Something With Boats

Marine Life II

My marine life squares owe their existence to a very simple question. “Can you do something with boats?”

My good friend, M—-, and her husband are people of the sea. They race spinnakers and spend a good deal of each summer on the water. She was looking for a piece of art to celebrate their son’s second birthday, and hoped to find something that felt special to the family.

Not being a sailor myself, I had no real idea what distinguished a spinnaker from any other kind of boat. Having found good photos to work from, I tried out some designs, two of which you see here.

Then I started thinking about what it was like to live on the water, to be at sea for weeks on end, to spend one’s whole summer afloat, with one’s family, watching dry land drift by, but barely setting foot on it.

That’s when it occurred to me that I needed to include more than just the boats themselves. The piece needed to show scenes as they would be observed from the sailor’s point of view – not as if one were watching someone else sail past. That’s when I thought of my friend’s stories: of how her children spent their summers gazing into the water from whichever marina they’d stopped at; I thought of the lighthouse they’d see as they left Vancouver, full of anticipation, at the start of each trip; I thought of the fish they’d find in rock pools or while snorkelling, and the piles of shells which weighed down the kids’ shorts after each outing.

I spent hours looking through marine biology websites, researching the flora and fauna of our spectacular coastline, making sure that my art remained as true to life as possible. Of course, the work I do is a process of distillation, of pulling out all the extra details, all unnecessary noise, until only the essence of the subject remains.

I focused on the shapes, the colours and the feeling I hoped to convey: of fresh, cool water, bright blue July skies, the way time drifts, bobs and meanders at sea, and the sudden encounters with the astonishing, the immense and the awe-inspiring creatures of our oceans.

Long may they thrive.

Big Picture


After following the same template for months – one image per square, on a single theme – I have finally broken loose. In the style of a triptych x 2, I’ve started working on scenes that cover all six squares. Having built up the whole image, including everything – as here – from the soil to sunshine, I cut the piece up.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I hear you ask. Why yes, it does. Just a little 🙂

In another post, I’ll tell you about my journey with the monarch butterflies. That was a toughie. Careful sketches followed by painstaking, detailed cutting, followed by more careful cutting, refining, delicate glue-ing, and then: CHOP. Cutting through layers and layers of work in one slice. At first I felt as though I was dropping an executioner’s axe, but the feeling passed.

Having sliced the image into six pieces, they are neatly stitched back together with a strip of open air between them. It is both peaceful to look at and challenging, as my eyes move from each square to its neighbour, as the butterflies flit up, up, left and right, dancing into the pale blue sky, on their inconceivably long, but absolutely necessary journey.

Penguin Guinea Pig

Busy times! I’ve been adding to the catalogue every few days: a float plane design to boost the Pacific Northwest series, more flowers and a foray into the Antarctic.


These little chaps were surprisingly difficult. After cutting out a baby penguin in black and adding his tummy in grey, I realized that I would have to cut in (rather than build up) the contrasting colour. I set the experiment – let’s call him Guinea Pig – aside and took out a whole sheet of icy blue card stock.

I sketched a whole colony of penguins onto that icy blue sheet and cut out everything that should be black, ie. the caps of the penguins, their wings, backs, tails and feet. I used a little artistic licence to maintain the integrity of my sheet of card. This allowed me to keep that single page intact without having to insert the grey face masks afterwards. As well as keeping things practical, this approach gives the piece a feeling of fluidity and unity; I wanted to show how the colony, while made up of thousands of individuals, moves and lives as a single body, with a common purpose.

These birds were a real treat to make, and a lot simpler than their big brother, Guinea Pig. The smooth, swooping lines made me think of their graceful movements through the icy waters of the Antarctic. I could not do this without my nifty swivel blade, which acts like an extension of my own finger. I like to picture magical sparks emanating from my fingertips as I make curling, dancing, swooping movements over and through the paper.

But all these lofty imaginings aside, and in spite of their fierce feet and hunting habits, penguins are incredibly cute. I just love them.