I’ve admired the work of artist Aaron Blaise for a while now, both for his incredibly diverse style as well as how beautiful even the most simple sketch can be. Inspired by his utterly gorgeous sketches on toned paper I thought I’d have a go myself, and used a white pencil, gel pen and a biro to draw an Atlantic sea nettle. It was really enjoyable, and definitely something I’m going to do more of!
One of the places I was determined to visit during our (utterly fantastic) trip west this month was the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. I’m so glad we did – it’s an incredible place and it was wonderful to see so many people engaged with a variety of science-based topics. Naturally I was drawn to the Steinhart Aquarium, but it was also a very pleasant surprise for me to see my first real orca skeleton up close. O319 was a young male offshore orca that stranded at Point Reyes National Seashore in November 2011 and, after a lengthy collection process (that you can read about in detail here), went on display at the Academy in 2013. Seeing this specimen up close was a real treat for me; being able to see his worn teeth (which are casts in the skeleton itself – the originals were made available for research) from a primary diet of sharks was fascinating. It’s also easy to see the broken rib that possibly led to his death.
The Academy’s Naturalist Center is unlike anything I’ve seen at any other museum. Here, visitors of all ages can actually get their hands on real and replica specimens for closer examination. What an awesome way to get people involved! My built-in “orcadar” immediately led me towards the orca skull, a life-size recreation from Bone Clones. It’s this that I used as a reference for some quick sketches, something I’d love to do more of.
Sawfishes are amazing creatures, but did you know that the five species comprise the most threatened family of fishes on the planet? All five are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, a sad result of many decades of bycatch and targeted fishing for their distinctive rostrums combined with their low reproductive rate. Thankfully, there’s recent good news for these guys. Earlier in November, every species of sawfish was selected for inclusion on the Convention on Migratory Species (also known as the Bonn Convention). This means that under correct enforcement, sawfishes will be protected throughout their ranges. They already see some international protection through CITES, so hopefully we’ll be able to see their populations increasing. In the meantime, I felt like doing a few rough celebratory sketches. Gotta love those giant spiracles!
Highly recommended sawfish links:
As announced back in April, I’m one of the selected artists participating in Zoo Atlanta’s brand new Art Gone Wild event in a couple of weeks. In the run-up to Paint Out Week I’ve been thinking a lot about my potential subjects and spent last Friday at the zoo finding my muse. With the sun out and the temperature in the 70s, it was the perfect day to be outside observing and sketching animals for hours on end! Collected here are some of my quick zoo doodles (zoodles?) done from life.
I plan to paint a variety of subjects but definitely found myself gravitating towards a certain few – is anyone actually surprised that I’m focusing on hornbills? I don’t know what it is about these birds, but I’m just captivated by them. I was also thrilled to finally get to see Jabari, the zoo’s ridiculously cute eastern black rhino calf who was born last year. Watching him run around was definitely the day’s highlight for me.
A few rough belugas drawn while in the kitchen waiting for rice to cook. Exciting! It was also a race against time to fill the page before my 6B pencil devolved into a useless nub. Don’t you hate it when the lead is broken all the way through and it keeps snapping off? It was a new pencil last week. Sadness.
If you’ve ever been to an aquarium that has a ray touch pool, you’ve probably encountered these guys up close already. Cownose ray faces seem to be particularly appealing to a lot of people – they’ve definitely got a distinctive look! Named after their unique head shape, which is a lot like the nose of a cow, cownose rays are actually a Near Threatened species that ranges from the western Atlantic all the way down to the far end of Brazil. There are two unusual subrostral lobes on its underside that help it forage in the substrate for tasty invertebrates.
See more of my Februaray sketches using this handy tag!
I’ve never seen an ocellate river stingray in person, but their colouration fascinates me. So does their lifestyle – it’s a freshwater species! Though these guys in particular are currently classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, the threats to freshwater elasmobranchs become all the more apparent when you consider just how much we impact our rivers and streams. Not being able to know how well or poorly a species is doing can make managing their conservation quite difficult.
I added a bit of digital colour to this sketch to show their awesome markings. I saved up for an iPad in December and have been having a blast getting back into digital art using a stylus; it’s a great feeling to be able to create artwork – even “paint” – on the go.
When most people think of stingrays they’re probably envisioning something about the size of the lid of your average trash can. The black blotched fantail ray is a big stingray though, and quite a sight to behold as it sweeps along the bottom like a forgotten 330 lb blanket.
I’m looking forward to having some time this weekend to produce some more Februaray contributions that are a lot more finished than the sketchbook pages I’ve shared so far!
For tonight’s FebruaRAY post I’m sharing another page from my sketchbook. Spotted eagle rays are the champions of being completely bizarre-looking but ridiculously endearing at the same time. They have one of the strangest faces of all elasmobranchs – the fleshy snout forms a “bill” that they use to dig around in the sediment for delicious mollusks, but it also gives them an oddly human face. I was recently feeding a group of these guys, and yes, it was awesome. It’s actually a bit startling to remember just how big they can get: an adult can measure almost 11 feet across and more than 16 feet long including the tail.
What’s FebruaRAY? I’m dedicating all of my art time this month to the vastly underappreciated Batoidea! Keep checking back for lots more as I work my way through just a few of the ~560 species of rays and skates.
You may have heard some big elasmobranch news a couple of weeks ago: the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group published the first-ever global analysis of sharks, rays and chimeras, and the results were not good. It found that a quarter of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, putting them at a substantially higher risk than other groups of animals. That’s pretty huge. Especially disturbing is the fact that rays are actually more at risk than sharks are.
Rays are essentially flat sharks, but they don’t garner nearly the attention that their more well-known relatives do. Of course, you get the rockstar manta rays and aquarium touch pool favourites, but on the whole, rays are really underloved. I’d like to help change that.
So, for the entire month, I’m celebrating FebruaRAY. (I’m not sorry for the name.) As often as I can over the coming weeks, I’m going to draw and share art I’ve created that showcases some of my favourite ray species. I love rays dearly, but even I’m guilty of picking more traditionally “paintable” marine wildlife over them. Here’s to changing that!
My first Februaray offering is a double – two messy pages from my sketchbook. I was thrilled to hear that Sweet Pea, a bowmouth guitarfish (or shark ray – just to be confusing) at the Newport Aquarium gave birth very recently, which is particularly fantastic because this marks the first time this species has reproduced in human care. Guitarfishes are actually one of the most threatened families of rays. Go Sweet Pea! (Please do click on that link and to see photos of her pups. There’s little on the planet cuter than elasmobranch babies!)
Last Monday I had the undeniably awesome experience of being in the water with a small school of lesser devil rays (Mobula hypostoma) during feeding time. I was already kind of in love with these guys, who you’d not be too wrong to think of as tiny, hyperactive manta rays, but experiencing them so close and feeling the water move as they zig-zagged so effortlessly around me has me head over heels for them.
Please do feel free to suggest more ray species for me to draw! What is YOUR favourite?
I decided to take a little break from the acrylics and dedicate myself to some pencil work. It’s been a while since I spent so long on something that wasn’t a painting, but I really enjoyed the process and it definitely brought back my love of working in graphite. Though I delight in the ease of being able to pick it up and put it back down again without having to wash brushes and pots, I actually find pencil work far more challenging. If I make an error with acrylics I can “easily” paint over it (not without excessive grumbling, I’ll admit), but a mistake in the middle of a complicated piece with its layers of tones is a lot more difficult to fix – it can terribly mess up the flow and will stick out like a sore thumb… at least in my experience. So I really took my time with this one, stopping when I got too tired or began to get distracted (my biggest curse). Here’s a look at the progress: