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SCUBA Sketching


Divers: Sue Gubbay, Alan Davis, Bob Earll        Dive Sites: House Reef North, Marsa Shagra, Egypt

Camera: Nilox F60 with available light     Report: Sue Gabbay     Photography: Alan Davis 


A diving trip to Marsa Shagra in Egypt earlier this year was the perfect opportunity to try out something which has been nagging at me for quite some time - how to combine my professional work (marine biology) with my hobby (watercolour painting)?

With years of experience making species lists, and drawing profiles of the seabed underwater, the challenge was not so much the task, but how to achieve it.

Working on the principle that keeping things simple is the best approach when doing anything underwater, I was always going to use my trusty slate, the critical questions were what to draw with and, what to draw on?

In the end after some research and talking to fellow artists the solution was to use 'turtle boards'. A high-wet strength mixed media handmade rag board which was certainly tough and quite happily survives 45 minutes underwater. 

As for the drawing materials, at first, I was tempted to use oil sticks. They seemed likely to cope with being submerged but how would the water temperature affect them, and would I end up with a squidgy mess? Not good for the reef, for any attempt at drawing, or for my dive kit. In the end I simply went for coloured pencils.

My plan was to do the main drawing underwater and then, once the paper had dried, to apply watercolour. With four turtle boards available I assumed I would kneel on the first when getting in or out of the water and break it. I would probably manage to rub out most of any drawing on the second board by getting sand/wetsuit/stray limbs rubbing across it. On my third attempt I assumed that all my pencil tips would break off or disintegrate, so it would only be the fourth that might work. All in all a 25% chance of working - worth a try then.

I spotted the perfect subject the day before just a short swim from the shore on the house reef. A lovely patch of coral, in less than 10m and suitably lit in the early morning light for artistic inspiration. There was also an ideal comfortable expanse of sand in front of the patch reef for me to settle on whilst drawing. Note to future SCUBA sketchers, this was also taken advantage of by the goat fish that began busily excavating the area where my fins touched the seabed as I had created my own mini fish feeding area.

Once settled I started to draw. At first it was hard to concentrate, what with all the fish darting about, my buddy busy trying to get the perfect photos of the same patch of reef, and my pencils on strings floating about, but soon  I was engrossed and before long the sketch was complete. Much to my amazement it survived the rest of the dive and return to shore without incident for the second stage of applying some watercolour.

It was great fun but was I successful?

I'll let you judge... but I will certainly be trying it again the next time I go for a dive.


The "artist in residence"


The outline sketch drying out.


The final product - "Under the Mooring"

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