Tutorial Paint Like a Pro: A Step-by-Step Oil Painting Tutorial on How to Create a Fish Still Life!

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Date: September 7, 2023
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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Welcome to the still life art lesson. Today we are going to paint a fish still-life. I do not want to portray the dying fish on the table. I would like this fish to cause positive emotions. That is why I have chosen the bright saturated colors for this work. Also I have taken the perspective which is quite unusual as for the classic still-lives – the top view.
There is the blue background around the fish – each of the viewers will be able to interpret it in his own way: someone will see the blue cloth and the other one will see the water where our fish is going to dive into. 🙂

How to Paint Still Life with Fish

I have painted an abstract fish – I do not know whether this kind of fishes exists in nature or not.
Also, it should be said that our today`s picture is not difficult. Even a beginning artist will manage to paint this picture with oil paints (or acrylic paints). Here everyone can let his imagination and feelings run free.

I would like to tell you how this unusual and funny idea to paint the fish still-life emerged. Last year while walking along the Dry Bridge in Tbilisi, I saw several similar fish still-lives. And now I would like to admit that it is not my idea but the idea of an unknown artist.

Let`s get from the preface to our work. First of all, let`s choose the appropriate canvas. You should choose a canvas of the small size 30x30cm for this still-life or you can paint a long fish (for example, a pike) on the 30×50 cm canvas.
Mainly you will need the synthetic and bristle brushes, brushes from №2 to №6, round and flat brushes.

Then sketch out the shape and the location of the fish on your canvas with the help of a graphite pencil. My fish will be located diagonally and will look upwards (though you can move this canvas round as you wish).

Materials (Oil Paint Colors)

  • White
  • Sky Blue
  • Phthalocyanine Blue
  • Cobalt Violet Deep
  • Cobalt Violet Light
  • Madder Lake Violet
  • Lake Pigment Red strong
  • Ochre Gold
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Lamp Black.

Start your work covering all the space around our fish with the paint. First, cover all the space around the board with the blue mixed with the White. Mix the White with a bit of Sky Blue in order not to have the extremely bright color. Paint with the darker color under the board in the lower part of a canvas – mix the White with more Phthalocyanine Blue and a little bit of the Burnt Umber in order to make this blue slightly gray.

Cover all this space with the paint almost not diluted with a paint thinner making the dense brushstrokes with the help of a chisel brush №4-6 (you can use a synthetic or bristle one).

Then give the color and the volume to the board, where our fish is lying, in the same way. I have chosen the warm paints for the board:

  •   Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Lake Pigment Red strong and Cobalt Violet; also you can take the Cadmium Red.

There will be a more lightened part on the right side – here you should use the abovementioned paints. On the contrary there will be a shadow on the left, behind the fish – here you should use the same paints, but without the White, and mix more brown and violet. Outline a shadow on the board behind the fish with Cobalt Violet Deep and Burnt Umber.

To make this board more interesting, draw some cracks and scuffs using darker and lighter shades. This board should seem to be made of several parts.

Do not forget to show the volume and the thickness of the board: pay attention to the character and the color of the strokes at the edge of the board on the right and the bottom.

Let`s come over to the next stage of our oil painting class and paint the fish. Our fish is round. If you divide it diagonally, the upper part is the back and the lower part is the tummy.

The lower part – the tummy – should be painted with the lighter paints, mainly with the:

  •   White mixed with Cadmium Yellow, Ochre Gold, Sky Blue, and Cobalt Green Light. First, you should create the light base (White with a bit of Ochre).

The brushstrokes should repeat the convex-rounded shape of our fish. Then, try to show the colorful shiny scales with the dense dipping brushstrokes over the base.

Cover the upper part – the back – with the Raw Sienna following the shape of our heroine. The higher you paint – the darker and more saturated paints you should use. The lower you paint – the lighter paints you should use adding a bit of White. You should also use Lake Pigment Red strong, Cobalt Violet, Burnt Umber, and Ochre Gold when painting the «back».

At the next stage of our free oil painting lesson, we are going to sketch out the fins. First, do it with quite dark paints just to outline the shape. For example, you can use Cobalt Violet or Burnt Umber. Apply the thin layer of paints. Then, outline the variegated fluted texture of the fins and the various shades of its wet and slippery surface over the underpainting. For this purpose use the thin round brush and the various shades of red and brown. Also, add several brushstrokes of Cobalt Green. The brushstrokes should be neat and light and the paint should be slightly dilute with the paint thinner.

You should mark the more lightened and the more shadowed parts of the fins.

  •     Use the White, Ochre Gold, and Cadmium Yellow Medium when painting the light. Add several brushstrokes with Cobalt Violet Deep and Burnt Umber on the shadowed part of the fin.

Outline our fish`s eye. I have decided to make my fish green-eyed; therefore I have mixed a bit of Cobalt Greenlight with the White. I have made the reflexes in some places with the violet and the rare White. Outline the center of an eye – the pupil – with the Burnt Umber. Put two fine blots on the pupil «circle» using the dense undiluted White.

How to paint still life? Painting lessons for beginners
How to paint still life with fish – painting lesson for beginners

At the next stage of our fine art lesson, we are going to outline the mouth cut. You should paint it with Cobalt Violet and a bit of brown. The upper «lip» is outlined with the White and its slight shadow below – with violet and Phthalocyanine Blue (though now I am not sure that it is the best color composition). The lower «lip» is painted with White, Raw Sienna, and Cobalt Violet.

In order to make the scales on the fish body, you can paint with your finger a bit, slightly touching the surface of the fish with the various shades available on your palette – you should use the rare semitransparent paint. The character and the direction of the touches should be approximately in the same rhythm and direction but these should not be extremely ordered.

At the last stage of our beginning oil painting lesson, we should highlight the key points of the painting and improve the shadows and the flecks.

That is all. The work is done.

I wish you good luck and new success in your creative work!


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