Sea Life from the Coral Reefs

(Click image if you'd like to see a larger version.)

This two page spread in my Stillman and Birn Alpha Hardbound sketchbook was prepared in advance using Fluid and Iridescent Fluid Acrylics. It was exactly what I was looking for to capture some small sketches of different tanks as I passed by. There was quite a bit of acrylic on the surface here. I didn't think watercolor would take well enough to it, nor provide enough variation in terms of light colors, so I used a tiny gouache set that I made out of a mini Altoids tin and Sculpey clay.

I came upon a huge tank of jellyfish lit from above in a very dark room. I was almost hypnotized by their beautiful floating, changing shapes and subtle coloring as they glowed in the light. I used white gouache against a dark golden-colored background, but felt it wasn't quite dark enough. When I got home, I darkened around the painted shapes with more gouache, letting some of the iridescent gold peek through.

The coral was behind glass, and I sketched it with a Kaweco Extra Fine nib fountain pen, filled with Noodler's Midnight Blue. I didn't think it would take to this surface, but it surprised me and did just fine! I used a waterbrush a little to spread some of the color for shadow areas.

Next up were some of the brilliantly-colored fish from the coral reefs. They were truly in perpetual motion, but I did the best I could. The blue fish in the top right box was such a bright color that I don't think he could be duplicated in paint, but I tried!


  1. How long does it take to do a sketch like this?

  2. Saki, they vary so much that it's hard to say. Since I do the background and border preparation in advance, and most of the writing after I get home, there is a lot that gets added to the time it takes to create the page, vs. the time of just doing the sketching/painting part on location. I'd say I spend at least 45 minutes on the sketching part on the average. But this page was definitely longer (easily over an hour), since there were four colored page sections to fill, and wait time for fish to move into positions where I could grab a line here or a color there, plus traveling room to room and setting up....I try not to worry about the time factor, and just do the best I can with whatever time I've got!