Scuba Diving with a Sketchbook

[Guest post by Nina Khashchina from Roatan, Honduras]

 My first experience with sketching while scuba diving was in 2012 in Roatan, Honduras. Here I am, sketching underwater!

I cut in half a Rite in the Rain Polydura 8.5″ x 11″ sketchbook. Other equipment: a pocket on my belt, a regular #2 pencil, and a 4B carpenter’s pencil.

 

On the first trip I sketched on six dives and learned a lot:

• Drawing required better buoyancy control and awareness of environment. I got better, but need more practice.

• Spare pencils are handy. I broke one – not sure how. Seawater and depth make pencils fall apart quickly, not to mention runaway pencil ascents and pencils swimming away during boat boardings.

• I attached a string to my pencil – it’s still underwater somewhere, even though the pencil surfaced with me.

• You can get really close to some subjects and they will stay still! Be careful – some might sting!

• Many subjects are like kids – moving all the time.

• Some pages were built gradually, adding bits and pieces to one page from different parts of the reef.

• Carpenter’s pencil was good for drawing motion – but too fat for details or notes.

After each dive I would tear pages from my sketchbook, rinse them in fresh water, and lay them out to dry. Later I taped them in my main sketchbook and added additional notes.

My second experience with scuba diving and sketching was in 2013. I spent seven days at sea diving from the boat on a trip from Saba to St Kitts in the Northeastern Caribbean.  This time I had COLOR! I used the same sketchbooks and #2 pencil, but I added a red-and-blue pencil. The softer lead was the most useful feature. No matter how soft the regular graphite pencil, it still feels very hard at depth.

This spring I spent a week drawing underwater off the Caribbean island of Bonaire.

I had a plastic, mechanical Aqua Pencil with me. Its thick lead and no metal parts made it a winner. It is as good as new after a week in saltwater! Another important thing is that the lead advances when you twist the back end of the pencil – and not push it. I threaded a piece of elastic band through the handle of the pencil and kept the other end on my wrist all the time – this helped a lot with the “I’m going to lose my pencil or will not have enough hands or attention to be safe under water” anxiety. 

The highlight of the trip was seeing a porcupine fish do its signature trick of inflating its body by swallowing water, thereby becoming round. We were a bit far away from this event as it happened but I was able to sketch it as it takes a little while for the fish to go back to normal.

All in all, sketching underwater is A LOT OF FUN. Try it out, have a blast, and tell me about it!

Nina Khashchina lives in Palo Alto, California and blogs her sketches here.

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