Tag Archives: Great White Sharks

My Own Personal Shark Week

The EXPEDITIONERS proofs are fresh of the presses and my illustrations for BURIED BENEATH US are in! So what, might you ask, am I up to right now? I’M PACKING FOR MY OWN PERSON SHARK WEEK, YO!!

Tomorrow I am flying out to San Francisco, California to accompany TOPP‘s (Tagging of Pacific Predators) white shark tagging team while they do their work at the Farallon Islands. No, I will not be cage diving, and feeding and petting the wild life is not advised, but I plan to sketch and photograph as much as possible and to interview as many people in the Farallon community as I can. Not to mention, of course, see my first white shark!

While this research trip isn’t mandatory for my book to see print, I’m absolutely certain that this first-hand experience will enrich the content of the project. It’s clear that the final pages are where I have the most rewriting to do, and being out on the water with Farallon scientists will fill out my understanding of these beautiful creatures and their fragile ecosystem.

I’m incredibly grateful to the Farallon community for the welcome enthusiasm and support of my book project! More to come soon! Follow me now on Twitter or Instagram at @KRoyStudio.

Sun Worship and Sacrifices

Lately as I work on the sketches for BURIED I’m struck by the sheer volume of sun-worship and sacrifice across cultures. Growing up going to Sunday school gave me a disconcerting familiarity to Judeo-Christian sacrifice—of course lambs and first born sons should be slaughtered on altars to appease [the sun] god!—but somehow it’s never really sunk in that this tradition is true for every other religion. Building by building, city by city, the Maya, Inca, Aztec and Mississippi peoples all oriented their architecture towards celestial events as places of sacrifice. The sun rises behind this temple, venus rises in front of that one, and in the case of the Mayan Kukulcan Temple in Chichen Itza, a hand clap directed towards the stairs will echo back as the call of the quetzal bird, the embodiment of Kukulcan himself:

For as long as there has been religion priests have used these kinds of special effects and hocus pocus to validate their tribute demands from their people. This application of astronomy and architecture doesn’t prove or disprove anything about the existence of god, of course, but what amazes me is just how similar the ideas are across all cultures around the world. Wrong or right, religion of any kind does make us feel part of a bigger picture, and if we link ourselves to things beyond our control then we have relief from and less responsibility for our own destiny. I know nothing has really changed—the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. lines up with the sunrise, too (implying a great deal about the religion of capitalism, no?)—but it seems like maybe once upon a time someone out there would have had different ideas.

Or maybe they just had that guy killed?

Study for the Mayan game of Pok-ta-Pok which celebrated the celestial movements of the gods and ended with sacrificing either the winner or the loser.


Study for the Aztec New Fire Ceremony wherein priests kindle a fire in the chest of a sacrificial victim and passed torch by torch to every household in the city.


On a completely different note, a little update on SHARK: I’ve finally purchased plane tickets to fly out and do some first-hand research this fall! Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of several scientists and Farallon experts in the Bay Area, I will be spending several days on the water in early October to witness great white shark tagging and get a water tour around the islands. My foul-weather gear is ready, and Dramamine is at the top of my packing list; fingers-crossed that the sharks put in an appearance while I’m there!

Star Island Shark Tournament 2012

Hello blog from our new New York apartment! I’m so sorry for my absence the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been desperately working away on the last touches on EXPEDITIONERS as I simultaneously unpack into our place and transition into the next book project. It turns out that fitting a two-bedroom life (complete with storage shed) into a one-bedroom life (without a storage shed) is quite the squeeze and many trips to Goodwill, but as the empty cardboard boxes get broken down a home is beginning to appear underneath. I’m delighted to say that the interior art on EXPEDITIONERS is done and the full fold-out cover near completion. I am super duper excited to hold the book this fall!

In the midst of all this I decided to take Saturday off to travel out to Montauk, Long Island with art teacher Jeff Fisher’s weekly location drawing class to sketch at the 26th Annual Star Island Shark Tournament. Like the late 19th-century French idea of drawing “en plein air,” location drawing forces an artist to solve content, composition, and color problems in the moment and directly from life. Class began in a nearby shipyard to warm up with fishing boats and pilings before heading to Star Island to claim front row spots around the judging area and settle in for an intense afternoon.

With over $500,000 in prize money at stake there were many dozen teams competing to catch the biggest sharks, and the crowd of families and tourists grew as boat after boat arrived to deliver the fish to the judges. Each shark was hoisted up, weighed, and photographed, then cut down, measured for length, and gutted. The carcass was then either cut up for use at a nearby research lab or trimmed into steaks for the team that caught it. The heads, tails, fins, and guts were tossed into the front of a construction loader for easy trips to the dumpster.

