Monterey: Aquarium

Following my recent post about sketching Monterey Bay, here’s what happened when Julia & I finally got up early enough to use our Two-Day passes to the MONTEREY AQUARIUM.


I’m such a shuffling and slow walker these days, so in the interest of getting to the aquarium as soon as possible, we caught a taxi from the hotel. We began by doing the full sweep of all the exhibits to get a sense of all the sketching options available to us, and finally sat down to draw later in the day. For me, the hands down winners every time I’ve visited the aquarium have been the jellyfish tanks. Unbelievably hypnotic and beautiful displays, but of course impossible to draw in the dark (unless using a glowing drawing tablet as Julia did.)


Having realised that all the swimming and wriggling live exhibits would be too quick-moving for me to draw in my current doddering state, I decided to warm up by drawing the giant whale skeleton hanging in one of the main areas of the aquarium. I managed to find a relatively traffic-free area on a balcony opposite to pull out my folding chair and sketch an overview of the whale skeleton (see above) but then saw a chance to get my own back for Julia’s tablecloth doodles of me the night before, when I sketched her sketching in the atrium below me.


Even though my drawing rig is pretty comfy, eventually I had to move to keep comfortable, so packed up and looked for another subject elsewhere. Having earlier enjoyed working with a static whale model, I continued by drawing the life-sized killer whale display hanging in the atrium.


After a fun day of sketching at the aquarium, we ate at AUBERGINE, a posh restaurant in nearby Carmel where Julia had made the reservation; one of those fancy shmancy ‘molecular’ food places. When we arrived, the maitre’d addressed me as Mr Lundman (he pronounced it LOONTMAN, which Julia says is probably closer to the actual Swedish). Realising I was to be Julia’s Australian arm candy for the night, we went in to eat. About 5 courses into a 9 course meal (teeny tiny courses mind you – I think that’s why it’s called ‘molecular‘) the Maitre’d introduced Mr & Mrs Lundman to the tiny portion of beef they’d soon eat. Where it grew up and so on. The only detail he left out was the animal’s name, but after eating it, I dubbed it Damn Tasty. Once the meal was done, we were introduced to the chef, given his autographed menu for the night, and then walked around the corner (me doddering in the pitch dark) for a drink at Doris Day’s hotel bar. (Que sera, sera..)


On the final day of our two-day Aquarium pass, I tried drawing the coming-and-going crowds looking at the Kelp-Forest tank. It’s quite an impressive display. We got there early and sat on the backmost bench, where crowds would later assemble to watch the presentation. After I’d started drawing the scene you see here, a diver entered the tank to hand feed the fish, including a few very persistent and greedy leopard sharks (though small, I thought they might take his hand off). Speaking of feeding, for the second day in a row, we again ate at CINDY’s, the excellent restaurant at the aquarium. I’m not quite sure about the ethics of eating seafood in an aquarium, but whatever the moral ambiguities, I can tell you the flavour was very unambiguously excellent.


After lunch, in an attempt to get away from crowds of raucous schoolchildren, I entered a small display about the aquarium building itself (which began as a fish cannery) to draw some of the unused canning paraphernalia on show. This was going well, till that exact spot became the focus of a rowdy bunch of second graders on a school assignment, and I became the star attraction. “hey Mister, What’s that?” “Are you drawing?” “How come you are drawing that?” So that the youngsters’ education not be further disrupted by my presence, I hastily exited the scene.


I finally found a quiet space, which was ironically out in the atrium near the busy information desk, and drew my old friends; the fibreglass killer whales. It was only long after we’d left the aquarium that Julia and I realised that we’d missed the aquarium’s resident giant octopus, which is ironic, as this year the star attraction was called TENTACLES; starring octopi, squid, cuttlefish and so on. The display was heavy on the audio visual but not as impressive with the live articles as the seahorse exhibit years ago, where everywhere you looked were all manner of seahorses.


I will have some sketches of our TRIP HOME up Highway #1 along the coast, in my NEXT post.

17 thoughts on “Monterey: Aquarium”

  1. I always felt that the giant floating killer whales were placed near the otters to keep those cute little bastards in line. Don’t let their popularity go to their heads.

    • Ha ha, yeah, the otters sure are popular. I wanted to draw them but I’m not yet ready for the quick gesture sketching required to capture the agile little buggers.

  2. Hey James,

    These watercolours are certainly nice man but what really blows me out is the friggin insane depth of field and perspectives.
    I don’t know how you manage that, because that’s the first thing I’d stuff up drawing with my other hand.
    The thing that catches my eye on your drawings is always the comp, depth and perspectives.

    Good stuff man.


    • Hey Robbie! I would like to publish a book someday, of my childhood recollections, but no plans for a book of location sketches yet. Maybe one day though!

  3. Wow, wonderful art, you catch the feeling of those places, its like I’m there again. Glad to hear you are going to publish a book of your childhood collections!


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