I’ve painted one of these beauties before and had quite a lot of fun with it even if suckers are possibly the most tedious thing in the world to draw, let alone paint. Apparently, when I’m sick I like to torture myself by reliving that tediousness by drawing even more of them. Fun octopus fact: the only hard party of their body is their beak… so if the beak fits, the whole octopus fits. It’s kind of awesome.
It’s been a long time since I did manta rays. My first and so far only finished manta piece “Takeoff” was done almost two and a half years ago and remains my most popular image, even though I’ve since moved away from digital pieces and have fully embraced traditional media again (it doesn’t always embrace me back, as I’ve made several manta painting attempts and given up each time). You can see a dreadful rough sketch here and a screenshot of it in progress here. I’ve been wanting to return to mantas ever since I completed “Takeoff”, but nothing ever worked for me. My recent focus on whale sharks, however, has motivated me into trying again – you have to love the giant filter feeders.
Manta rays are utterly captivating. Their appearance is just so alien; I can look closely at sharks and other fish and their anatomy makes sense to me, but mantas are somehow beyond my comprehension sometimes. They’re just so big that it’s a lot to take in when that gigantic shadow is looming above you, the bubbles from your regulator tickling their bellies as they effortlessly glide on by like a spacecraft looking for a good spot to land. When those cephalic fins unroll to form a funnel for that cavernous mouth it’s hard not to imagine them coming from another planet. Which is one of the infinite reasons the ocean is so awesome: Manta rays make perfect sense in this environment.
They are, of course, another success story that came out of this year’s CITES CoP 16 (you can read my previous posts on this in my conservation tag). The manta proposal was actually the first elasmobranch one to pass on its first try, an indicator of our fascination with them (and, sadly, the precariousness of their conservation status). Manta rays are divers’ favourites; our desire to see and experience them makes them far more valuable alive than dead. Unfortunately their gill rakers are falsely believed to hold health benefits, and the demand for their parts has caused populations to plummet (PEW identifies decreases of more than 85% in several regions). As with many marine species bycatch is also a huge problem, and when you consider that your average manta will birth only one pup every two to three years, you can understand why these incredibly unsustainable practices are removing mantas much faster than their biology can cope with. With a listing on CITES Appendix II now official, manta rays have a much greater chance of recovering.
I wanted to practice drawing them from several different angles to try to wrap my head around them just a bit better. Looking forward to translating a few onto a nice big canvas!
adj.1. Experiencing or tending to bring about renewal or revival.2. Sweeping or surging back again.
I had mentioned before that I wanted to paint an oceanic whitetip shark, and this month couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to do it. At the beginning of March, the 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species discussed proposals to add oceanic whitetips and several other overexploited elasmobranchs to CITES Appendix II. This would significantly change the game for these species by regulating their trade and helping to bring relief to devastated populations (oceanic whitetips in the Gulf of Mexico had seen a 99% decrease in population). This is what so many scientists, conservation organisations and individuals had been tirelessly working to achieve. The proposals for manta rays, porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetips and scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads all initially passed, with delegates highlighting these species’ low reproduction rates and importance to ecotourism despite much pressure from Japan and China, but it wasn’t until the conference was almost over that each of those proposals were upheld. It was a massive win for these animals, and worth all the sleep I lost watching a grainy, slow video feed from Bangkok.
Oceanic whitetips have caught my attention for a long time, not just because of their striking colouration but because their pelagic lifestyle leads to such stunning imagery: greys and bronzes and white tips flanked by black and white escorts, all surrounded by a seemingly endless deep blue. I used a 10 x 20 100% cotton duck canvas for this one, which created a slightly different texture than what I’ve become used to. It was very enjoyable to paint on! And despite any grumblings I may have uttered as I worked on them, I actually did like adding a lot of small detailing to the pilot fish.
My thanks and congrats go out again to everyone who worked so hard to afford this victory for our sharks, especially the dedicated folks at Shark Defenders, the CITES4sharks coalition, and PEW Environment Group. Sharks are far from being out of danger, but this was a big bright spot in a complicated struggle.
