watercolor koi fish

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting (Step-by-Step)

Watercolor fish are always a fun project to take on for their various colors and often vibrant environment.

Koi have, for a long time been one of the most popular fish to watercolor because of their unique, large area shape and bright colors in often murky water. 

Today, Jo will be taking us through how to do koi fish watercolor.

This tutorial was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
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Step-by-Step Watercolor Tutorial: Watercolor Fish (Koi)

Step 1: Masking and sketching

Begin by sketching your koi fish and masking a border around them. If you are incapable of making a clean sketch, you can always trace one from online. In this tutorial, we’ve sketched three koi.

Watercolor Fish Koi: Step 1: Masking and sketching

Step 2: Wet and color the background

In watercolor, you want to work from the background to the foreground in most instances. 

In this example, start by coating the background or the ‘water’ from your jar of clean water. Don’t coat too heavy, but be generous.

Then, we will start with a bright yellow. It’s not very often that we start with a light color, but we are doing this with the idea of blending already. 

Once you’ve covered the background in yellow, you’ll see the pigment starting to bleed. Go ahead and add a shade of green pigment and blend it with the yellow. The result will be a dark, murky green — sort of like the ponds of water you normally see koi in. 

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Add green

For the sake of a beautiful painting, though, we are going to add some bright blue to the mix. That will allow for more color in the background. 

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Add blue pigment

Remember, watercolor doesn’t always have to be realistic.


Step 3: Wrap it and watch magic happen

Wait for your background to dry completely. Once it has dried, add a darker blue coating over the whole background. This will cover up the mix you previously did. Don’t worry.

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Dark blue pigment

Before that coating is dry, use a piece of plastic wrap (saran wrap) to cover your entire watercolor painting. Wrap it around the back for best effect. Then, lay a book over the top of your watercolor art for ten minutes.

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Saran wrap removal
How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Let stand for 10 minutes

Step 4: Peel and clean-up

Carefully peel off the plastic wrap and use a sponge to clean up areas in the painting that need to be less dark. You should have a beautiful blue with reflection-type designs in the background.

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting peel and clean up

Step 5: Paint your watercolor fish koi

First, use some clean water to coat the inside body of your koi fish. Once finished, use some light blue to lightly coat your koi fish in blue. Make sure this layer is very watered down and that it almost looks as if the blue came from your background.

It should look something like this:

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Pint watercolor fish koi

Next, you’re going to add a basic red pigment. Adding this to the blue will give us a sort of burnt amber color, perfect for koi fish.

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting add red pigment

You don’t have to cover the whole koi in pigment. Remember, upon drying, the colors will run a bit. We recommend adding some lighter tones of yellow or orange to blend as well. You may even leave some white space or a darker pigment like navy blue to parts of the fish (usually toward the fin.)

Here’s how ours turned out:

How to Watercolor Fish Tutorial: Koi Fish Watercolor Painting Final

How about yours? Leave a photo of your painting in the comment section below so we can see!


Painting Watercolor Fish Koi Tutorial

We hope this has been helpful. If you would like more watercolor ideas, feel free to check out our watercolor tutorial section where we teach you how to watercolor many beautiful works of art.

This tutorial was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
Click below to shop with a 30% discount.

About the Author: Watercolor Classes

Hello, and welcome to our site. We've been passionate about watercolor for years and have learned a lot along the way. We hope our tutorials and tips will help you out on your watercolor journey. Let's make art together!

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