Mermaid Character Studies

Summer Drawing Challenge Days 7 & 8

My next graphic novel project has mermaid characters in it. But for the purposes of this story, I was bothered by the idea of traditional mermaids, being half-fish, half human, though they do offer lots of opportunities for some beautiful artistic interpretations.

For one thing, how can a cold-blooded fishy tail integrate with a warm-blooded mammalian upper half? Also, I want some characters who are half-mer, and that is definitely stretching the bounds of the magic, as I see it. I know, I know, it’s magic: maybe I’m being too literal-minded and I should just let it be. But we’re talking about a whole underwater civilization here, with day-to-day living going on, and possible interspecies romances, and I’m trying to think about… practicalities.

So my mer-folk will be all mammal, but there will still be magic involved in their makeup. I initially wanted to have some kind of plausible evolution thing happen so that they still had the internal anatomy of a human; but the knees presented a big problem in the way I wanted their mer-half to flow. I might still experiment with that idea. The other options were to have them similar to dolphins or seals. Dolphins are very easy, because they are essentially fish-shaped, just with horizontal flukes instead of a vertical tail fin. But their posterior skeletons have not even a remnant of leg bones. Pinnipeds, on the other hand, have actual leg and foot bones, but vastly distorted from land-moving creatures. Seals have a venerable history as shape-changers, however, from the selkie legends of Scotland and Ireland. But I felt that was getting a bit too far away from the mermaid theme. So, for now, dolphin tails it is.

Sunday's sketch: I wanted to try out some different positions, and see how the dolphin tails would work.

Sunday’s sketch: I wanted to try out some different positions, and see how the dolphin tails would work, and also have some different sizes/ages of mermaids. I’m thinking about making them like many sea creatures β€” that the older they are, the bigger they get, rather than aging as we do. After all, they’re not subject to gravity and their skin is constantly moisturized!

Today's sketch: While I was drawing yesterday's mer-people, I started thinking about practicalities. For one thing, why would they have all that hair if they lived underwater? It would impede their swimming, and constantly be tangled. Surely they would cut it short, or more likely have evolved hairlessness. Perhaps a cranial ridge to cut through the water? And wouldn't they develop some kind of protective coloration? They wouldn't be skinny, they'd  need a rounder body shape to keep in the heat. Oversized hands with webbing would help them move through the water. And being civilized, they'd need something to carry stuff around in.  The ruff around the neck is a symbiotic-gill sea creature that allows them to breathe underwater. They can also still breathe air in the usual way, but first they have to, uh, eject all the water from their lungs. They keep a few extras of these around at all times in case they have to slap them onto drowning sailors. Oops, that might be a spoiler!

Today’s sketch: While I was drawing yesterday’s mer-people, I started thinking about practicalities. For one thing, why would they have all that hair if they lived underwater? It would impede their swimming, and constantly be tangled. Surely they would cut it short, or more likely have evolved hairlessness. Perhaps a cranial ridge to cut through the water? And wouldn’t they develop some kind of protective coloration? They wouldn’t be skinny, they’d need a rounder body shape to keep in the heat. Oversized hands with webbing would help them move through the water. And being civilized, they’d need something to carry stuff around in. The ruff around the neck is a symbiotic-gill sea creature that allows them to breathe underwater. They can also still breathe air in the usual way, but first they have to, uh, eject all the water from their lungs. They keep a few extras of these around at all times in case they have to slap them onto drowning sailors. Oops, that might be a spoiler!

16 responses to “Mermaid Character Studies

  1. Interesting analyzation and deconstruction of mer people. I love the flow and rhythm of the first image characters. The hairless maiden is lovely too, but I do miss the hair.

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    • Yes, me too. I may go back to purely magical, long-haired, traditional mermaids, but I need to explore this first. It involves the knottiest part of the plot that I need to unravel!

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  2. I love all your mer-folk sketches, but I love the last one, the one without hair. I think the head and face look beautiful. I looked at the webbed hands a few times, and I wonder whether she’ll need them this way. Have you thought about “normal”, just human hands?

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    • I considered fully webbed hands, because they need to have some advantage in the water. But they also seem to need the ability to use their fingers. It seemed natural to me that they would have evolved at least some webbing. I’ve seen gloves that you can buy with webbing for helping swimming, and I think it would be a real advantage for them.

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    • That’s why I’m kind of trying to go somewhere else with these; they’re not just mermaids, they’re a whole species, with males and females, and the variations in body shapes and faces and personalities that you’d get in any species. They’re not nearly so dangerous as their fishy-tailed cousins. They even rescue sailors, but for their own ends.

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    • Thank you! I’ve had a look around yours β€” I love the idea of doing a sketch a day about your life. I’m not so brave, so I make up mermaids and stuff instead!

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  3. I miss the hair, too, but long hair is enough of a chore on land. I like that her eyes are larger and a bit to the side. This would help her see better underwater in less light and have better vision around her because dangerous creatures could swim up behind her quietly.

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    • Exactly! I had thought of making them even wider spaced for that reason; but I didn’t want her to look tooooo far from human in the face. Might come up with some other way for the merfolk to sense danger (maybe the skull ridge detects vibrations).

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  4. Karen these are lovely πŸ™‚ i remember as kids me and my sister were always really amazed by mermaid and mermen characters you’ve got the poses and proportions down to a t looks good πŸ™‚ x kate

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  5. Karen, I just came across your page and we have to talk. I wrote a book called Mermaid Steel that has mermaids that look just like your second drawing here. I published it live as I wrote it as a serial, and finished it in October. I am now editing it for publication as a physical book. Please check out the book’s Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/MermaidSteel) to see the work I did on it,and my WordPress blog (http://jayhartlove.wordpress.com/category/mermaid-steel/) for the chapters of the book itself. I am looking for an illustrator and/or cover artist. If you are interested, please contact me at jay.hartlove@gmail.com. This could be great!

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    • Hi Jay! I am intrigued! Today is very busy, but I’ll send you an email tomorrow after I have a chance to read some of your chapters. I love the way you’ve published the story “live” and run it as a blog β€” much like a webcomic, only with just words. Looking forward to reading your work and conversing about this!

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  6. Well with Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Powers that Be books and Petaybee Universe and the The Twins of Petaybee they have some. Nice I liked your cat doodles on Facebook

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