I have a favour to ask of you: If you hear me saying “I know a quick little painting I could do! A jelly! How hard could THAT be?” please slap me and bring me to my senses. Because what was supposed to be a quick 8 x 10 study of a Pacific sea nettle seems to have taken me about a month and a half (in the little bits and pieces of time I’ve been able to make for painting around work and life stuff… I know, breaking my new year’s resolution dreadfully). It was very cute of me to think that it’d be simple. Painting an animal that is more than 95% water is actually a bit of a nightmare – the translucency was driving me nuts. I feel like I’ve learned a lot just from this, though, and of course it was fun to do another invertebrate.
Pacific sea nettles, so common they’re a nuisance off the Oregon coast, caught my interest because of their colours. You have to love the bright oranges and those gorgeous patterns on the bell. Glad I didn’t opt for painting those ~12 foot long tentacles though.
A couple of weeks ago, the lovely Dr. Al Dove appeared and asked me to do something awesome. The 3rd International Whale Shark Conference was to be held in Atlanta this coming October, and it needed a logo.
I did a very good job at not falling out of my chair. To have the opportunity to use my art for something so important to me – the conservation and research of whale sharks, a species that has become a big part of my life – is quite literally a dream come true. After some chatting and discussing of ideas, I was sent off to sketch and came up with eight or nine scribbles. One of the ideas we’d mentioned was the trademark “swoopyness” of whale sharks, that huge sweeping caudal fin that creates a beautiful silhouette as they swim (and is one of my favourite things about them). As such, I doodled a few swoopies. The intention was to create a simple outline from one of these sketches, something that had a visual impact and was undeniably whale sharky.
The four on the sides here were my attempts at different angles of this swoopiness. The one above was an idea I’d had early on that was a bit different – something that showed a whale shark doing what they like to do best – eating things – while the reflection of the animal on the surface would form a world map, incorporating the whole “international” part of the conference. But we ended up going with something quite different entirely: the one I had affectionately called “blimp.jpg”. Al and I agreed that this one was more interesting because it shows the face, and whale shark faces are the best. (Really, though.) It also offered a different angle, something a bit more abstract but still undeniably whale sharky, and did a better job of alluding to the size of a BIG animal than any of the others did. Success!
So here we are now. With a bit of editing of the angle, some inking and colouring and letters and a map, he’s live on the website and will hopefully do a good job of welcoming some of the world’s top whale shark researchers to the United States this autumn.
When asked what my favourite species of shark is, I struggle to answer. They’re all so interesting in their own ways (even you, goblin shark!), so I tend to go with whichever one I happen to be looking at at the time. Recently I’ve become particularly enamoured with oceanic whitetips. I’ve always found them visually striking – I like the rounded edges to their fins, their colouration, and their elegance. And I really love the imagery of their own personal pilot fish fan club that sometimes almost completely engulfs them. I plan to paint an oceanic whitetip soon so I figured I’d practice with some sketches.
Oceanic whitetip sharks are one of the species whose addition to CITES will be voted on in March (see my post about Shark Defenders’ awesome petition here!). The United States actually co-sponsored the proposal to list them, and this week said it would support all of the shark and ray proposals at the upcoming Conference of the Parties – fantastic news for these threatened animals. Oceanic whitetips are at particular risk due to fishing pressure: Their fins are especially valued but their meat is not (the case for many sharks, sadly), meaning that when they do fall victim to bycatch (or are targeted) their fins are removed but the body is dumped at sea, meaning exact numbers of catches are extremely difficult to obtain and regulate. Studies that have been done indicate a 99% decline of populations in the Gulf of Mexico – similar trends have been seen in the northwest Atlantic and the Pacific. More information on this species, as well as the others up for vote in a matter of weeks and the latest developments, can be found on PEW Environment Group’s utterly brilliant coverage of CITES CoP 16. And if you’d like to join Shark Defenders’ efforts to show support for listing them, one of Shark Stanley’s friends is the lovely Waqi Whitetip!
In other shark conservation news, a couple of weeks ago the Ocean Artists Society released its first video project, Artists United for Sharks: Saving Sharks. My whale shark painting “Entourage” is featured (I apologise for my rather dreadful narration), and it’s truly an honour to be alongside such an astounding collection of artists. Very much looking forward to our future endeavours!
This weekend I broke a world record: the least amount of time, for me, between starting and finishing a painting. This is both very new and somewhat of an accident. Usually I start working on a piece, slapping on some base colours and playing with composition and lighting a bit, then go off to do Life Stuff. I’ll go back to the canvas to do a little bit more when I can, but the whole process can take weeks depending on the scale of it. On Friday evening I picked up an old 8 x 10 canvas board I’d abandoned and started fleshing out a new manta ray painting, as I simply love mantas but have never painted them (my piece “Takeoff” was a pencil sketch that I coloured digitally). On Saturday morning I decided I hated everything about the water and painted over it… and over it. And over it. While my fourth attempt was drying, I dug out another 8 x 10 and decided to do something different.
I admit it – orcas really aren’t that different for me. They’re my favourite animal ever (ever), and like many people around the world I was very concerned about the pod that was trapped by ice in a remote section of Hudson Bay last week. I was thrilled to hear about their apparent escape, but the footage I saw of them surfacing and spyhopping stuck with me. The colours of that scene were incredible. I’ve been meaning to paint an icy scene involving orcas for a couple of years now (and have quietly tried a few unsuccessful times), and thought this would be a good time to give it another go. That stunning colour palette would be quite different for me, and I wanted to remember those whales and their story. I was quite touched to learn that the people of Inukjuak had planned to make their own breaks in the ice to help the pod had they still been trapped, and to hear of their joy when they discovered they’d been able to move on. It’s a testament to how deeply we care about these animals no matter where they are – the world watched as a small and remote village prepared to step in where we couldn’t, and we all shared the relief as the whales left.
Starting something on a Saturday and finishing it the following Monday (around work) isn’t a bad start to my year. I hope I can be as productive for the rest of it!
I’m not usually one for making New Years resolutions, but I am going to fill 2013 with art. Whether it’s just a doodle, a detailed sketch, or an involved painting, I’m going to make sure I spend at least a little bit of every single day doing something art related. I certainly won’t be able to post things online every day, but I’ll be putting pencil to paper or brush to canvas in whatever time I can make – and I’m going to make the time. Though 2012 was a very busy year, I still felt like I wasted too much time that could have been spent being productive and improving my work. I’m hoping that by making this commitment I can emerge at the end of the year with a more robust portfolio and a feeling of accomplishment. And now that I’ve published this on the internet, I can’t go back…!
A big help in this decision came in the form of a Christmas present I received from my husband: my dream drafting table. I’d been waxing somewhat poetic about it over the last few months, since I craved an actual desk in my studio (when using my table easel, I sat on the floor with it) and endless trawls of craigslist continued to yield nothing. A little bit of rearranging and tidying up later, and my workspace has evolved. Astonishingly, drawing is so much more comfortable on a drafting table than it is hunched over on the sofa with my sketchbook balanced in my lap. How odd…
While this isn’t an update about any art I’m currently working on (although I do have new prints available!), I wanted to use this space to highlight a unique project I feel quite strongly about.
Here’s what you need to know. Only ten species of sharks, rays and skates (elasmobranchs), out of many hundreds, are internationally protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at this time: sawfish (7 species), whale sharks, basking sharks and great white sharks. It was recently proposed that ten more be considered for inclusion on Appendix II: scalloped, smooth, and great hammerheads, porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, both manta ray species, and three species of river stingray. (Right now scalloped hammerheads are only protected under CITES Appendix III in Costa Rica, and porbeagle sharks in the European Union.) Overexploitation of these species has had particularly devastating effects on their populations; sightings of reef mantas in Mozambique alone have declined by about 86% in less than a decade. CITES is set to convene in Bangkok in March 2013 to vote on these proposals.
This is where Shark Stanley comes in. In the spirit of Flat Stanley - a character I encountered and posed with quite frequently working in public aquaria education – this very cute little hammerhead is traveling the world to find supporters of shark and manta ray conservation. He’s the brainchild of Shark Defenders, and the idea is to compile a kind of photographic petition to send to the governments voting at CITES in order to get their support. The goal is to find 50 celebrities and organisations to partner with Shark Stanley and collect at least 5000 photos from all 176 CITES member countries. Not only was the adorable illustration (by the incredibly talented Daniel Yagmin Jr.) difficult to resist and the idea inventive, but elasmobranch conservation is near and dear to my heart, especially when it comes to manta rays. I had to get involved, and had a particularly large friend help me express my support. Fingers crossed!
If you’d like to take part in Shark Stanley’s adventures too, check out the Shark Defenders Facebook page. Print the little guy out, take your photo, and share it via social media (or by emailing email@example.com) using the hashtags #SharkStanley and that of your country of origin to spread the message!
