Last year I had the pleasure of working on several commissions to be given as gifts for the holidays. One of my favourite things about commissions is hearing feedback from the recipient, and now I know it’s safe to share what I was working on. This particular 16 x 20 inch acrylic painting was for the client’s wife and was to feature her three favourite animals: a manatee, a dolphin, and a sea turtle. Here’s a look at the process from start to finish, including a shot of the framed piece in its happy home!
In the late 90s my school held a tabletop sale in the local town hall. 12-year-old-me ran a table to raise funds for whales and dolphins and to cover the cost of my first orca adoption. I already knew exactly which one it would be.
A6, also known as Strider, was an adult male in the northern resident community of orcas and the eldest offspring of A30 (Tsitika). Her matriline continues today. Born in 1964, he was often seen with his two brothers A38 (Blackney) and A39 (Pointer — I later adopted him too), and I still find photos of their three huge dorsal fins as they traveled together in books today. (Here’s a good link from 2007 with ID photos of the A30 matriline).
I remember the morning the newsletter arrived a few years later that told of his absence and presumed death. I was devastated. It was Strider that helped me connect with wild orcas from almost 5,000 miles away and it’s his fin that’s still etched in my memory; that notch in the upper third was so distinctive he became the first individual orca I ever learnt to recognise. In a lot of ways he’s still somewhat of an inspiration to me. I have his dorsal ID photo above my desk in the office and the postcard I was sent with the adoption certificate is on the wall of my studio almost 20 years later.
It’s odd, then, that I never really drew him until now. I’ve been planning out a large painting featuring a particular group of orcas with even more distinctive dorsal fins (I’m sharing the progress from thumbnail stage on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) and it got me thinking about Strider. I just wanted to do a simple ink drawing with stippling to highlight his silhouette. I’d love to do a proper piece featuring him and his brothers soon.
Happy new year! I’m not one for resolutions, but I do know it’s been way too long since I made a blog post. With the last couple months of 2015 getting increasingly busy I fell into the habit of updating instagram more than anything else (you can follow me here, by the way. Durp!) and neglected this poor blog, so I’m definitely going to be sharing more here.
After finishing a round of commissions in time for Christmas, I picked up one of a few gesso boards lying about in my studio and started playing with an idea I sketched out about a year ago: two adult male orcas breaking the surface of a choppy sea. These are of course two things I fall back on a lot – I love orcas AND choppy seas! – but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve also never completed something on gesso board before and really wanted to give it a go. It’s a very interesting surface, as it’s much more smooth than the surfaces I usually paint on but with just enough texture for me to feel comfortable with it. Next up: braving the super smooth clay board!
While browsing Pinterest this morning, looking for tattoo inspiration for myself, I found my art on someone else’s skin.
In 2009 I created this digital painting using openCanvas over a pencil sketch. I enjoyed the process given that the composition was quite different for me, as I’ve long been interested in the role of orcas in Native American culture. It’s an idea I’ve thought about revisiting and developing but haven’t made the time for.
I do take commissions for custom tattoo designs. I’m flattered by the use of my work and have been trying to find out whose arm this is – so far I’ve only been able to find it on Pinterest, pointing to a now-defunct site (even using Google’s reverse image lookup). The description mentions a tattoo shop in Massachusetts although it doesn’t appear in their site portfolio. I’d love to know who enjoyed this piece so much they wanted it on their body!
On April 15th this year I went whale watching for the first time. It was also my first visit to Monterey Bay, somewhere I’d longed to go for years and years. It lived up to my expectations and then some – although there were no orcas to be seen, I got to see several feeding humpback whales, an enormous pod of Risso’s dolphins, and a small but curious pod of long-beaked common dolphins. The latter is a species that can also be seen in my home waters in the southwest of England, but of course throughout my life it was always a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I was ecstatic to finally see them. They’re so small and quick and utterly charming; the pod made a beeline for the bow of the boat where I was crouching and were so close my lens was too long to get a good photo! Watching them erupt from the water (which in itself is so difficult to photograph) was so fantastic that I knew I had to paint it.
In an attempt to create more of a sense of depth in my work, I started on this 9 x 12 inch canvas panel a few nights ago to try a few things out. It was relaxing to do a personal piece before diving back into a big round of commissions. This was my first time really focusing on using washes, something I’ve been wanting to do more of, and I definitely want to continue experimenting. I’m very much a trial-and-error learner!
31 days ago I announced my challenge to draw or paint a different shark or ray species every single day for the entirety of July. Throughout the month, these artworks would go up for auction with the proceeds going to the wonderful non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. 31 days, lots of pencil shavings and paint and late nights later… here they all are! Many have already gone off to their new homes with winning bidders, and I can’t thank you all enough for the ongoing encouragement and interest these past few months. I’ve seen my work shared by individuals and organisations whose work I’ve admired for years, had amazing feedback from the scientists who are working to understand and protect these very species, got to represent elasmobranchs from the popular classics to the weird deep sea residents, and challenged myself to explore mediums I’d been afraid to before.
