We draw Dory’s fish in Photoshop

In honor of the appearance on the big screens of the animated film “Finding Dory”, which is also the sequel to the cartoon “Finding Nemo,” I will show you how to create a realistic fan-art picture in Photoshop. A lesson inspired by a cartoon will reveal photo manipulation techniques and digital drawing techniques that will help you liven up any image. So let’s get started!

Note: The author used the paid materials, in the archive you will find alternative images for the lesson.

Final result

Study: Everything we know about Dory


  1. Who is Dory?
  2. Where she lives?
  3. How she looks like?

If you have children or you just love cartoons, you may already know the answers to these questions. Anyway, before you start creating your favorite character, it is best to conduct research.

To get to know about your character, which you are going to recreate, you can either look for inspiration on the Internet, or immerse yourself in watching cartoons! As for me, I chose the Dory fish, and also picked up a few characteristics that you need to know about its origin before you begin to develop the design.

Key details to remember:

  • Dory has a real prototype of the Blue Surgeon fish
  • She has big brilliant lilac eyes
  • Her expression makes her a little silly.
  • She does not have standard fish scales

My version

It should be noted that, in order to avoid any complications regarding copyright, I specifically created my own interpretation of Dory. Below are the sites that I plan to change:

  • Her body shape
  • Structure of her head
  • Her expression

It may seem that I am going to change everything, but I will try to keep the rest of the details of the character as believable as possible. Now I have a plan for Dory, it’s time to start creating a draft.

How to draw dory

Create a new document 1250 x 1040 px with a resolution of 150 dpi. Using a stiff round brush, start drawing a Dory outline. Use simple shapes to recreate her body and gradually add details.

Now add a couple of features to make the fish stand out. In this case, I added a small heart, and also painted half-open eyes to make my Dory different from the original Dory.

Continue to paint using the same stiff round brush. If necessary, correct the lines before completing the sketch. Feel free to use the ready-made sketch of Dory’s fish by downloading the link at the beginning of this lesson, or draw your own drawing.

Combine Photo Textures

Step 1

This part of the lesson will help add color and realism to the Dory fish and it will be so fast that you would never believe it. We use fragments of photos to recreate her body and head.

We use two source images with fish in this lesson:

  • Blue surgeon fish 1
  • Blue surgeon fish 2

If you use the original images of fish on a black or white background, then it will be easy for you to separate the fish from the background. First, with the tool Magic wand (Magic Wand Tool (W), select / delete the background on the original fish images.

Step 2

Next, with the tool Rectilinear lasso (Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), select the texture fragments of the fish, and then copy / paste the selected texture fragments into our sketch. First fill the body with the bright blue texture. With the tool Eraser (Eraser Tool (E), hide areas of textures that go beyond the outline of the outline.

Make sure the edges of the picture are as sharp as possible along the entire Dory image.

Change the blending mode for the draft layer to Soft light (Soft Light), so we combine the sketch with a blue texture, and then continue to add texture.

If you need to see an outline image, then you can change the blending mode back to Normal (Normal). Continue to select individual parts using both source images with fish, and then apply to our sketch using the tool. Free transformation (Free Transform Tool (Ctrl + T). Select the mode Deformation (Warp), if you need to give the fragment the desired shape. Let’s start with the lower and upper fin.

Now go to the tail fin, do not forget to add a black texture on the back, which connects to the tail fin.

Cut out the heart shape with the tool Eraser (Eraser Tool (E).

For the last fin, use the second source image with the fish. Copy / paste the fin by positioning it as shown in the screenshot below.

Step 3

Now let’s add Dory’s brilliant eyes. First, we change the color of the golden shiny texture to a beautiful pink color. Let’s go Image – Correction – Hue / Saturation (Image> Adjustments> Hue Saturation). Set the value Color tone (Hue) at -78.

Use the same technique, copy / paste a fragment of glittering texture onto our working paper. Decrease Opacity (Opacity) of a layer with texture up to 30%, thus, you will be better able to see the sketch. Using tool Eraser (Eraser Tool (E), hide the extra areas of texture. Here, using Brushes (Brush Tool (B)), you can paint over the eyeballs in white.

After you finish working with photo textures, Dory will acquire a realistic texture that will still look a bit flat. To fix this, we will need to go to the next step of the digital drawing.