Edit on 12/24/2012: I’m so very proud to be an official partner of Shark Stanley! Let’s get these precious elasmobranchs better international protection!
You’d think an English person would be tired of gloomy weather, but the grey skies and rain that have signified autumn in Atlanta actually do the opposite for me: I love it. Maybe it’s because the oppressive summer heat here makes me want to lie down in a quiet place and not do anything creative at all. Whatever it is, cold snaps and storms make me want to paint. And specifically, they make me want to celebrate the beauty of a choppy sea – something that definitely reminds me of home.
Although orcas don’t frequent my “home” stretch of the British coastline (and on the rare occasions that they do make an appearance, I’m nowhere near, of course), gannets are very common. While giving educational boat tours I saw them a lot, and was lucky enough to be able to observe their incredible diving behaviour many times (I recommend watching this video - with quite possibly the most dramatic music put to seabirds and some great footage of their, erm, elegance on land – to see how amazing it is). I was stunned when I saw my very first gannet fold its wings back and plunge like an arrow into the dark water, popping back up few seconds later and several feet away like it was no big deal. But they’re visually striking birds to me too – I just love that splash of yellow and the impossibly blue eyes.
This marks the first time I’ve ever painted a bird, unless you’re counting a 1990s primary school lesson on ancient Egypt in which I did a meticulously detailed Horus. Despite some initial grumbling over my decision to pick something with outstretched wings I actually really enjoyed it. It felt good to be branching out in terms of subject and texture and I’d really like to focus on seabirds more in the future. The entire piece measures 14 x 18 inches, meaning some detail is lost in the resized version, so here’s a closer look at both the gannet and the orca. When this composition popped into my head a few months ago I knew it had to be an adult male; those ridiculous pectoral flippers are so strangely endearing. I’m always taken by the diversity of markings on orcas all over the world and have a particular soft spot for jagged lines along the sides of the head. It was also an opportunity to develop my techniques for painting waves, since so many of my pieces imagine scenes below the surface. In all, this one was a challenge – one I enjoyed and managed to finish within a couple of weeks. Definitely a speed record for me.
Now that our wedding has happened and life is finally settling down again, it feels amazing to be able to dedicate some time to painting. This is a little peek at something I started about a month ago but haven’t had time to work on until this week, and I’m having some fun with it. The colder weather makes me crave a beautiful stormy sea and there’s never a time when I don’t want to paint orcas, but the finished piece will also feature something I’ve never painted before. It’s a good learning process!
The 7th annual Aqua Vino took place last Thursday at Georgia Aquarium. It’s a very large, very fancy event featuring some of the best food and wine to be found in Atlanta, and proceeds from it go directly into supporting the aquarium’s Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health. This year, the focus was on African penguins.
African penguins and I go way back. When I began my professional journey in environmental education, I worked at the UK’s only coastal zoo and became quite good chums with several dozen of them. In addition to giving plentiful penguin presentations to the public (try saying that three times fast) I assisted our animal care team with daily cleaning and food preparation duties and even fed the little guys myself. But life hasn’t been all too easy on wild African penguins for the last few decades, largely because of human impacts – commercial overfishing, oil spills, habitat loss, the harvesting of guano – and in 2010, they were downgraded on the IUCN Red List from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered”. In 2009 it was estimated that the global African penguin population was only 25,262 pairs, meaning that their numbers have dropped to less than 10% of their population 100 years ago. It’s this alarmingly rapid decline that makes conservation efforts like the AZA’s Species Survival Plans all the more urgent. Information gained from working with these precious birds directly supports those struggling populations in the field; I personally know several animal care specialists, on both continents, who have traveled to South Africa to help rescue, rehabilitate, and release oiled or injured birds. This January saw the hatching and rearing of Georgia Aquarium’s first two African penguin chicks – wonderful news for the SSP – and Aqua Vino’s support will go a long way in ensuring that this success continues.
That’s why I was so excited to have two framed prints of mine (Murphy the loggerhead sea turtle and the giant Pacific octopus) in the silent auction. To be featured alongside such renowned marine life artists as Wyland and Guy Harvey was an honour, and I was proud to be contributing to such a worthy cause. I’m very pleased to say that both of my pieces received a number of bids and together raised a few hundred dollars for penguin conservation efforts – an amazing thing for an emerging fine artist to be able to say! Painting is such a passion of mine so it’s very fulfilling to know that both of them have gone to good homes.