While watching dozens of sharks drop stomachs and lose heads isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, the fast pace of the tournament was quite the drawing challenge and gave me some on-the-ground context for our cultural obsession with these predators. Great white sharks are no longer hunted for tournaments, much to the disappointment of every small child present. Their endangered status keeps fisherman catching blues, makos, and threshers instead. Hammerheads are qualified too, though none were caught at this event.

It takes enormous endurance to draw all day in the midst of crowds and heat, but for me this guerrilla approach keeps me in shape for better and better work done in the studio. This trip was also the first time out with my new 11″ x 16″ Moleskin sketchbook; I loved having so much breathing room to collage and try out ideas (but next time I’ll be sure to put more sunscreen on my arms!). Keep an eye out for its filling pages throughout the summer on this blog. In the meantime, a few photos from the tournament:

FANTASTIC NEWS! Birthdays and Book Deals

I really can’t think of a better way to top off a birthday than with a book deal. A lifetime supply of chocolate? A month of luxury living in Paris? A few days with a time-traveling Delorean? (actually, that would be pretty cool…)

BUT NO! I will take my birthday last week just the way it went: a beautiful day in New York City, a lunch spent dining at the Society of Illustrators, an email in the early evening bearing the news that Macmillan Publishing had made an offer on my first solo picture book (AHHH!!!), followed by a delicious dinner with my favorite person on earth.

Rough Draft Cover for SHARK

My shark book, tentatively titled SHARK: THE GREAT WHITES OF THE FARALLON ISLANDS, follows a day in the life of a young white shark at the Farallons just off the coast of San Francisco. Ancient, gorgeous, and endlessly cool, these apex predators return to hunt elephant seals every fall using some of the most amazing (and lethal!) adaptations on earth. The story goes way beyond teeth and dorsal fins to explore shark hunting methods and the way the ecosystem of the Farallon Islands works, and just how badly this species needs our compassion and protection.

In diving into the book I have absolutely fallen in love with great white sharks, and I am so excited to share what I have learned with readers of all ages. As of right now the pub date is completely up in the air, but may possibly be sometime in late 2013. In the meantime I am a busy kid. More on what I’m currently working on to be posted soon!

Publishing world, I am calling on the Shark Phone: non-fiction picture books, here I come! 

Calling on the Shark Phone

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark

The past week has been FULL of awesome news and exciting work, but most of it is top secret (so I can’t talk about it here! Ack!). But what I’ve been up to lately that I can discuss is more white shark drawing at all hours in my studio. And after many trials and a great many errors I am proud to announce a triumphant discovery: the Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark, or SWNDGWS (for short). In sharing these failed attempts I hope to shed a little light on my process, and demonstrate the kinds of questions I ask myself when making images for book illustration. So, without further ado: let the Ways begin!


Digital and pencil rough draft for the final image of the hunt.

First, to make a final drawing I have to know what it is I want to draw. That sounds easy but it really isn’t; as any writer knows, arriving at a working rough draft is by far the most challenging part of a book. But at least for this spread I already knew that I needed a scene of a white shark hunting a seal. I scanned in a small drawing and played with value and color in my computer, and came up with a composition I was fairly happy with. And so the question surfaced: how do I want to complete this drawing? The only way to find out would be to fail again and again and again until I got something that felt right. I started where I usually start: pencil line as a separate layer from the color.


SWNDGWS #1: Too much detail.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #1

But right away I knew this wouldn’t work. See all that detail in this first pencil drawing? Yikes. Talk about flattening out the space behind the shark! Though it’s true that the reefs are home to millions of creatures, I saw right away that by putting so much detail in the background I had eliminated depth. So for something completely different… I did it all over again almost exactly the same.


SWNDGWS #2: Too much detail with cute animal friends.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #2

So much for not learning from my first attempt. And this time, what are all of those cute little animal friends doing in a reef where a shark is hunting a seal? If I wanted a spooky mood this approach achieved exactly the opposite. I also noticed that the shark’s tail was wrong: on a white shark the upper caudal lobe is larger, not the lower lobe. Of course the tail looks all sorts of sizes while a shark is swimming, but the detail and flatness of the drawing seemed to eliminate all movement. Still clinging to hope, I grasped at color to save me, which leads us to #3…


SWNDGWS #3: Too much detail with cute animal friends and digital color.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #3

Well at least I fixed the upper caudal lobe thanks to the warp tool in Photoshop. Here the value and contrast are doing their job, but I felt that the details were blocking a sense of movement, and the digital color quickly felt much too sober. I abandoned the digital color (which, if you remember, still wasn’t the main problem!) in favor of watercolor to see if that worked any better.


