September 3, 2012

Out of my Depth

Rockfish Garden, oil on linen, 40X40"

There is an Eastern saying, "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment".  I did just that when I took on this piece for the "Artists for an OIl Free Coast" project I am currently involved with.

I wanted to share a bit of my process here with you.  No, I did not take my canvas underwater, although that may have been easier.

The Field Trip

 Whilst on Calvert Island, I viewed a lot of the sea life from the top of the water, but wasn't able to go for a dive.  Instead, I kayaked around and naturalist and project leader Mark Hobson expounded about  the creatures and plant life that could be seen from the surface, and the relationships between them within that environment.  Glare on the surface made photographing rather difficult, but I still managed to squeeze off a few helpful shots without dropping my camera into the water.

The Field Trip after the Field Trip

I returned home with some helpful photos of starfish,  etc., but no photos of Rockfish. Whenever I have scuba dived off of BC's coast, I have always spotted Rockfish, so I had to have some Rockfish references. I trundled off to the Vancouver Aquarium, camera in hand, to find me some Rockfish.  In an aquarium setting, different species are put together (along with sea plants and other creatures) that may not typically dwell at the same depth.  Every effort is made to make the habitat representative of what exists in nature, but compromises have to be made.  This was going to present some reference gathering challenges.

I took over a hundred photos from the aquarium.  After that I went online and found some photos and sketches that filled in a few more blanks for me.  Books on the ocean life in the area were also helpful.

Visual Memory

Having done dives off the coast of BC in time past, I remembered aspects of the light and the water color from those experiences.  The other thing that really stuck with me from those experiences was the plethora of bottom life that exists in that environment.    A diver is afraid to touch a finger or a fin  anywhere for fear of disturbing or hurting a star fish, sea pen, anemone - most often every rock is covered with many  forms of sea life.  I wanted that abundance and variety in my painting.

Ya Gotta Start Somewhere

Not sure where to start I made a few thumbnails and dragged out a big canvas. Light through water behaves differently than through air, aerial perspective is more profound and involves temperature changes unlike it does on dry land. 

With many  references from many sources it was difficult to know how to put them together. All of my references had different light sources, some were even flashed.  I'm not accustomed to "winging it" when I am trying to get important stuff accurately, but there wasn't anything for it.


I think I could have painted on this piece for ever because I kept seeing things I could change or improve on....but at some point you have to just step back from the easel and put the brushes down.
Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.

This piece along with over fifty other pieces (by such well known artists as Robert Bateman, Carol Evans, Roy Vickers, Alan Wylie, Janice Robertson, Mike Svob, Mark Hobson et al)  will travel in a show across Canada, starting in Victoria in mid November.  The purpose of the show is to raise public awareness and funds to prevent Enbridge's proposed super tanker route through Douglas Sound.  For information on this project, go to

Happy painting, everyone.

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