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.