January 14, 2011

illustrated journalism and a sea lion

This week I was given an incredible opportunity - I was sent by a local news magazine, The Bay Citizen, to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito to sketch a newsworthy sea lion from life. Silent Knight, an adult male, was discovered sick and injured on December 8th at nearby Swede's Beach and taken to the Marine Mammal Center for treatment. It turned out that he'd been shot in the face, and although he's been recuperating well, he has permanently lost vision in both his eyes. He will not be able to be re-released to the wild because of his disability, and his future is uncertain.

This project couldn't have been more perfect for me - sketching animals from life is one of my favorite pastimes, and I have a long history of sketching pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) in particular, as they were my main area of focus when I was at UCSC studying biology. Also, I love the idea of illustrated journalism - an artist sent to draw newsworthy events live and onsite. By now, more than a month after Silent Knight's rescue, this story has been told numerous times in the local and national news, on tv and in newspapers and magazines, and many photos and videos have been published. But I feel that illustration used in a journalistic way can give a fresh and different perspective on a subject, perhaps conveying more emotion and sensitivity than a photo or written article.

I got permission from the Marine Mammal Center to visit Silent Knight on Monday, and was absolutely delighted to be given access to sit near his enclosure, watch, and draw him. It was about 40 degrees and the wind was blowing, so I had to take frequent breaks inside to warm up (especially my hands!) but I bundled up and ended up spending hours in his presence. Although he couldn't see me, I think he knew I was there, but he seemed unconcerned and spent a lot of the time resting in the sun. One highlight was watching him get fed - Silent Knight sat in the pool, his head up in anticipation, as the volunteer waited for the appropriate moment to throw a fish near him so it would make a loud smacking noise on the water that Silent Knight could hear. After the feeding was done, Silent Knight seemed agitated, pacing around the pool and barking - it seemed to me that he was still hungry, a very good sign for his continuing recovery.

Here is a portrait I did of Silent Knight as he rested after lunch:


And here's a link to the full article!

This was such an amazing experience and I'm so grateful to Bay Citizen and The Marine Mammal Center for providing me with the opportunity to experience Silent Knight and his environs in person, and to express my impressions and feelings through drawing. I really hope that this first foray into illustrated journalism helps bring more similar jobs my way!

Posted by tammy at January 14, 2011 8:39 AM