I’m currently volunteering at the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the Seahorse exhibit. I think all of the seahorses are special but I was inspired by the color and life cycle of the Weedy Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, to create an illustration.  



Step 1: Brainstorming and Research

The first thing I did once I decided I wanted to illustrate Weedy Seadragons and their life cycle was to think about what exactly I wanted to include.  I will refer to the Weedy Seadragons as Weedys because that is what I called them while I was working on this project. 
My work started with researching how a Weedy moves, lives and breeds.  I watched videos, looked at lots of photos and found a great research paper with specifics on the Weedy’s life cycle.
The best video I found: Weedy seadragons dance into the night:
The research paper I based my illustration on:
After deciding what elements I wanted to include in my illustration, I had to figure out how to put them all together.  I decided to include the developmental stages of incubation, a larval weedy, a juvenile weedy, the eggs in development, a female weedy and a male weedy with eggs.

Two of my rough idea sketches:
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
I sketched out each element or used a rough photo collaged image of the element and put them into Adobe Photoshop. I made sure everything was at the right size and then moved them around until the composition looked right to me. Then I sketched them out a little nicer/neater to prepare to transfer them to the final surface. 

Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons


Wild Weedy Seadragons
I really liked the idea of including the Weedy’s habitat but I didn’t want the Weedys to get lost in it. After much contemplation, I decided to draw the seaweed using graphite which is a black and white media. I really wanted the pretty faded gray look that graphite has vs the deep black of charcoal or pen & ink. I also decided to paint the Weedys using acrylic because it is bright and opaque. I chose to use a smooth flat Aches watercolor board.  I guessed that it would work well with both of my chosen medias.
Step 3: Background

I found an image of a Weedy in the wild with a picture of seaweed in the background.  The Weedy dance video helped inspire me to clump the kelp into a round shape. I used Photoshop to cut out the original kelp image and collage it into the following:
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons

I traced the image above that I created and transferred it onto the watercolor board.  I then worked from left to right (in order to help avoid smudging) rendering it in graphite.  I mostly used HB, B and 2B pencils. I faded out the bottom so the fry could be seen when I added them.

Photo of finished background:

Wild Weedy Seadragons

Step 4: Painting the adult Weedy Seadragons


I took a black and white outline sketch of the Weedys to the aquarium and sketched in the colors and made notes about them based on the live ones.

Wild Weedy Seadragons

I compared this to many different photos I found on the internet of wild ones. Then I finally started painting.

When I felt that I had the colors and details finished I went back to the aquarium with a picture of my painting.  I made notes on small color and shape alterations that I felt I should make.

In process photos:

Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons
Wild Weedy Seadragons

Step 5: Painting the Weedy fry and eggs

I really liked my painting of the adults as it was.  After much deliberation, I decided to paint the fry and eggs on a separate surface and add them digitally.

Picture of weedy fry and eggs:

Wild Weedy Seadragons

Wild Weedy Seadragons

Step 6: Digital composition

Last, I put everything into Photoshop where I adjusted the color and isolated the fry and eggs from their background.  Then I took everything into Illustrator.  I added the text, circle outlines and leader lines.

My dog Sebastian enjoyed watching me work on the painting:

Wild Weedy Seadragons