And best of all? So far more than $1000 has been raised for Shark Advocates – and it’s not over yet! Help me raise even more by bidding on the available art – we’ve still got ten days before the last auction ends. Own my original art and do something good for sharks and rays today – and thank you!!
As my current work in progress dries on the easel behind me I thought it would be a good time to share the latest five artworks in my Sharks and Rays for 31 Days challenge. I’m over halfway through now and only have 13 pieces to go! The level of interest and support in this project mean the world to me and I’m so very grateful for every retweet, like and share. As an artist it’s immensely fulfilling to see your art gaining traction but there’s a whole other level to this: these works (and the people that bid on them!) are directly supporting shark and ray conservation. That’s why, when I’m spending every minute of spare time in a day drawing, colouring, or painting an elasmobranch, I know it’s worth it. The first seven auctions have been won and the funds are being raised, and that’s awesome! Thank you, again. (Here’s a link to the current auctions!)
Shark Advocates International (the reason for this challenge) is a project of The Ocean Foundation, who published a lovely interview with me this week about the project, my art, and sharks, so do please give it a read! I’m excited for what’s next.
Now onto the art!
The common skate is sadly not living up to its name. There are far more species of skate than people realise, but I chose this one because of its conservation story; hopefully their populations will recover. I love the shape of skates so I wanted to focus on that for this watercolour, doing something a bit more unusual with the composition. I’m learning more every time I use watercolours, so I’m really enjoying using them.
We ALL knew this guy was coming eventually. White sharks are a classic, and they’re undeniably impressive. I always like using the white pencil on toned paper to highlight their undersides.
My scanner kind of hated this one so I apologise for a poor representation of the colours, but no one can resist a cownose ray face. I wanted to do something fun with this species as well as play with perspective a bit.
Watercolours two days in a row! This one was actually a suggestion from social media. I’d asked for people to name me a species and there were so many fantastic ideas, but the wobbegong came up more than anything else! And you know my weakness for wobbegongs, so I couldn’t help myself. I really wanted to use watercolours for those lovely markings. More follower suggestions coming soon!
My second go at using markers! I’m so glad I decided to continue exploring this medium, because like watercolours, I’m learning more each time and getting more comfortable with them. These little hammerheads had been on my list since the beginning, but a few people have expressed interest in seeing me draw one and I couldn’t resist any longer. They’re just so cute.
I want to give another massive thank you to everyone who’s been following me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and providing so much wonderful support and feedback on this challenge. A particularly huge thank you to Shark Advocates International and The Ocean Foundation for the encouragement! I’m excited to share that most of the artwork created so far is now on eBay and beginning to raise funds for shark and ray conservation.
Here’s a look at the pieces I’ve done since my last update!
I’ve had this idea in my head for a couple of years now so I was glad to have an excuse to give it a go! I really love zebra sharks and wanted to illustrate the three equally adorable “looks” they rock over their lives – pup, juvenile, and adult. I’m getting a bit more comfortable with watercolours now – this was fun to work on.
Before I began this challenge I promised myself I’d highlight some of the more unusual species. There are so many underloved and/or poorly known species but I knew I wanted to include one of the rough sharks, and settled on the prickly dogfish. What an odd little guy! They inhabit the temperate waters of south Australia and New Zealand at a usual depth between 300-600 m (984-1968 ft). They also have a spine on the leading edge of each dorsal fin and very rough skin, something I wanted to bring out using my trusty 6B pencil.
Wanted to have a play with composition here! Blacktip reef sharks are an all-time favourite of mine; in fact, they were one of the very first species of shark I ever saw as a child. They have such striking markings and I decided to focus on that trademark dorsal fin.
After doing the zebra sharks I felt braver about using watercolours and wanted to visit one of the small, underrepresented species. How can anyone NOT be absolutely in love with shysharks? They curl up when threatened and cover their eyes with their tail. I wish they’d get their very own documentary. Puffadder shysharks are endemic to South Africa and have such lovely markings. Really loved working on this one.
Also known as the banjo shark, fiddler rays have some of the most gorgeous markings among elasmobranchs. I’ve been wanting to draw one for a while!
This weekend was a really busy one for me and it was a bit of a struggle to get something done on Saturday. I’d love to revisit this one in the future, but for now this attempt at foreshortening will have to do! Greenland sharks are an utterly fascinating species – one of my favorite facts about them is that there’s a parasitic copepod, Ommatokoita elongata, that only lives in the eyes of the Greenland and Pacific sleeper sharks. What the hell, nature!