If you’re interested in learning more about African penguins and how you can help, I recommend checking out SANCCOB, an organisation dedicated to saving South Africa’s incredible seabirds. For less than $60 you can adopt and name a penguin – ensuring it can be rehabilitated and released! What a bargain!
This week many of us have been participating in Sea Otter Awareness Week, a seven-day celebration of one of the world’s most charismatic marine mammals, and certainly the hairiest (up to 1,000,000 hairs per square inch!). Sea otters play an important role in maintaining a healthy, productive ecosystem. As a keystone species in the kelp forests of the west coast, their taste for sea urchins helps to support the entire kelp forest itself: with the urchin population maintained, the kelp holdfasts that the spiky little echinoderms like to munch on are much safer, and the dense underwater forest can continue to both be a home for thousands of other animals and remove CO2 from our atmosphere.
As part of SOAW, zoos and aquariums (and many, many other facilities and individuals) across the country come together to raise public awareness of this vital species through educational presentations, activities, crafts, screenings, demonstrations… if it’s sea otter related and you can think of it, it’s probably happening somewhere. There’s a great list of organisations taking part in this year’s events right here - there’s still one day left to go, so you can still make it to a celebration near you!
I created a sea otter colouring page for Georgia Aquarium this year. I wanted to include several aspects of a sea otter’s life – resting at the surface with a pup, foraging for delicious invertebrates, being generally hairy – and it was a lot of fun to shake up my style a bit and do something much more simplified. I hope any little ones who’ve had the chance to colour it have enjoyed it too! You can download it as a .PDF from the website under the “Activities” link and share the sea otter love. And remember that sea otters, like all animals, are important every week of the year, not just the last one in September!
As I was idly checking my messages on deviantART on my phone this morning from the comfort of bed (aren’t seasonal colds just the best?), I noticed I had a lot of them. Like, five hundred times more than usual.
It turns out that my humpback whale piece from over two years ago had been selected as a Daily Deviation – suggested by a user, chosen by an admin and displayed on the site’s opening page. You can see the day’s selections here. In August of last year, my manta rays were featured in the same way. To have my work chosen like this not just once but twice is a real honour; the increased exposure is amazing, and that so many more people have been taking the time today to view my art and leave comments is very much appreciated. I just wish that I had more time to work on some new art at the moment, but finding the time outside of work and wedding planning is proving just a bit difficult!
As for the image itself, it was both drawn and coloured entirely digitally, using my tablet, in a program called OpenCanvas 4. I had a look in my art folder on the computer and found some in-progress screenshots I’d taken while working on this one, which you can see just a bit further down on this post. It was a way of challenging myself to draw a mysticete, or baleen whale, as it’s quite apparent when looking at my portfolio that I tend to focus on the smaller, smooth-skinned odontocetes (toothed whales). I distinctly remember wanting to get across a real sense of depth, as footage of humpback whales rising from deep, dark blue waters had always captured my imagination. Creating the knobbly texture on the head and the pectoral flippers was fun and certainly different for me at that point. Colouring art digitally is something I relied quite heavily on for a couple of years, as my rather unexpected move to the United States meant not having any of my traditional supplies, but I’ve really found myself moving away from it in a big way.
I look at this image now and see dozens of ways I want to revisit it using acrylics, but it remains a landmark in my development as an artist, and again, I really appreciate the feedback on it. In my studio there’s definitely a baleen whale work in progress that I started last week, by the way… only(!) two years after this first attempt.
In little snippets of spare time lately I’ve been picking up my sketchbook to draw orcas. They’ve always been my favourite subjects; beyond their endlessly fascinating behaviour, there’s something about them I find so compelling and beautiful. If I’m doodling, whatever the canvas, you can guarantee there’ll be one in there somewhere. After so many years they’ve kind of become my trademark. I can’t help it.
When I went home to England over Christmas last year I rediscovered my very first orca drawings. Literally. I had just turned eight years old when I first encountered them at SeaWorld and could draw little else. I’m impressed with Little Past Me’s
ability to remember all the correct markings, moreorless (with a small exception – white on the upper jaw? What was I thinking!), and determination to draw as many different actions as possible. I should take notes.
I have a few more from the years between then and now – including some rather dramatic scenes of predation(!) drawn when I was ten – that I’ll put here in future posts. It’s a lot of fun to be able to track your artistic development.