How to Draw a Mermaid: Proportions and Tails


Mermaids are beautiful mythical creatures that have long featured in folklore and fairy tales. There are a lot of different versions of mermaids seen in illustrations. Some are friendly and more humanoid like Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Others are more fish-like such as the mermaids in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. You can create a whole host of different mermaids to suit whatever tale you’re telling. 

Now you can learn how to draw a mermaid with today’s free tutorial. When you’re learning how to draw a mermaid or any creature that isn’t entirely human, it’s a good idea to break down the pieces to understand each element. In this post, we’ll focus on the most important part of the mermaid: the tail. Getting the proportion right for your mermaid’s tail is crucial. You can always exaggerate and change things later for your character. Maybe the mermaid’s tail is shorter because of a defect or a battle they were in if they’re a warrior. Those details and specific character elements are important in the illustration, but first you want to learn the basics and start with a good foundation.



Skin to Scales
When working on the initial sketch, draw a line where you want the transition to begin to give yourself a reference point. However, once you have worked out the transition, erase any hard-edged lines and work a smooth and seamless melding of the skin to scales. If you leave it as a hard edge, it will look as if Dr. Frankenstein stitched a tail onto a human girl! You want the two parts to melt into each other. Let the scales get smaller along the abdomen and hips until they are just a faint sparkle.

Mermaid fin direction | Dreamscapes

Direction of Tail Fins
Mammalian creatures of the ocean like whales, dolphins and seals have tails that move through the water in a vertical stroking plane. The more cold-blooded varieties of the ocean’s denizens have tails that move in a horizontal plane back and forth. Mermaid tails can be modeled after either, though it can be easier to go for a more mammalian tail, since the width of the hips makes it awkward to flatten the body of the tail into a more two-dimensional plane of a fish.

Mermaid Tail Proportions | Dreamscapes

In a human figure, the groin is a good point of reference for the midpoint of the body. Use the same measurement for a mermaid. The tail length should be at least as long as the length of the top of the head to the groin.
1 – Remember the standard human figure as your base.
2 – A short tail makes the mermaid look stubby and unbalanced.
3 – A tail as long as the distance from the top of the head to the groin with a little extra length for the flowing tail fins creates a good balanced mermaid figure.
4 – You can make the tail even longer, as long as it’s at least half of the mermaid’s total length. The tail can be a long, serpentine coil.

How to draw a mermaid tail | Dreamscapes

Capturing Movement
A good way to capture the undulating form of a mermaid is to start by drawing the line of the spine because there is a natural balance to it. In the finished drawing, the tail’s bottom curve counterbalances the upper body.
1 – Start with a loose S-shaped curve. Mark off a midpoint for the hips, approximately at a 90 degree angle to the spine.
2 – Mark off the head and shoulders at approximately 90 degrees to the spine. As with the hips, there can be lift to one side or the other.
3 – Fill out the contours of the body and tail.
4 – Erase your guide lines and add more individualized details.


Want to learn more about how to draw a mermaid and other creatures like fairies and angels? Find more info, tutorials and inspiring art in Dreamscapes by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.

Dreamscapes | North Light Shop

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2 thoughts on “How to Draw a Mermaid: Proportions and Tails

    1. Beth Erikson Post author

      Yay! We’re so happy you find it helpful. Good luck drawing your mermaids! Keep an eye out for more tutorials. 😉 We’ll keep posting them!