Metallic silver, spines and surf, the European Seabass is a bold predator that evolved to chase down schooling bait fish.... akin to a ‘cackle’ of Hyenas hunting zebra over the African plains. The double dorsal fin of the Seabass reminds me of the freshwater Perch with its dominant leading spine. This, combined with a mouth that has the ability to engulf its prey, enables the bass to consume a multitude species that range from sand eels to crustaceans, and sprats to even its own smaller brethren! It is a slow growing species with 20 or so years required to achieve a double figure specimen. Nonetheless, these old leviathans have the ability to reach 25lb if they can evade the angler’s hook or the trawlerman’s net.
The bass is a highly prized sport fish that will strike shore-cast fly’s, plugs and spinners with ease, which makes for very exciting fishing indeed. It can also be caught with bait tactics from a boat, but taking Bass close to a rocky shoreline on a surface popper or fly takes some beating!
I have been working on this commission for sometime as the customer requested the work in graphite pencil and envisaged a scenario whereby Bass and Mackerel could be observed feeding. With this vision in mind I set about imagining an image of how the composition would look and could be developed. Starting from scratch with no prior reference material, a visit to a huge indoor aquarium was top of my agenda. Next up was acquiring fresh seabass from the fishmonger so that I could study this species up close. Taking these oportunities allowed me to observe the fine details and make sure I would portray the Bass in its true form. I have been keeping and breeding fish for as far back as I can remember, and was also born with a highly contagious angling disability, which I have now had to accept is incurable!
The understanding of fish anatomy, movement and behaviour feels as natural to me as a bee sourcing Pollen, but I will not lie and say the anatomy of the bass was a strong point before this project, as it wasn’t.
While on summer holiday with my family, a wonderful opportunity arose whilst out snorkeling off the Brittany coastline with my young Sons. We had been splashing around in the crystal clear waters of a shallow sandy bay leading to the mouth of an estuary. The aim was to capture footage of my boys snorkeling on the underwater camera - well okay, and take the sneaky advantage of grabbing some reference of the light rays dancing over the shallow water seabed. We had been using a row of marker buoys attached to chain links anchored to the seabed as a stop point, when the incoming tide started to build with force.
To my amazement a school of young Bass drifted in from the dark distant abyss and were chasing mullet fry around our feet. I can still see those silver flanks flashing past like liquid mercury amongst the dazzling sunrays, and the chain links became the focal feature to this painting before me. It all happened so fast, in fact too fast to capture clear footage, but nonetheless the scene was clearly etched onto my retina and I knew exactly from that moment how I was going to draw the piece.
From time to time people ask how did you learn to draw, or how do I start myself? All I can honestly say is that my apprenticeship only started when I commenced with drawing the chain links! I cannot think of another object so testing with graphite pencil because of the curved nature and no sharp angles.
This combined with the play on light as one link is attached to the next, well; it really did test my ability and seemed to take a lifetime to complete. The links increase in size as they come to the foreground, which provides the composition with a sense of depth. In total there are 73 links spanning nearly a metre in length, and this for me was a huge undertaking. In all honesty, the fish drawings flowed relatively easy in comparison to the links.
I'm not sure you can appreciate the full impact of the drawing via the images below because so much emphasis is placed on the delicate light rays that pass through the piece. Combine the light bouncing off all objects within the drawing and it results in a piece of work that really does need to be viewed in the flesh to fully appreciate the feeling it invokes.
I felt quite pleased with this piece once framed in its large pewter type frame and bold mount. It is my largest piece to date and one that has taught me so much for my future work. I really hope any bass anglers out there feel I have done this fish justice. It truly is a bold and very special fish that is coming under increasing threat from trawler fishing around the UK coastal waters. Once again it is anglers that seem to lead the protection fight, as taking care of this species is vital to save future stocks from plummeting.