6 Sea Animals: The Backstory

I was living in the mountains of Ecuador when I decided to go on a painting retreat at the beach. Being by the ocean inspires me. While preparing for the trip, I read an article about sea mammals washing up on the coast of California, a place I used to live. I decided to paint “portraits” of sea animals while I was at the beach.

I started the paintings by creating abstract patterns as environments for them. Once each painting had its creature, I began to wonder where I could exhibit them. Ecuador isn’t a great place to show art. I would need to find a coastal region in a different country. As I was exploring the possibilities, I realized that I wanted to move to this new place. The sea animals eventually led me to the coast of Portugal.

While I was applying for residency, I rented a place in rural North Carolina. My porch faced a beautiful glen and one morning I saw a turtle emerge from the creek. She made a determined trek straight towards me and disappeared under the porch. I began drawing turtles. Two of the sea turtle paintings evolved from those drawings.

Pelican's Carnaval

Once I was settled in Portugal, I resumed painting. When I was close to being done, I lined them up and a story began to form in my mind. I was working on Pelican and it was Carnaval time. Being on a painting retreat at home, I only left to buy food. But Pelican wanted to dress up and go to the festivities. So I cut up some colorful papers to fashion a hat, a boat, a banner and a wave. I spent a lot of time working on ideas for the banner. I remembered photos I’d seen online of the wild salmon banners which had swum to Paris for the conference on climate change.

They had blue lights in their mouths!

Playing around with Pelican’s accessories was fun but now the painting looked too busy. I realized that she just needed brighter colors. So I deepened the colors of the fish and he took on a decorative, almost ceremonial look. I jazzed up some other areas as well.

The two cats developed distinct personalities and sat on their perch, ready to pounce. Hoping to distract Pelican, one of them developed a sideshow. A disappearing act.


All of them were headed to Carnaval except Seahorse. He was content to curl his tail around a tall weed and sway with the currents. He had little ability to direct his movements anyway. And, he was incubating 100’s of mini-horses. Unique in the animal world, the female deposits her eggs in the pouch of the male. So he was going to embrace that weed until the babies came popping out the top of his belly!


Unlike a docile seahorse, the turtle named “Searchlight” moved with determination. The keenest sense of a sea turtle is his eyes. This turtle was going to eat his way to Carnaval. Researching the roots of this ancient celebration, I learned that early Spring was the last opportunity to eat well before the winter supplies ran out.


“Seal” really didn’t need to go to Carnaval to have fun. He was always playing ball with his friends. But it wasn’t always like that. He’d spent some years doing an aquatic act at Seaworld. It was sort of amusing but always the same. In confinement, he’d lost connection with his community and sorely missed the rhythms of the sea. One of the animal feeders had noticed that he was depressed and so secretly released him back into the ocean.

Turtle the Navigator

This turtle was named after the Portuguese prince, Henry the Navigator. In the 15th century this human had helped to develop celestial instruments to cross the oceans. By contrast, sea turtles are hard wired to use Earth’s magnetic fields. They swim thousands of miles to reach the same location year after year to mate and deposit their eggs onshore. But nowadays their nesting grounds are often threatened by human development and warmer temperatures.

Researching early versions of Carnaval, I discovered that humans sometimes wore animal disguises. They formed processions and followed a ship on wheels which carried a fertility goddess. In the Middle Ages she became the Virgin Mary, carried on a float. The word “Mary” comes from Mer or Mar, the sea.

Finally we come to the Tightrope Walker.

Tightrope Walker

In the early stages of the painting, I was working on the composition. I decided to shorten the bottom of the ocean. But this meant that one flipper was now out of the water. That looked odd. So I put a thin line under it and that felt better. Now it looked like the turtle was walking on a high wire. And that made for a good sideshow at Carnaval!

A crowd of humans came to see this incredible feat by the huge turtle. Everyone was concerned. There was no safety net below. But putting a net there would have conjured the image of a fishing net, something which had ensnared so many turtles. So instead of demanding a net, the viewers began by imagining a positive outcome. They focused their energy as a group and used their power of intention- the tightrope walker will get to the other side with ease.

After many balancing acts, performer and audience working together, their intention had a profound result. It manifested as a solid foundation for the turtle!

The show was set up next to the sea. The agile tightrope walker enjoyed her jaunt to the other side. Afterwards she would jump into the ocean.

In the end, the humans and the animals created a new kind of Carnaval.

And the humans were happier living in balance with the animals.