select that colour for your brush.
  • You can zoom in and out by “pinching” the screen with two fingers. Don’t forget you can zoom in for areas with small details. You can also rotate the canvas using the two-finger pinch (rather than turning the iPad itself around, an inevitable habit when you’re used to turning your piece of paper around – there is an easier way!)
  • Making corrections – After you have finished a detail in your illustration, you may realize that it’s perhaps not quite the right shape, or the proportions were a little off. An amazing feature of Procreate is that rather than erasing and drawing it again (a lot of work!) you can instead isolate a portion of the drawing and stretch it. To do this, you can use the lasso tool again to trace around the area you want to stretch. Once you’ve done that, tap the cursor icon (the fourth icon in the menu at the top left of your screen). This will create a bounding box around the area you want to manipulate. From there you can stretch the area how you like using the pull points. Once you have it where you want it tap the cursor icon again.

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Congrats! You’ve Completed our Procreate Tutorial!

You’ve now mastered how to draw a fish!

If you’re someone who draws or paints a lot, you know it’s possible to keep going and going and tweaking and tweaking into eternity. And truthfully Procreate makes falling into this even easier. The up side, however, is that you can leave the piece alone for a time, and then very easily pick up where you left off, without having to get all of your paint and supplies out.

All that said, you will know when it’s done, and for a satisfying finish to your digital drawing experience, you can utilize one of my favourite Procreate features – timelapse video. By default, Procreate records your entire drawing process (you can opt to turn this off, but really why?) You can play it all back in high speed when your drawing is complete. It’s a fun thing to watch and a fantastic thing to share with curious fans of your art. If you’re a freelance illustrator, find that offering a timelapse video of your clients’ work acts as a competitive advantage. And better yet, offering a video that showcases the creation of your mountain drawing requires no additional time or money.

By using this Procreate tutorial as your step-by-step drawing guide for how to draw mountains, I’m sure you will be very satisfied with your result. Once you’ve gone through the motions from start to finish you can experiment and settle into your own process. This medium has so many possibilities that you can really let your creativity run wild. So dive in, go digital and have fun!

Now you're an expert on how to draw a realistic fish!
Now you’re an expert on how to draw a realistic fish!

Best Illustration Apps

This story offers a step-by-step Procreate tutorial on how to draw a fish. It’s important to note that there are several other drawing apps you can use on iPad Pro when drawing fish. Here are just a few:

  • Notes: The Apple sketch app that comes with your iPad! Simple, easy to use for quick sketches, free and fast. Though for serious drawing you may want to seek apps with more robust options/tools. Price: FREE
  • Adobe Illustrator Draw: This app is for creating vector graphics, with a very intuitive interface. It can also sync with Adobe’s Creative Cloud, meaning you can transfer your work between the iPad and desktop no problem. Price: FREE with Creative Cloud subscription, monthly plan prices vary.
  • Inspire: Fast and nicely responsive, with a huge variety of customizable tools, and over 80 brushes. Great for beginners and intermediates alike. Price:$13.99 CAD, $27.99 for Pro Version.
  • Procreate: Easily one of the most popular drawing apps, it works seamlessly with Apple Pencil, is highly responsive and offers an excellent variety of tools, all presented in a terrifically simple interface. Price: $13.99 CAD

If you’re a newbie digital illustrator we also suggest purchasing Beginners Guide to Digital Painting in Procreate, iPad and iPad Pro for Dummies, a protective iPad cover and Apple Pencil Case.

Procreate Tutorial: The Benefits of iPad Pro

  • The process is very similar to drawing using traditional methods on paper. You’ll be delighted by how intuitive it is, and how for the actual drawing part, you don’t need to re-learn anything.
  • Streamlined process. All of your supplies – camera, reference photos, paper, pens, pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, paint and paint brushes, are all combined into one place – iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.
  • The ability to undo when your pen stroke wasn’t quite right. You can also edit certain elements after the fact. The thickness of that piece is too much, I don’t quite like the colour I used here. All of that can be fixed!
  • The ability to work in layers, drawing or colouring over or under certain elements without worrying about accidental erasing or colour contamination.
  • You aren’t tethered to your desk, you can get comfy and work wherever you like. And that includes outside your own home too.
  • Easy transferability/sharability of your art. Your finished product is already in a format that you can add to your illustration portfolio online, share on your social media, etc. No need to arrange a high quality scan or professional photograph.
  • The ability to replicate elements, (for patterning, for example) rather than needing to hand-draw the same thing over and over.

If you’re a freelance illustrator looking to up your game, getting familiar with this medium will benefit you tremendously. And if you are an amateur who just loves to draw, looking to have fun creating fish and underwater drawings, iPad Pro and Apple Pencil can help you do things you might not have thought possible.

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