Shark Advocates hit the nail on the head when this drawing was captioned with “king of the under-appreciated sharks”. The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is the largest shark fishery in the U.S.and is currently understood to be sustainable, but previous years of overexploitation targeting females have left stocks skewed. This is a species whose gestation lasts two years! They’re an incredible little species and I was geeking out pretty hard when I finally saw some in person at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in April. I’ve had a few markers lying around since I bought them at HeroesCon 2014 and got the sudden urge to use them for this one; I’m excited to do more with them.
And here’s today’s offering, the biggest yet! Shortfin makos are simply spectacular fish. I love their flashiness and that incredible blue sheen of their skin, so I wanted to try to represent that through a slightly rougher painting style than what I usually do. Since this painting is so much larger than the others this month, I started working on it on Friday and worked on it in my limited time this weekend. Glad I got it done.
13 down… 18 more to go!
On Wednesday I began my fundraising challenge – creating art featuring a different shark or ray species every single day of July in support of Shark Advocates International – and in the last five days I’ve received so much support from you all that I’m really quite floored! It’s just so lovely to see such positive feedback early on in this project that it’s given me even more motivation to step up my game. And of course, knowing you’re all watching helps me keep accountable for reaching my goal!
Today marks the beginning of Discovery’s Shark Week so it’s a rather fitting time to take a look at the first five Sharks and Rays for 31 Days artworks and my reasons for choosing these species. I’ll be launching the first round of auctions later this week, so if you’ve got your eye on one of these pieces, you’re definitely going to want to follow me on social media! And if you can’t wait until the first auction to support Shark Advocates, you can donate directly to them any time you like.
Oceanic whitetips are a longtime favourite of mine. I’ve always been in awe of their beauty, and two years ago I painted one in celebration of the big elasmobranch win at CITES CoP 16. Did you know that Jacques Cousteau referred to them as “Lord of the Long Hands”? I have to agree: those pectoral fins are something else.
There’s just something mesmerising about a large school of mobulid rays. I created and posted this during the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting that would decide on strengthening protections for several shark and ray species, notably mantas and mobulids. I’m happy to share that there’s good news on that front for the rays, but sadly there is still a lot more work to be done.
Day three saw me complete the first full painting of the challenge. Hammerheads are absolutely iconic, and they don’t come bigger than the up-to-20-feet great hammerhead. I wanted to capture a couple of different angles with this one. Like other hammerheads, these guys have long been overexploited and their populations continue to decline, making them an Endangered species.
Who doesn’t love a spotted eagle ray? I love this species for their unusual snouts that they use to find their benthic prey and thought the white pencil and pen would be a fun way to highlight those lovely spots. Sadly, though, they are a Near Threatened species.
If you’ve ever seen an Atlantic sharpnose, even just a photo, you know already how impossibly cute they are. I wanted to have a bit of fun with this one so I painted him on a small wood panel – something I’ve done before but find a challenge because of how differently the paint behaves. It was nice to show some support for one of the little guys!
So that’s 5 down, 26 more to go… and I’m looking forward to every single one. Please feel free to suggest some of your favourite species for me to include!
I just can’t get enough of these utterly wonderful animals so all throughout July I’ll be making, sharing, and donating art to raise funds for vital conservation work through non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. SAI’s mission is “to provide leadership in advancing sound, science-based local, national, and international conservation policies through collaboration with a diverse array of organizations and decision makers.” Sharks and Rays for 31 Days will see me posting artwork featuring a different elasmobranch species every single day, whether it’s a sketch, more detailed drawing, or even a painting. Throughout the month, collections of these pieces will be available for auction with the proceeds going to SAI.
Please follow my progress and help me support sharks and rays! I’ll be posting updates right here on the blog, but daily pictures will be found on my social media accounts: Twitter || Facebook || Instagram #SharksandRaysfor31Days
See you on Wednesday, July 1st!
It’s no secret that I love cephalopods. I’m particularly smitten with cuttlefish, but I find all species fascinating. How could you not? These invertebrates are mollusks – yes, like snails and clams – but their remarkable intelligence and diversity sets them apart. On one end of the scale size-wise you have the fingernail-sized pygmy squid (Idiosepius notoides) and on the other you’ve got the enormous colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). In the middle of all that you’ll find the absolutely spectacular flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), who pack a lot of flashiness into their three-inch stature; the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) who can imitate other sea creatures from a lionfish to a sea snake; the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius) who boasts 90 tentacles… the list goes on. And on. They’re that awesome.
A lot of people have expressed their interest in a cephalopod-related design from me, which was lovely to hear because I’ve been planning on doing one for a while! I’m happy to finally share this fun little piece I created for my new shop. I’m a big fan of wanting better representation for the more unusual marine species on things like scarves and phone cases… and I’ve even put these little guys on skirts and leggings too! Hope you enjoy.
