One question I frequently get asked is: “Why do you paint fish?”
Honestly, I don’t know.
It could be because I’ve been involved in the seafood industry for most of my working career, either as a fisherman, photojournalist or a lobbyist.
It could be because I grew up on the shores of Joe Ney Slough, which drains into South Slough, in Charleston, Oregon. My buddy Paul and I would fish for bullheads almost every weekend from the old Crown Point bridge, when it was much lower to the water.
Growing up, I also spent a lot of time on the mudflats, discovering detritus, cool critters and flotsam and jetsam that washed up on the little beach down the hill from my house. I spent my early years learning about all the animals in the woods and shoreline and building rafts with friends out of discarded objects. I remember learning the scientific names of all the creatures I’d find in the local tidepools.
Maybe my interest in fish is much simpler: I’m an Aquarius and I’ve always liked the water. And watercolors yield themselves well to painting the intricacies of fish – at least to me they do.
The West Coast has some of the most beautiful fish on the planet. The rockfish species (Sebastes spp.) are multicolored and multipatterned like flag rockfish, tiger rockfish, treefish, canary rockfish. Other commercially caught species like sablefish may look
plain but are wonderfully shiny before they break the water. And spotted ratfish! To fishermen they are a nuisance, but their eyes are the most brilliant blue, their coloration is just gorgeous and their maneuverability while swimming is like a ballet. My choices for favorite fish are not only due to their coloration (rockfish and sculpins) but how they’ve survived and evolved through the years (hagfish, a.k.a., slime eels), some of their unique characteristics (ratfish) and – of course — their tastiness (lingcod, salmon, sablefish).
How could I forget Dungeness crab! Challenging to paint, but mighty tasty. Every time I paint a crab I remember those days on the boat, rebaiting the crab pots or stacking them on deck to bring them to shore.
So “why fish (and ocean critters)?” Your guess is as good as mine. I just hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed painting them.