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Artist Spotlight: Sandy Wade

artist spotlight sandy wade

When I sat down with artist Sandy Wade to chat about her work in preparation for the upcoming Celebration of The Sea Art Walk, her love for the sea quickly became apparent. Sandy's work embodies the spirit of “celebrating the sea" and we are excited to share it with the intrepid art walkers.

After years of working exclusively in colored pencil followed by years of painting with watercolor, Sandy has transitioned recently to working with acrylic paints. Desiring to become "looser" in her art making, Sandy has enjoyed the fluid and vibrant paints- a welcomed departure from her days of working tediously in colored pencil and watercolor, sometimes spending 50-60 hours on a single piece.

Throughout her years as an artist and her exploration of various mediums, Sandy's subject matter has remained a constant in her work. When we got on the subject of her work, Sandy exclaimed, “I love fish!” She expands, saying “I LOVE to paint fish. They have so much personality. I love their bright colors. I just love fish.” Sandy talks about fish adoringly and with a keen appreciation for their vibrant beauty.

Viewers are struck by the realistic quality of Sandy’s work. This comes from good, old fashioned observation. And lots of it! It starts of course with the fish itself. Sandy starts off describing the scene onboard her and her husband Glenn’s skiff on an afternoon of fishing (pictured below). Once a fish is hooked and Glenn starts reeling it to the surface, Sandy is at the ready with her camera in hand.

With her finger on the shutter of the digital camera, Sandy anxiously awaits the first glimpses of the fish emerging from the depths. As soon as Glenn brings the fish onboard, Sandy is taking photos. While others at this point would be more excited about their impending fish dinner, Sandy is more enthralled with the rich hues of the glimmering scales and focused on snapping photos from all angles that she'll later use for her paintings.

Sandy lovingly describes the vibrant colors when they first come on to the boat. “They’re spectacular,” she says. It's in these first few minutes of the fish coming out of the water that Sandy's work inspired by.

Within minutes of being brought out of the water, the fish start to lose their color. By the time Sandy and Glenn have made it back to the dock, the once bright and living animals have taken on a dark, dull color.

When Sandy is working on a painting, she'll have as many as 10-20 of the photos she's taken scattered on her work table. She also spends time reading about the fish- learning about their habitats, their diets, their characteristics. Her work isn't just about painting fish, it's about getting to know her subjects.

Sandy's favorite fish to paint- rockfish. "They're just fun," she says. "Their personalities, their colors, their big lips." It's apparent that she spends a great deal of time with her subjects. 

In her newest work for the art walk, Sandy had fun getting acquainted with a fish she had never painted before- a relative to rockfish- the great sculpin.

Looking at her painting of the great sculpin, you start to notice all the "personality" that Sandy speaks of in her subjects- the big lips, piercing gaze, and flared spines.

While Sandy enjoys taking some creative liberties in her paintings when it comes to colors, she otherwise wants the fish to be anatomically rendered. A perfectionist at heart, she strives for accuracy in her work. When her son Weston was in high school, she would call him in for reinforcements when it came to getting the details of the fish correct. 

Like mother, like son- above Sandy shows off a silver salmon catch and below Weston shows off a rainbow trout.

She describes Weston as a "fishing maniac" and a "fly fishing fanatic." He would later go on to get a degree in Fisheries Biology. When he was still living at home, she would ask him for advice during her sketching and planning stages. He would give her feedback in the form of "The eye is too big," for example, and point out other details that only someone who spent everyday fishing could ever notice.

The evidence of Weston's fishy knowledge and Sandy's keen eye is immediately apparent in her work. Her ability to notice beauty in a halibut (a notoriously unattractive fish), for example, or a spawning salmon, is testament to her attention to detail.

Though fish are far and away Sandy's favorite subject, she also dabbles in birds and mammals. With her eye for detail, she masterfully captures the the fur and feathers of these animals with the same painstaking attention as her underwater subjects.

When Sandy and her husband aren't out on their skiff fishing and exploring Southeast Alaska, they are avid world travelers. Sandy gains inspiration for her work in their global treks. Her and Glenn are snorkeling fanatics, and make a point to get in the water everywhere they go. Seeing bright, tropical reef fish is a refreshing change to Sandy after spending days and weeks focusing on a single, Alaskan fish for a painting.

The couple has snorkeled all across the world. Aside from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, their favorite snorkeling destination is Bali. Below you can see Sandy preparing for a snorkeling adventure on a recent trip the couple took along with a spontaneous beach selfie from a nearby beach.

While Sandy enjoys working with Alaskan animals the most, she also gains inspiration from the exotic animals they spot on their globetrotting adventures. Sandy has painted elephants and giraffes spotted on their 2 trips to Africa. Below is Sandy on a recent camping trip in Africa where she and Glenn camped alongside elephants and slept in a roof-top tent to avoid lion encounters.

After their most recent trip to the Galapagos, Sandy is even toying with the idea of trying to paint a marine iguana. If you're like me and had never heard of a marine iguana, Sandy describes them as 3-5 foot long sea monsters. Charles Darwin famously described them as "hideous looking." Sandy and Glenn had a chance to snorkel next to these unique reptiles that just might end up being the subject of the next Sandy Wade original.

Sandy's work is a celebration of the sea in its purest form- deep appreciation for the natural beauty and abundance of the ocean is at the core of her work. Sandy's work provides the viewer with a unique opportunity to recognize a fish as not just a meal but as a subject worthy of our respect and admiration.

We are so excited to highlight Sandy's new work and hope you'll join us on Friday, May 3, as she showcases her newest masterpieces as part of the Celebration of The Sea Art Walk in downtown Ketchikan!

Here at the gallery, we are lucky to carry both Sandy's original paintings and her prints. You can find her artwork here.

Artfully yours, 

Maria at Scanlon's

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