This piece depicts the largest (known) species of octopus in its murky underwater realm, its tentacles stretching out in all directions.
Animals are a favorite subject of mine, not just in drawing but as a general interest, as well. I suppose it’s the scientific part of me that enjoys observing and learning about all the myriad creatures on this planet. Drawing them is a way of exploring them, as well as appreciating them more.
Octopuses (not “octopi”) are of course undeniably cool and weird (as are all cephalopods), so it fits right in with the majority of my oeuvre. There are few people who aren’t totally fascinated by sea creatures, though. As a child, sea life was one of my favorite subjects to draw, and I still have many of those early, awkward attempts to depict whales, sharks, fish, and most difficult and frustrating of all… octopuses. I’d start at one end drawing the tentacles and by the time I got to the eighth one, the body would be about four times wider than the head, and I’d have to make an awkward attempt to reconcile the two halves of the drawing. I could never get it right at that age!
In doing drawings of animals, I always do plenty of visual research in order to get the physical details of the subject as accurate as possible. In collecting photos of (North Giant Pacific) octopuses, I noticed how amorphous and shapeless they are (that’s pretty much a given when you don’t have a skeleton). I visualized a composition very similar to the one below—free floating, tentacles flowing off the bounds of the picture plane, stretching outwards in all directions.
At the time I remember being somewhat frustrated concerning the lack of work I had been producing. So in this instance I wanted to do the piece quickly, so as not to leave any time for the creative momentum to sag. Foregoing my typical meticulous inking process, the drawing was scribbled with a fine-tipped Sharpie pen in a matter of hours in a single night—practically light speed for me. The kind of freedom and energy that kind of hurried doodling provides can be fun and energizing. And best of all, fast!
The octopus was colored with markers, but I did a simple watercolor wash in the background. The result was adequate, but I ultimately found it lacking in something. After finishing, I set it aside, somewhat dejected, and moved on. Nearly two years later, I reviewed the image, still unhappy. But I realized it was ridiculous to have a practically finished piece that I didn’t like, so I decided to fix it.
I fiddled with the colors in Photoshop and ultimately got it to where I liked it. The difference is pretty dramatic and is totally about the color and tone of the image. The water was changed from blue to a darker sea green, and the octopus was shifted from bright red to a subtle brown-orange. Overall, it better depicts the dark murkiness of the deep ocean. It also depicts the equally dark irony of a “quick” project taking almost two years to actually finish.