Eerie Creatures at the Aquarium

Can you believe how ugly these creatures are? As if the dead birds I'd sketched weren't enough, I rounded the corner and came upon this eerie tank of Wolfish and Sculpins. It was dark and mysterious, and the colors were all muted except for the brilliant yellows and oranges of the Sculpins. Incredibly strange as they were, I just had to sketch them. The Sculpin was actually on the other side of the tank when I began, and I'd not planned to put him into the sketch, but when he swam around and came to rest nearly under my nose, with his bright coloring and fascinating shapes, there was no way I was going to leave him out of the picture.

This paper started off as white pages in my Stillman & Birn Alpha hardbound sketchbook. The brown and gold background and page borders were done in advance in the studio using Golden Fluid Acrylics and F&W Acrylic Inks. Working on a toned surface often helps me to set up the scene for a sketch. The only down side is that I end up having to skip around the book when I look for just the right background color and border for a particular page. Even though the six pages of aquarium sketches I did that day seem like a cohesive group, they are not all on adjacent pages in the book.

I started this sketch with two fountain pens --- one filled with Noodler's Midnight Blue, and the other filled with a mix of Private Reserve Velvet Black and Private Reserve Chocolat. I figured those would give me a warm and a cool, and with the addition of a waterbrush for shading and wash, I'd have everything I needed. But that was before the Sculpin forced himself into the scene, and I decided to add in quite a bit of watercolor when I made the decision to include him.

It was really dark in the room! Dim lights were on inside the tank, but I could barely see what I was sketching, and wished I'd had the foresight to leave my little book light in my messenger bag. I'd removed it to lighten up the bag as much as possible, but I'll definitely bring it next time. It's a Mighty Bright Music Light and has a clip to affix it to a music stand, which I use to clip it to the book. It has a little arm that opens up and it's highly adjustable. It folds into a small pouch and is fabulous for nocturnes, candlelight sketching opportunities, or power failures, as I recently learned!

The text was written with a TWSBI Broad-nib fountain pen and Noodler's La Reine Mauve ink when I returned to the studio. The TWSBI is a really bold, wet writer, and La Reine Mauve is one of my favorite inks --- deep purple and waterproof. Once I added the purple watercolor into the sketch, I knew that would be the pen and ink combination I'd be using to write the text. I generally do the writing after I get back, using a color that I feel will help tie it all together.


  1. Thank for stepping through your process, Jamie. I'm not smart enough to mix approaches and media as you do and end up with anything reasonable but it's great to follow your logic. Maybe someday...

  2. They are hideous creatures - have seen photos - but you've managed to make them look tolerable. That's to your credit as an artist with a gentle touch.