Using the technique of adding photo textures to the outline, we have reduced a huge part of the work in half.

From flat image to 3D: Draw volume

Step 1

To give our character more volume, we need to work on the light and shadows, after working a little with a brush. Combine all the layers with photo textures and a sketch layer. Create a new layer on top of the merged layer as a clipping mask. Change the blending mode for the new layer to Multiplication (Multiply).

Start painting the shadows on the Dory image with the tool. Soft brush (Soft Round Brush (B).

Start with the body, and then go to small details, such as the eyes and the strip on the fin. As sampling color shades from adjacent areas with the tool Pipette (Eyedropper Tool (E), your color shades will turn into a perfect shadow.

Do not forget to draw white teeth in Dory’s smile!

Step 2

Now let’s get to the light highlights! Create a new layer, change the blending mode to Overlap (Overlay) and using a soft white brush, add light highlights on top of the Dory image. On the created layer, you can continue to add light highlights, however, when adding details such as gloss in the eyes, you will need to create a separate layer in the mode Normal (Normal) and then paint over eyes on the created layer.

The light source is located in the lower right part of the scene, so do not forget about this when creating light and shadow!

Step 3

Take this opportunity to correct parts of the Dory image that look a bit rough. With the help of a rigid round brush, with 100% Toughness (Hardness), add a clear glare, as well as modify the edges.

Create skin texture

The first thing I noticed from Dory was that she did not have the usual fish scales, as I had expected. In fact, what I learned about the Blue Surgeon fish is that its skin has a fine and dense texture, that it is even difficult to grasp in the cinematic version.

To cope with this task, we need to add a uniform texture. Create a new layer, change the blending mode for this layer to Soft light (Soft Light). Using a hard round brush, the color of the brush is gray, paint over the entire skin area on the image of Dory.

Now right click on the gray texture layer to apply the layer style. Pattern overlay (Pattern Overlay). In the settings for this layer style, select ‘Heavy Canvas Texture’ to fill the gray area with the texture. Decrease Opacity (Opacity) layer to 35%, so that the resulting effect does not look too rough.

Before we finish work on the creation of our fish Dory, we should not forget about her charming freckles! Simply use a hard round brush to paint small dark blue freckles on top of Dory’s nose. Use the tool Eraser (Eraser Tool (E) to align freckles with her skin.

Create a background

Step 1

One of my favorite parts of this lesson is the background. This is a really simple technique that you can use for most of your other work.

In the final steps, search the stock resources on the Internet for source images with an underwater scene. In this tutorial, I used the stock image Underwater Reef, which you can download for free on Pixabay, but I would also recommend using stock images with coral reefs, which you can find on Envato Market stock.

  • Coral reef 1
  • Coral reef 2


Googling scenes using the original animated film to explore underwater scenes in more detail. Where do multipliers usually place their characters, and what does the background look like? Try experimenting with different source images with underwater reefs until you like one of them.

In the screenshot, you can see my experiments with the background, using various source images that were taken on the Pixabay website. Which scene do you like better?

Step 2

Open the original image with the underwater scene, move this image to our working paper. Place the underwater scene layer below all the layers with Dory. I use an image with a beautiful Underwater reef. First, reflect the image horizontally, for this we go Editing – Transformation – Flip Horizontal (Edit> Transform> Flip Horizontal). If you need to apply scaling to the size of the working document, then just press the keys (Ctrl + T) to activate Free transformation (Free Transform). After adding the background, make sure the Dory fish is located in the center of the underwater scene.

Step 3

To make the background look real, like in a cartoon, I will apply a small Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur). We apply this blur not only to add dynamics to the Dory fish, but also to add depth of field to the scene so that the background appears a little further.

Being on the layer with the background, go Filter – Blur – Gaussian Blur (Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur). Install Radius (Radius) blur at 4 px. And we have completed work on our underwater scene!

We found Dory!

Dory’s cute and simple design makes her one of the most beloved characters. And your fish or any other character can become real by adding photo textures.

I know how difficult it is to draw a digital drawing, but if you practice this technique, then you can recreate truly realistic effects!

I hope that in this lesson you learned about the interesting possibilities of using this amazing technique.

Final result

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