Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

July 14, 2012

Illustrating Rockfishes

Rockfishes. Oh, Rockfishes...
Rockfishes are a diverse and highly successful group of fishes within the Family Scorpaenidae, or Scorpionfishes. There are currently 102 known species of Scorpaenids worldwide. They live primarily in temperate to cold seas in the northern and southern hemispheres. Most are demersal, meaning, they live close to the bottom. Most are spiny, some are venomous. They have a thing on the cheek that I can't begin to explain.

Some of you may know that I am in the midst of coauthoring and illustrating a new book to be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Our expected publication date is 2015. It will be titled: A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes - from Alaska to California. It will follow the layout and design of the first book (see sidebar) and will serve as a companion. The overall goal is to illustrate and describe in field guide form all of the fishes to about 600 ft. from both coasts of the continental United States. It's a Guinness Book of World Records kind-of-thing... no body has ever done this before. I'll be the first - with a lot of help, or course. Duh. It is an enormous and sometimes daunting task. But having worked for over five years on the Atlantic and Gulf book, and having been rewarded by it's tremendous success, I'm up to the challenge. (Alternative: play golf every day? Uh... no.) And when the Pacific book is out in print, wow... on to what next one? Bahamas and Caribbean Sea?

Anyway, back to Rockfishes...

Two of the largest families I illustrated for the Atlantic and Gulf book were Gobies and Flounders. I toiled over Gobies for weeks. Flounders would have done me in if I hadn't planned ahead and designated Fridays and 'Flounder Friday'. I illustrated one flounder per week for six months, thus avoiding insanity and bodily harm (think: throw myself out the window!) When I finally got to the Flounder section, the paintings were done and I only had to write and design.

Illustrating Gobies and Flounders pales in comparison to illustrating Rockfishes. (Sorry, Ed!) Gobies are slender, small, and mostly scaleless. Flounders are mostly brown, frustrating, and aesthetically boring. Regardless, I gave all my best and all illustrations are spot-on. But in true confession -- I was glad to move on.

Rockfishes just freakin' rock. They're deep-bodied, tall-spined, and often psychedelic in color and pattern. Complex. Complicated. Tricky. Many species resemble an other. There are multiple variations within many species. They change color and pattern. And when they're dead, they look nothing like themselves alive. Illustrating and describing all of the Northeastern Pacific Rockfishes will take the better part of three to four months, depending upon how many color variants we elect to include. What's three or four months? On the grander scale: A drop in the bucket. When Rockfishes are done, I'll move quickly on to Greenlings and then... Sculpins.

Guess what? There are even more Sculpins than Rockfishes. But that's another story.

Below is a short and amateurish video I shot while completing my 14th Rockfish illustration. I shot it on a Friday after having been punch drunk on Rockfishes for five previous days. It's not the best quality, and the lighting is poor, but it should give you an idea of what I'll be doing through Thanksgiving. Cheers. And, enjoy!

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