This was the case for a commissioned work for David Grow. He’d had an encounter with a tiger shark on a dive. When something like that happens, it changes you. Seeing a beast that large in open water can be scary. After the event, you are not the same. Sometimes you adopt that animal as your spirit animal. Sometimes you never enter the water again. Sometimes you want to dive forever.
So when he asked me to paint a diver and a tiger shark, I jumped at the chance. I’d painted a number of black tipped reef sharks but never an animal like this. The tiger shark coloration is unique. But where to begin? I tend to gravitate to canvases from my past so I started sketching a “V” of a reef. This was similar to one I painted of my wife and me on French Reef in the Florida Keys. The “V” narrowed the frame of reference for the viewer. It gave a sense of depth and walls between the divers. Knowing the circumstances of David’s dive (and David), I wanted to inject a little humor. So I put David in the position of taking a pic
ture of a shark while the larger, and much closer shark was behind him. Every diver has a story like this - the one that got away. I had a similar incident in Roatan. I was fixated on a small nudibranch, taking pictures of it as it smiled from a fern coral drifting in the current. As I lifted my head I saw the dive group I was with pointing at me as a large moray eel scrambled from between my legs!
David was okay with the design, but I wasn’t. I researched the tiger sharks and learned that they prefer sandy open areas. So the use of the coral heads contradicted the beast and its nature. I started over and put the shark hovering over a sand channel. This shortened the field of view (in water the “vanishing point” is shorter than in air)… so it made the picture flat. To give it a sense of three dimensions I opted to add a boat. This created depth by having the boat at the surface, the diver about fifteen feet under, and the shark on the bottom. I removed the diver that was facing away and chose to show the diver looking at the subject of the painting. This also removed the playful nature of the diver missing the “money shot.”
This left the painting rather uninteresting. There was a diver, in a vertical position looking at a shark… the boat seemed an afterthought. My problem was to integrate them all into a story. The diver was almost dead-center. This added to the artificiality of the work. The first rule of artwork is to never - never - organize the subjects in easily divisible areas. Dead center was a no-no.
So I changed the orientation of the diver. Now, instead of being vertical, the diver was hovering overhead. The diver was now in his proper space and oriented as a SCUBA diver would. This also added the story to the diver. This diver was the last to board the boat. He was at the three minute safety stop. He had no camera. All he had was a story.
But changing the orientation of the diver conflicted with the orientation of the boat. Divers generally place themselves parallel to the current. Either head or feet first, the divers streamline and align with the craft they are about to board. So I had to change the way the boat was oriented.
All of the changes and research on tiger sharks led me to the final version. If you look carefully at the original, you can see the iterations that took place. My ultimate goal was to provide David with a work he could display proudly. I hope this did just that.
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Five Reasons you may want to commission artwork from your favorite artist.
I am working on this book after taking 2020 to isolate and hibernate. I hope to be done by spring. Hope you like it!