Koi fish are popular for tattoos because they represent good luck. They are part of the carp family and look like large goldfish. First we will draw the body. Notice how thick the koi fish gets thick at the top and it’s tail is not very thin either. Do not think of typical fish drawings, because the koi is much thicker when drawn. I showed the rubber bands of the points so you can see how I made it.
Next thing I did was add a back fin. You can make it on the same layer or different layers. Eventually, all the lines will have to be on the same layer, so it is probably easier to start them off that way. When making this fin try to imagine a line across the fish’s back that separates it into its right and left side. Draw along this line the base of the fin. Try to make the extension of the fin longer if not as long as mine. Also try to keep it smooth, but bending realistically.
Add fins at the base of the head. The fins have two bulby parts, but you don’t have to show both if the body of your fish is hiding one fin. Here you can see a little bit of the left fin’s second bulb. Also remember the dorsal fin!
Now if we look at a real fish from the carp family, you can clearly see whiskers. Its important to remember that koi fish have whiskers too. Also you can see how the head of the fish is separated from the rest of it’s body, and that the head sustains a heart-shape.
So now draw your interpretation of the carp’s head onto your koi. I made the whisker pointy at this point, but I will change it later on, when we will add color.
With the white pointer tool, select the line that is going through the drawn on head.
Delete it. If you selected correctly, only the line between should be gone. If not, try again and make sure there are enough points on the line.
Now, make sure all the lines are on one layer. Select them all, and if need be, click “add paths” at the top. If not, choose the fill tool, and click your drawing. This should create a Live Paint Group. Now choose the colors you would like your koi to have. Two colors looks best. If you only want one color, make a gradient with different shades/tones of that color. For example, light orange and bright orange. I used a bright blue and a faded green. Also set transparency to 75%.
Make the rest of the fish have the same gradient and opacity.
You will notice that gradients dont look so good when they’re all alike. Change the direction and range of the gradients with the gradient tool on each individual section of your fish.
Now remove the strokes. (Select the whole drawing, and set stroke color to null).
The fish looks pretty good right now. Create a new layer and add some depth with the pen tool. Make these sections the same gradient as what they’re covering, but 100% opacity.
Add more all over the drawing where you think it needs depth.
Here I rounded off the whisker, and added a socket for the eye, all on the “Depth” layer.
Then, on a new layer, I gave the eye more definition and detail. I used one of my primary colors for the detail.
Now we will create the scales. Create a pattern such as the one below, with whatever colors you’d like. I used my primary colors and a lowered opacity. It is better to use two or three scales to make your brush, however I am showing four in this example for visual ease. Select your scales, go to the brush drop down menu, click the right arrow in a circle and select “New Brush”. Choose a new pattern brush.
You don’t need to change anything in the settings panel just yet. Just click okay and create your brush. Draw a line on your koi and apply your custom brush. Is it too big, or too small? Go back to the brushes drop down, and to the right arrow, and click “Brush Options”. This takes you back to the screen you okay’ed a second ago. Change the scale to whatever fits your drawing. I had to make mine much smaller because my original scales that I created my brush with were very big.
Keep making lines with the pen tool and apply your custom brush
I set mine below the Koi Body layer so that they would look less prominent.
I added some much needed shading to the head. This can go on the “Depth” layer or it’s own.
The fins also need texture. With the pen tool, on a new “Fin lines” layer, draw the shape in my example over your fin. I took off the scales layer so I could see better.
Now make the stroke null and fill it with a dark version of one of your primary colors. Do the same for the two front fins. You can also add some of this to the dorsal fin, but I like to keep that one simple.
Add this type of texturing to the tailfin, and you’re done!
Final with Scales:
Final without scales:
Most traditional Koi fish drawings have water splashing around them. Not realistic water, but water wave lines. Also Koi Tattoos are often of two Koi fish opposite each other creating a circle. Have fun with it.
Keywords: Adobe Illustrator, vector shapes, pen tool, tattoo fish, asian koi, good luck tattoos, how to draw, how to vector from scratch, animal, adding detail, making a pattern brush, uses for the illustrator pattern brush.