Let’s start off by hearing about your career as a fisherman. How long have you been in the industry?
I came to the Pacific Northwest in my 20s from the Midwest, where I grew up, and I had really no experience with boats or the ocean. I was living in Seattle when I went to work in a small boatyard as a laborer. After a year there, I started night school for marine engineering at the Seattle Maritime Academy.
About the time I was set to graduate, an incredibly lovely wooden fishing boat came into the yard to do their prep work for the summer salmon season in Southeast Alaska. It turned out that there was an opening in the crew, which hadn’t happened for them in a long time. I jumped at the chance to go with them. I have fished almost every salmon season since then, more than 20 years.
What inspired your signature boat cutaways?
After I started fishing, I started spending my winters in Europe and I met my wife Ania there in 2006. When our first son was born in 2008, I gave up fishing for a couple of years to be with my family. When he was two years old, the market for salmon boomed, and Ania and I reluctantly decided that I should go back for the summer.
While I was away for those three months, I missed my family– and, of course, my child– so much that it was like physical pain. I decided to make a cutaway drawing like the ones in the children’s books that I had loved as child, but this time to show my boy where I was and what I was doing.
Other fishermen were very excited about the first ones I made, and I decided to do more. Over time, people in other sectors of the marine industry became interested in what I was doing. They wanted something to show their own families and friends what their lives at sea were like.
Your work is extremely intricate, especially in terms of the cutaways. For me, they feel fantastical and lived-in all at once. How do you choose what kinds of details to include in your drawings?
My drawing process is that I do a lot of cross-hatch shading, which is a very slow way to draw. As a result, I am always looking very closely at my shading lines, and it gives me a lot of time to dream and think and plan out what I am going to do in the picture. When I make characters, I like to put them in interactions or poses that suggest that some kind of story is playing out, but I like to leave it so that the viewer is speculating about who they are and what they are doing.
I also really love to include little jokes and things for people in the industry. I drew one of my fishing boats with the kind of hideous galley curtains on the windows that everyone has seen at one time or another. I have drawn socks and towels hanging on clotheslines in engine rooms because, as every fisherman knows, the engine room is the warmest, driest place on the boat.
I understand you have a children’s book coming out soon. Tell me more about it!
I have been working on that for a long time! It was proposed to me by Sasquatch Books three years ago, but it was postponed for various reasons and now it will come out in November of this year. The title is “Working Boats – A Look Inside Ten Amazing Watercraft.” It’s partly a collection of my work boat cutaways, but there are also exploded views and marine engineering and safety education for kids.
It’s available for preorder now from local booksellers like Village Books in Bellingham, and also nationally from the big box stores and Amazon. I also exhibit my work and sell shirts with my art at the Bellingham Dockside Market every other week, which helps keep me in contact with all the great fishing people as well as the larger community of Bellingham. It reminds me how lucky we are to be a part of this community.