Painting a Happy Clownfish in Photoshop

November 17, 2009 in Featured, Photoshop by admin

The Clownfish is one of the most beautiful and iconic marine fish, having been immortalized by Pixar in Finding Nemo.

In this tutorial you will learn how to paint a happy Clownfish using Adobe Photoshop’s basic brushes and a keen eye for shape, color and lighting.


Author: Andrea Austoni

Freelance icon designer and illustrator from Milan, Italy, currently living in Krakow, Poland.
He runs Cute Little Factory, his portfolio and blog dedicated to Photoshop and Illustrator tutorials and icon, vector and wallpaper freebies.

Clownfish Tutorial in Photoshop

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Photoshop
  • Version: CS2 or later
  • Difficulty: Intermediate

Step 1: Drawing the body

Create a new blank RGB document. Set the foreground color to a medium orange then hit P to select the Pen Tool and carefully draw the shape of the fish (1a). Give the dorsal fin some detail, we don’t want our clownfish to look too plain (1b).

Step 2: Painting the fins

When you’re satisfied with the body shape right-click on it in the Layers palette and choose Rasterize Layer. Cmd-click the thumbnail to select the layer’s outline then create a new group and add this selection as a mask. We will draw the colored stripes on separate layers inside this group so they will be cropped to the body.
Make a new layer inside the group (2a). Set up a black brush (B) in the Brushes palette (F5) (2b) and paint along the edges of the fins (2c).

Step 3: The white stripes

On another layer paint the white stripes that run across the body (3a). In the Layers palette lock the transparency so you won’t be able to paint outside the present layer bounds (3b). Set the brush to vary the size according to the Pen Pressure of your tablet (3c). Paint along the edges of the stripes using black and varying the diameter of the brush by varying the pressure on the tablet. If you don’t have a tablet just try reproduce what you see in image 3d by painting wavy lines.

Step 4: Fixing the fins

Zoom in to the corners of the fins where they attach to the body (4a). These spots need to be fixed. Merge the two layers inside the group and touch up these areas with appropriate brush strokes (4b, 4c). The idea is to make the black lines run smoothly along the fins and the white stripes, without interruptions or sharp corners (4d).

Step 5: The lateral fin

The body is finished so we can merge all layers together and lock the transparency (5a). Let’s draw the last fin. Using the Pen Tool (P) draw the lateral fin (5b). Lock its transparency and paint the edge black (5c).

Step 6: The eyeball

Using the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) select a circle on the body where the eye will be (6a) then hit Cmd+J to create a new layer from this selection. Add to this layer an Outer Glow (6b) and a Bevel and Emboss style (6c) to make the eyeball bulge out from the body (6d).

Step 7: The iris

Duplicate the eyeball layer. Clear all styles from the copy (7a). Add a Gradient Overlay set in Color Dodge mode (7b) to create the yellow iris (7c).

Step 8: The pupil

The pupil is just another smaller circle filled with black (8a). Add an Inner Glow (8b) to blend it with the iris (8c).

Step 9: The highlight

The highlight in the pupil is a small white circle set to Screen mode, 75% opacity (9a). Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose 0,4px (9b) to blur the highlight (9c).

Step 10: Shading the fish

The clownfish is finished but it looks flat. Let’s shade it.

Select the Dodge Tool (O) and set it up as in image 10a. Paint the mouth and the “forehead” with soft strokes (10b).

Step 11: Adding shadows

Switch to the Burn Tool and set it up as in image 11a. Burn the top fins and the lower side of the body (11b). These areas are in shadow because the light is coming from the top.

Step 12: Refining the lateral fin

The top side of the body, the bottom fins and the lateral fin are all directly lit therefore they need to be brightened with the Dodge Tool we set in Step 10 (12a). Add a Drop Shadow to the lateral fin (12b) so it correctly extends from the body (12c). Finally erase the part where the fin attaches to the body using the Eraser Tool (E) set to a soft brush (12d). Merge down all layers.

Step 13: Detailing the fins (1)

Select the Smudge Tool from the toolbar. Hit F5 to open the Brushes palette and set it up to fade (13a). Our brush strokes will now quickly taper to a point. Clicking and dragging outward add little spikes all around the fins, like a crown (13b). Do it for all the fins (13c).

Step 14: Detailing the fins (2)

Create a new layer. Choose a bright orange color. Select the Brush Tool (B) and set the Fade value to a high value so the brush strokes will not taper so quickly. Paint parallel spines on all fins (14a). When you’re finished adjust this layer’s opacity until you get a result similar to image 14b. Add very subtle shadows across the body to enhance the roundness of the fish (14c).

Final Step

The clownfish itself is done. All we have to do now is draw an appropriate backdrop. I painted a blurry marine background using a few blue hues for the water, a light yellow mass to simulate rocks, some green algae strands and light streaks coming from the surface. I then blurred the whole layer generously to leave only the clownfish in focus. I encourage you to create your own backdrop, of course.

I hope you liked this tutorial and had fun painting this lovely fish. You should then head for the closest aquarium to check out some live clownfish, they’re amazing.