I’ve been an artist since I was young. I’ve worked really hard to show the real things that I saw and admired. I painted portraits and figures throughout college because I love people, their facial features, personalities, and emotions captured. I often felt like my art life was separate from my personal life as an ocean lifeguard, teacher, surfer, and diver. I could never really find how to truly give my work a voice in a way that was addicting for me and meant something to me. So I bounced around with different subjects and mediums for a while hoping that one day I could really get passionate about a certain thing, it would just make sense and become my whole life. Every artist has that dream, I think.
The way that this current series came about wasn’t like a lightbulb or an “aha!” It slowly crept into my daily life and process and became the metaphor of purpose that I had been waiting for without me even noticing. A friend’s dad gave me some of his nautical charts because he had no use for them anymore and thought it would be fun for an artist to play with. Just another medium to paint on top of.
This time it was different though. When I began painting my first piece – a large diptych for my house of an octopus – it was like the islands, soundings, longitude and latitude lines were all guiding me to make a specific composition that created space for everyone and everything. It was that awesome, empowering experience that I dreamed about. I chose the octopus because I had been studying one that my brother-in-law had in his tank and was taken by his intense personality and intelligence. It made me think about all marine life as having a personality and light, just as much as humans.
I continued playing with the charts and realized that, soon, I didn’t have to draw things out because I was practicing trust with the chart and my own hand using watercolor paint. I knew, in that moment, I could let it guide me and reveal the connection between the creature and the place. Of course, I had an idea in mind ahead of time about what it might look like, but when the tail of the fish lined up with the compass, or the nautical star ended up touching the tip of the turtle’s eye, it was like a little gift. It made me giddy and happy and playful all by myself with my work. I honestly think it had an affect on who I am as a person as well. Finding joy and self-worth, letting go and trusting that everything will work out for good, living in and loving the moment instead of planning and looking for the next best thing. The only other thing that ever made me slow down and feel that way was surfing. It suddenly became more and more clear that I was able to use what I was doing to make an impact on the ocean as well.
I started using profits from my artwork to help support Palm Beach County Reef Rescue and through their contacts and meeting people at art shows and events. It opened up a whole new world of ways to collaborate and get things done for the environment. It started seamlessly infusing into my art teaching to the elementary and middle school students because I wanted to expose them to everything that was going on in South Florida and the people that were making an effort to keep the ocean’s healthy for their future.
I started designing and sharing my curriculum with other teachers at state conferences, making posters for different organizations like the Beneath the Waves Film Festival and Expedition Florida 500, and continued painting commissions for local heroes like turtle nest monitors and shark researchers. All of these things have happened in the last two years and it continues to be a driving force for my work and interaction with others.
I recently had a talk with another artist and designer, Tom Fallon of Tommy Owens Eyewear, about this phenomenon – when the thing that you have been searching for finds you or is right under your nose the whole time. His unique, hand-crafted, wooden sunglasses dropped clues to him for years, but it takes the right time and place in our lives to understand what’s staring us in the face, and how it all makes sense. The metaphor I noticed in my work that I mentioned in the beginning has really only been apparent to me for the last six months.
The way that I try to make my painting connect harmoniously with the existing land and man-made words and lines is the same as how we try to connect and co-habitate with the ocean and marine life. It might be a stereotype, but I do feel that, as surfers, we know we have something special with that wave and the ocean in general. Whether you consider yourself a conservationist or not, you don’t want anything to happen to that relationship and the balance that keeps it thriving. My goal now is just to keep trying to live in it and inspire my students to find things that they are passionate about early on in life while teaching them how to respect the ocean, each other and themselves. I also hope that my artwork can serve as a visual reminder to the people that are attracted to it, and help them imagine the other inhabitants of their favorite places.