Project Aquarium

Aquarium: Colored Pencils, Sharpie, Illustration Board

When I was in elementary and high school, I was always the go-to guy for group home work or projects that involved anything art–from play backgrounds to visual aid for reports, posters, illustrations, editorial cartoons and everything in between. Now that I’m already employed, virtually nothing has changed. My younger cousins and nephews still go to me when they need somebody to do the dirty work for them. Teachers don’t really care who does these projects; they just want something to grade and display in their classrooms.

I spent the entire day yesterday doing one such school project for my nephew and I thought it would be a real shame not to show the fruits of my labor here on the blog. This one’s an aquarium made out of cut pieces of illustration board. The idea was to hang a string of several kinds of fish from the top of the aquarium to make it look like the fish is swimming in the water.

I tried to play with the lighting to make it look 3D.
My friend who really knows his fish noticed that I mixed saltwater and freshwater fish. I told him I just googled the most colorful kinds of fish and put them in there.

I was going to use pastels but I decided to go for colored pencils instead, so I could define more of the detail in the background. I looked at several photo references of actual aquariums to get an idea on how best to compose the elements in the background. In many ways, the process was similar to arranging a real aquarium as you have to think about where to put the shells, stones, and all the other stuff without making it look cluttered.

Drawing, coloring and building the entire thing took so much work that by the time I started making the fish, I was running on sheer will alone to finish the project because my nephew was supposed to submit it today. After sharpening my colored pencils for the nth time and cursing the hot, melted glue for trying to burn my skin, I finally finished the aquarium and added–hopefully–another imaginary A+ to my report card.

Check out more shots of the aquarium below! 🙂

A fighting fish!
Can you identify this weird-looking fish? I just found it on the Web and put it in there because it looks cool.
I think this one’s Dory from Finding Nemo. Check out the baby turtle swimming in the background!
I tried to squeeze in as many creatures as I can. I particularly like the crab on the side.


Add yours →

  1. The hermit? crab is a nice touch. I like the betta/koi. I don’t know what the smaller fish are…but if you are asking about the striped bottom feeder, I think that’s called a corrie (cat)? ‘Not sure about the spelling.

    I wish the aquariums I tried to create in my youth looked like this. I remember making flat pictures with watercolors and crayon (which was used to resist the paints in some “magical” way. I too was the go-to guy for many elementary school art projects. I was rather proud of my achievements. But, even that was small potatoes compared to what I encountered in high school. Of course, the talented artists I met didn’t give a crap about what they were doing and often made some very perverse pieces. I was turned off of attending art school and continue to do my own thing when the inspiration strikes.


    • I couldn’t have created something like this when I was younger. It’s much easier to do stuff like this now because of experience. That’s actually one reason why I agree to do school projects like this because I’m able to see how I’ve progressed as an artist.

      Never attended art school myself. I think anybody can be a really good artist with enough time and effort invested.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂


      • That was one thing I forgot to discuss…doing projects for kids still in school. My dad used to save me at the last minute many times. And, I later regretted it. I was never taught to suffer for my procrastination. Nor was I made to stick with my projects responsibly. I let video games become my drug and put off my school work til the “eleventh hour”. For the most studious kid in my class, I was a poor example of a mentor.

        I can’t say I’ve progressed. I think I just get different ideas. But, I am not sure how much my skills have really grown.

        Yes, time and practice are important. But, I do think some people are just blessed with certain skills.


      • You’re right, it’s a pity these kids don’t do these art projects themselves or at least try to. But honestly I’d feel bad if I knew they were artistically inclined in the first place and they were just lazy to do their homework. Fortunately I know these kids are interested in other subjects,like literature or math, and they just want to skip doing something they don’t know how to do or have no interest in doing. Plus their parents are really the insistent ones. =))


      • Is it a pity, or are you…what’s the word…indulging? them? The kid wants something sweet. You don’t give in to his request when it’s bed or nap time.

        Yes, being lazy AND talented would be…bad.

        What you know and what you think you know about those kids may be two different stories. Do you know if the subjects they prefer aren’t just the easiest ones for them? I hated how kids in school treated art class like an easy escape from a harder lesson. I valued my art classes even if they weren’t always helpful. But, it seemed no one else respected them the same way.

        I’d still seek a way to make them do their own creative work. Everyone should develop some artistic talent/imagination.


      • You’re right, of course. I just wish it were as easy as saying “no;” because believe me I would have said no to many projects even back when I was in school. Heck I would have said “no” to many other kinds of requests, not just those related to making art. And also, it’s not just a simple matter of if you do this, you learn the value of hard work and learn some creativity or whatnot and if you don’t, you’re so much the poorer student or person for it. But I’m not out to discuss the rights and wrongs of doing art projects for kids still in school or what’s best for them. That kind of conversation surely has its merits and wisdom but this blog post, at least, isn’t about that.


      • When I was asked in school, I was torn. A small part of me felt I was being “used” while a bigger part was just happy to have something creative to do that I liked. I never did a project for someone I didn’t like (which has steered me away from working in advertising because I’d never want to be given a cigarette or alcohol project on the fly and be told I had to do it). As I got older, I did less because people were either more critical/disrespectful or I was repeatedly told (as I was by my mother at times as a kid) that my art was in the wrong place. It wasn’t appreciated the same way. And, I didn’t feel like drawing everything someone curious wanted for free. I take so much time making a piece. It doesn’t come quick or easy.

        What sort of other requests??


  2. beautiful colors… 🙂


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