In line with my previous “Sharks!” and “Odontocetes!” designs, I had to create a “Rays!” version. These flat sharks are so underappreciated next to their rather flashier relatives, but they’re just as fascinating – and some are even more threatened. The five sawfish species comprise the most endangered group of marine fishes in the world, which is tragic considering how unusual and beautiful they are.
I decided not to add the text overlay on this design… what do you think?
The featured species:
• Spotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari
• Longcomb sawfish Pristis zijsron
• Reef manta ray Manta alfredi
• Motoro ray Potamotrygon motoro
• Bowmouth guitarfish Rhina ancylostoma
• Cownose ray Rhinoptera bonasus
• Atlantic stingray Dasyatis sabina
• Lesser devil ray Mobula hypostoma
Speaking of designs, I’m excited to be launching my new online store today! There are lots of new products available featuring my designs, including… SCARVES! I’m a scarf nut, so I had to order one for myself to check it out. I’m really pleased with the quality of the print and the fabric; it’s lovely and lightweight. There are also new phone cases, notebooks, tote bags and even stickers, so give it a look!
I know I wasn’t the only artist feeling sad as Art Gone Wild 2015 came to a close last night. This event has become a highlight of my year, and last night’s show was a brilliant example of why: seeing everybody’s fantastic works all finished, chatting with fellow artists and guests, eating a lot of those amazing cucumber hors d’oeuvres … and even meeting some special guests! The added bonus was seeing our hard work over the last two weeks paying off as lots of our art went to their new happy homes.
I was personally thrilled to see my rhino painting “Utenzi” with its new owners – the couple that won my wreathed hornbill last year! The racket-tailed roller also went an awesome new home, and my clouded leopard painting “Suhana” will now be living with one of the zoo’s incredible volunteers – it’s so rewarding to me when I know my work can be cherished by those that know and love these animals too. (The lanner falcon painting “Savanna” will be available in the online auction coming soon – stay tuned!)
All in all, I want to say another huge thank you to Zoo Atlanta and the events team for putting this adventure on for a second year running! It was lovely to see so many familiar faces from 2014 – Art Gone Wild feels like a real community. We already can’t wait for next year!
Wednesday: Because I only had a couple of hours to paint on Wednesday morning I decided to focus on my racket-tailed roller piece to get it closer to completion. On the way to my chosen spot, though, I happened to lock eyes with a favourite resident and instead spent a good 30 minutes drinking my coffee while he and his mother stared back at me as they had breakfast. Again… can you blame me?
After my rhino detour I focused on my roller and got a lot of detail done. I still have the back and wings to go as well as defining the branch some more, but overall I’m liking how it’s coming along. Never thought I’d enjoy painting lots of tiny feathers.
Thursday: Earlier in the week I’d been able to finally get a good look at Suhana, the zoo’s beautiful young clouded leopard. I’d been planning on painting her this week but hadn’t caught so much of a glimpse of her on previous visits, so with my own long-awaited references I set Thursday as my Suhana Day. I had picked up a new canvas especially for it, as the composition came to me as soon as I saw her! What an utterly captivating species this is. A few years ago I saw Zoo Atlanta’s previous clouded leopard, Moby, who passed away in 2013 at an impressive 16 years of age. It’s wonderful now to see Suhana settling in.
I spent all day working on this piece but still have so far to go! It was a lovely, productive day though, much of it spent with fellow artist Natalie Huggins as she worked on her own clouded leopard painting. I also took time to watch the bird show and managed to get over my toucan-related geek out just enough to get photos of Friday’s subject.
Friday: Not everything went to plan today, as illustrated brilliantly by my poor car over there. Luckily it happened while I was right by the zoo, and thanks to the help of event coordinator Julia Knox and Tommy the maintenance guy I was able to get home safely at the end of the day! (… and later ended up having to use up a lot of painting time getting all four tires replaced. Womp womp.)
Anyway, I had a later start and a shorter stay than planned but I made headway on what will probably be my final Art Gone Wild piece. It’s a portrait of Savanna the lanner falcon, an absolutely stunning bird I stumbled upon on Monday while carting my equipment through the zoo. I thought she was one of the most visually striking birds I’d ever seen, so when I saw her in action in the bird show I knew I had to paint her too. I’ve got a huge soft spot for raptors and currently have a broad-winged hawk painting in progress, so I’m excited to be working on my first falcon. Coincidentally, I made a good t-shirt decision today.
This weekend will be spent finishing all my pieces before dropping them off in time for the Art Show and Silent Auction event on Saturday June 13th. Please come if you can! The variety of artworks that will be available is fantastic, and you’ll be able to bid on them all and take them home. Proceeds support both the zoo and the artists. If this week’s been any indication it’s going to be an incredible show!