It has been a while since the last time I’ve done any illustration work. Recently I’ve created a new awesome piece that I would like to share with you. It is a koi fish illustration inspired by my tattoo. Read this post to find out more about my tattoo and see how I created the koi fish illustration based on my tattoo.

Final Illustration Preview


About My Tattoo Artist – Daemon Rowanchilde

I always wanted to get a tattoo ever since I was a kid. Finally, last year I decided to go ahead and get a tattoo done. After hours of Googling, I found Daemon Rowanchilde of Urban Primitive. Daemon is an amazing artist who has been in the industry for long time. He has done work for movie, fashion, illustration, and tattoo design. I particularly like his Energy Wave style/technique. Visit Urban Primitive and Daemonology to see his work.

daemon tattoo

daemon tattoo

daemon tattoo

daemon tattoo

Tattoo Research

Then I spent couple days on researching tattoo design. I found the koi fish very meaningful and decided to use it as my main design subject. Koi fish tattoo symbolizes "courage, aspiration and advancement".

According to Japanese legend, if a koi succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, it would be transformed into a dragon. Based on that legend, it became a symbol of worldly aspiration and advancement.

Tattoo Sketch

Below are some of my concept sketches. It is a koi swimming upstream toward the sun.

I asked Daemon to incorporate his art into my design and he did this design which was used as the tattoo stencil. The floral and wave patterns were done free-hand during the tattooing process.


Finished Tattoo

The tattoo took 2 painful sessions to complete (6 hours each). Below are the photos of my finished tattoo.

koi tattoo

koi tattoo

koi tattoo

Illustration Sketch

Based on my tattoo, I did the following sketch. The sketch was done on the returning plane from a Chicago trip (I was too bored). I did the sketch in about 30 minutes.

koi sketch


As usual, the sketch is scanned and imported in Adobe Illustrator for tracing.


Here is the complete vector art in outline mode (over 2600 paths in total). The tracing process took about 12 hours.

artwork outline mode


The artwork was then filled with color and gradient. The images below are different color themes that I tried. The coloring process took about 20 hours.

final vector


Then I imported the elements in Photoshop in separate layers. The texturing effect can easily be done by setting your layer blending mode to Dissolve. I used the Brush and Pencil tool to make the grungy background. Read my Vector Polishing tutorial to see the details of the techniques. The polishing process took over 10 hours due to the large file size and numerous layers.

dusty effect

grungy brush


The koi fish idea was taken from my tattoo. I made the fish tail a bit abstract so it can connect with the water wave.

fish tail

The sun is also inspired by my tattoo design. I added a waterlily flower behind to make it look like kind of a flower and the sun.


The symbol on the fish head is the initial of my name and my girlfriend.


The flying mushrooms are a combination of jellyfish and mushroom.

flying mushrooms

The other design elements are mainly inspired by aquatic plants.

aquatic plants

Related Article: Finding Inspiration From Your Environment.


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  1. Tracey Bushman
    May 13, 2011 @ 1:13 am

    Truly great artwork! Thank you for sharing.


    Jun 13, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

    What is friendship?Mont Blanc PenWhy do we call a person our friend? When do we call someone a very good friend?


  3. Daniele Morasca
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 7:08 am

    Really fascinating by your work.

    Navigate in your website is a pleasure.



  4. Jomarl Natividad
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

    Wow! nice artwork! Please send me some tutorial or suggestion on how to create a professional and eye catching logo design.

    Thanks & God Bless:-)


  5. Moliva
    Dec 9, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    Navigate in your website is a pleasure.


  6. Suzette
    Jan 3, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    WOW! That is so beautiful! What a joy to see the process. Thank you for sharing.


  7. abbas
    Jan 4, 2012 @ 6:17 am

    Excellent design (Babol, Iran)


  8. abbas
    Jan 4, 2012 @ 6:18 am

    a very nice


  9. JDML
    Jan 7, 2012 @ 8:19 pm



  10. Satyanarayan Singh
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 10:03 am

    It is a real Art. I am very effective from this Art.


  11. CAT
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

    Superbe =)


  12. Jennifer M.
    May 4, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

    This is amazingly cool! I love this!! Thank you for explaining some of the details and thought process behind it. I am a first-year graphic design student and sometimes I look at other people’s artwork and think that I must be doing something wrong because I can’t achieve a certain look very quickly. It’s interesting to realize that even someone who knows what they’re doing has to take days sometimes to do the work on a design!


  13. Adrian
    May 9, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    This is really cool and inspirational!! I will definitely start to document my design process like this. And the finished design looks great. Thanks!


  14. Daya
    Oct 6, 2012 @ 7:18 am

    You are terrific designer


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