In the Shoal
The thrill of being at the beach is not only experiencing the ocean, it’s also about never knowing what you might find. While treasure hunting last weekend on the south coast of Massachusetts, I was hoping for perfect shells or shorebirds, but instead found beautiful purple and silver colored fish recently washed up on shore. The fish were small and not long dead, one here, two there, all told, about ten as we made our way along the beach. Later, while swimming nearby, huge shoals of these same fish moved all about us, jumping above the surface, tumbling in the surf, slicing through the warm, shallow water. Gulls were having a field day. Beachgoers were both delighted and unnerved. We had never experienced anything like it.
Back at home, I did some research to identify the species and confirmed my hunch with a Massachusetts’ fisheries biologist. These were juvenile Atlantic menhaden, a common forage fish that is a valuable part of the ocean food chain. Menhaden dine on plankton and provide a hearty meal for larger fish, mammals, and seabirds. This second page is not of menhaden, but rather hundreds of much smaller fish that we saw in a small tidal stream. I painted them on the spot, trying to capture their movement, as they swirled and circled together like a single organism.
Tips and Techniques– Fish are a perfect subject to paint with watercolor. Each time you look at them, there are more and more layers of overlapping color. I started by using masking fluid to save some whites and then I painted the lightest colors wet-in-wet. Once dry, I added successive layers of additional colors, adjusting values and using loose brush strokes to keep the layers lively. I don’t have the opportunity to paint fish often, but if you do, I recommend giving it a try.