Friday, June 10, 2011


There are times when sketching from life is impossible, as when you want to portray underwater life.
I love
octopuses, squids and cuttlefish, enigmatic masters of camouflage. Vulnerable due to their soft bodies, they can mimic almost any kind of background, or imitate other marine life forms, to escape predators. However, they use their capacity to change colour also to communicate. On the right is a common cuttlefish showing a threat display. This ink drawing is an adaptation from an illustration I saw in a book, but the following are quick sketches I realized while watching Underwater astonishments by David Gallo (an absolute must see!) on TED Talks, Octopus camouflage, a clip from one of David Attenborough’s documentaries on You tube, and Queen of camouflage, cuttlefish mating, a video by Annie Crawley, on You Tube. Sepias mate face to face; the male uses its hectocotylus to place sperm in a pouch positioned below the female’s mouth. Once fertilized the female lays a large number of eggs among the clumps of algae seen in the background.
At the top here on the left you can see a male cuttlefish courting a female, at the bottom a cuttlefish displaying arythmic pulsing. In the next sketch, the blue ringed octopus at the top changes colour when startled and turns yellow with blue and black rings. It's a small and very pretty octopus found in Australia, but it is so poisonous it can kill a human being. At the bottom, male squids progressively turn white when fighting other males. They can control their pigmentation and split into a whitish side, that being shown to another male, and a darker, more natural side, shown to a female. The female is above, and the male on the bottom is keeping an eye and half side of his body whitish to keep in check another male not appearing in the sketch. For this kind of faster and less detailed sketches I use watercolour pencils. I leave the whole drawing very approximate, and add some details and water later... hope you enjoy.


  1. Your underwater illustrations are so fluid…I can see them moving through the water.

  2. Great studies!! Loved looking at them all in larger size and could see how you used the wc pencils ( I love using them too) Your b+w drawing in ink is great too, love the pattern. Sometimes I like drawing from the computer too but haven't in awhile.

  3. Well Barbara, this is a whole lesson on marine biology as well as great sketches from a screen! Well done.

  4. Really love these and the fact that you added so much info with them--I live by the sea and have opportunities to sketch things fellow naturalists find and bring into aquariums, etc. and it is wonderful to sketch from the moving, fluid forms...hopefully I'll get to do some this summer. Thanks for sharing these.

  5. Yes, this is part of a lesson on marine biology I recently completed, and I really enjoyed it. Thanks everyone for checking the post!

  6. These are so beautiful and graceful! And yes, you'd be hard put to sketch them from life...


We'd love to hear from you, your questions, comments, observations! Please feel free to comment, feedback is important to us.