SWNDGWS #4: Too much detail with cute animal friends and watercolor.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #4

After printing out the line art on two pieces of watercolor paper I loaded up a brush and began filling in colors. The non-digital color instantly felt better, but my fundamental problem from SWNDGWS #1 was still unresolved. It occurred to me that perhaps the pencil plus watercolor approach was all wrong, so I pulled out some pastels and drew directly on the watercolor paper, covering up the #4 attempt as I went. I didn’t get very far.


SWNDGWS #5: Too much detail with cute animal friends and pastel.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #5

Having never worked as a story board artist for Pixar, I knew right away that this just wasn’t going to work. In my hands pastels are stubborn, angry things that decide to break and crumble and play with all the wrong colors. With mild desperation and not a little panic, I started over with charcoal, which brings us up to #6…


SWNDGWS #6: Charcoal.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #6

Look! Look! I finally dropped the detail! At last I was on to something, though I quickly saw that charcoal would be nearly as difficult to control as the pastel. The values were working, but the smudge factor was dicey. What if I tried the same idea but in pencil shading instead?


SWNDGWS #7: Pencil Shading.

Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark #7

For the most part I was very pleased with how this drawing turned out. There’s just a tiny bit of charcoal in the blacks and the rest is entirely with 2B and 4B woodless pencil. But as I worked I slowly realized that I would not be able to consistently sustain this approach, for two reasons: 1) for any above water scenes this approach would feel much too dark, and 2) this would put me right back in the chair of using digital color. Frustrated with (at this point) several days of failed attempts, I pulled out a scrap of paper and did an angry two minute drawing of a seal swimming. And… POOF! Something that worked:


OWDS (One Way to Draw a Seal) #1: Pencil and watercolor.

One Way to Draw a Seal

Simple, full of motion, and with natural hand-drawn color. Through all those other attempts of trying to figure out how to draw the scene, all I had to do was to just draw the way I usually draw (hey! what a concept!). Stay tuned for the final art sample. Happy March everyone!

Shark Snacks

Busily working away in my studio this week as my white shark book dummy begins to take shape. One poor northern elephant seal continues to be a hot lunch:

Today’s task is to wade further into the middle and continue to explore words and drawings that will engage kids in learning these beautiful apex predators. I want to share the awe and fascination (and obsession, as the weeks go by!) I feel when reading about their color vision, their rotating teeth, or their rete mirabile, the “wonderful net” heat-exchange method of maintaining warm-bloodedness. It is SUCH fun research to do. More sketches to come soon!

The Weaner Within

I’m up to more white shark research, and my new favorite thing is weaners. No, it’s not what you’re thinking—”weaners” is the highly scientific term that the marine biology community has assigned to freshly WEANED (get it?) northern elephant seals, and boy are they cute!

Named for the schnoz on the adult bulls, elephant seals are the second largest seals in the world (the honor going to the even more enormous Southern Elephant seal). Full-grown northern elephant seal males can reach up to 4,500 pounds and over 13′ in length, while the females are much smaller at (only) 1,500 pounds and about 10′ in length. Known to be the favored prey of the great white shark, the elephant seals of the Farallon Islands get special attention from scientists. Each season the seals are tagged, counted, and monitored to help keep track of their health and population.

The dark elephant seal pups are born in December/January and weigh in at about 75-80 pounds at birth. But they don’t stay small long; pups gain 8-10 pounds a day from over the course of 28 days, reaching up to a whooping 250+ pounds from nursing alone! For the next two months they’re “weaners,” left behind in the rookeries while their mothers mate with one or more of the dominant bulls and then return ocean to eat for the first time since giving birth.

Alone on shore, the weaners spend their time playing, sleeping, and practicing their swimming skills in puddles. By February/March their hunger drives them to the sea, where they will teach themselves to hunt and dive off shore for the next six months.

In the fall the pups will be referred to as “yearlings,” but sadly at least 50% don’t live to see their first birthday. The ocean is a dangerous place to be an infant, and even hauling out of the ocean is fraught with peril. White sharks patrol the shores of northern California from September to November, waiting for exactly the opportunity a returning yearling represents: a naive and tasty 300+ pound mammal with a body mass made up of almost 50% fat. Every living thing must to eat, and white sharks are no exception. But for now the pups are beside their mothers, fattening up in safety—just a few more weeks until their inner weaner is unveiled!

Huge thanks to a biologist named Jane who keeps a fabulous blog about Farallon Island elephant seal happenings; all of these photos were taken by her during the 2011 and 2012 breeding season. For more about elephant seals from the Marine Mammal Center, click here.