Concept

I start by just making a basic little sketch with color based on an idea I had. At this point, I just wanna get out the idea and haven't really designed the composition yet.

Sketch

I make a duplicate layer of the concept and start loosely painting in the background and sketching in the character. I like to add color as early as possible because it helps me keep the overall mood of the piece through out all the stages.

Painting 1

I lowered the opacity of my sketch and started painting over it in a new layer. Also started getting some refs and worked on the balloon.

Painting 2

Getting further along. Painted more over the sketch of the character and did some color adjustments. Also got some reference of schools of fish and coral reefs and worked on that.

Finished Painting

I add the details of the scales, make more adjustments with the color and add specs in the water. I also adjust the fish in the background so they are spaced better. Also added a little glow behind the character to make her pop a little more.

Final Polished

When everything is done, I save it into a flattened image. Having all the layers merged makes it easier for me to make overall adjustments. So with the layers merged to a single layer I make a couple more color adjustments, cleaned up some messy areas, and refined the face and tail fin. Also threw in some bubbles and exaggerated the puffer's eyes more.