Francesca Page & Shark Guardian Interview
Q1. Hi, Francesca – We’re thrilled to have you as our Eco Artist of the Month for June! Tell us a bit about yourself and your story
I am so excited to be apart of Shark Guardians Eco Artist of the month! I am a British internationally selling artist, published illustrator, award winning Nat Geo photographer, dive Instructor, storyteller and the founder of the 200 Sharks project.
I create large scale watercolour and gouache paintings of wildlife interacting with their environment based on my own photos, adventures and encounters. I am obsessed with colour, movement, detail and pushing my medium boundaries. As well as my art being an extension of my soul and serves as a form of personal expression and therapy, it also gives me a voice for nature. It is a powerful medium to communicate my experiences out in the field and also serves as an important catalyst to connect you, the viewer, with the incredible planet I have fallen in love with. Art opens the empathy door, inviting you into a world you may not have explored or to a place in your mind you have not investigated. Art helps to provoke feeling and passion, which I believe is the foundation to taking the first steps into anthropogenic consciousness. Once you love something you will do anything to protect it.
Q2. When did you get started as an artist?
I have been drawing and painting ever since I could pick up a pencil and I was born with a natural gift to be able to document the world around me in a very realistic way. But it is not without years of dedication and practice to my skill that I have been able to push the limits of watercolour and create the work that I do. But I am still just at the start of this epic ocean art journey, and I am so excited to see where my paint brushes, my camera and the ocean takes me.
Q3. What came first for you – Scuba or art?
For me art came first and the ocean came second. Growing up I had a fear of the ocean due to an accident that happened to me when I was very young. Growing up I was fascinated by nature and all I wanted to do was paint and draw the animals around me. It wasn’t until I was 13 when my dad brought me Scuba Diving lessons to try get over my fear that my eyes where opened to a whole new incredible world that lies under the waves. My life, passion and mindset change in a matter of lessons and scuba diving made me realized that fear is all in the mind. From that moment on I knew that diving was going to be a big part of my career and creative practice. It lead me to go onto becoming a Diving instructor, underwater photographer and shark addict!! I have been dedicating my art practice to the ocean since I was 17 when I had my first encounter with a Thresher shark, my mindset and life’s path changed and my 200 Sharks project was born.
Q4. Do you have a favourite marine life species (and a favourite shark species)?
It has got to be the magnificent shark! What made me fall head over heels in love with this creature is from diving with them, observing their power and grace in the water is not only mind blowing to behold but also humbling. Sharks are an ancient species, having been on the earth for more than 450 million years – more than 2000 times longer than modern humans. Experiencing them gracefully glide through the water you are watching millions of years of perfect evolution which I find so beautiful and inspiring.
My passion for sharks and wanting to save them came from a very special encounter I had when I was 17 with Thresher sharks around Malapascua Island in the Philippines. After this dive I lost my fear of sharks. The very creature we are taught to fear, in the space of 5 minutes taught me that these are intelligent, social, and inquisitive creatures are more than just a set of jaws and that they deserve our respect. Since then, the ocean has become my playground as well as my purpose in life. This encounter helped shape the artist I am today and this is why I included a Thresher shark in the 200 Sharks logo.
It was my last dive of the trip and I had blocked sinuses, but I was adamant I wanted to see thresher sharks, so I continued with the dive. Our group started the descent together and then I hit the wall at 5 metres; I couldn’t equalise. The divemaster was signalling to ask if I wanted to end the dive, but I had a gut feeling that I couldn’t leave the water, not just yet. Ten minutes went by and I started signalling to the divemaster. But then he pointed to his left, screaming into his regulator... A flash of silver and blue; I looked to my right to find myself staring into the massive eyes of a three meter thresher shark. My heart stopped. Not from fear, but from wonder and amazement. I was speechless. The thresher shark was about one meter away from me, and I was captivated by its huge eyes for what seemed like forever. In those long 30 seconds, I formed a deep connection; it felt like I’d had a conversation with the shark. I realised that this shark was intrigued by us, observing us out of pure curiosity, and not because it was seeing if we were food. And just like that it swam off, into the blue, elegantly gliding through the water with its tail trailing behind like a snake. My passion for sharks was born!
And to answer your question on my favourite sharks it is such a hard one and it’s is always changing the more I dive and learn about different sharks. My favourite at the moment has got to be the Blue shark – they are by far my favourite to dive with, so playful, inquisitive and also stunning. They are a gorgeous shade of blue and their skin reminds me of a fairy coming along and sprinkling sliver and blue glitter (eco friendly glitter) all over their body. I also love the Tiger shark, their incredibly powerful presence in the water literally makes your heart skip a beat. The beauty, softness and shyness of a school of scalloped hammerhead, 100’s of flashes of sliver out in the blue was one of the most powerful dives I have had that lead me to painting the first piece of art for my 200 Sharks project, Divine Feminine. And well I could literally go on and on! They are just such an incredible species!!
Q5. Tell us about your 200 Sharks project – It sounds epic!
The mission of my 200 Sharks project is to dive with, photograph and paint 200 different species of sharks. And then, through the power of art and storytelling, to bring you face-to-face with the ocean’s most iconic and misunderstood fish, the shark. Through my artwork I aim to provide a spotlight for these living dinosaurs, showcasing their intelligence, habits, adaptations, diversity, beauty, and personalities. With this project I am creating a body of work that takes my own personal diving encounters and uses this as a basis to fuel artwork that breaks down the negative stigma on sharks - turning fear into love. I believe education and connection is the key to unlocking the empathy door within our minds. Art holds the power to create feeling, passion, and ultimately change. Our world is a better place with sharks in it, and as an artist I feel it is my duty to be a voice for these silent creatures.
I am just at the very start of this project, 200 sharks is my artist legacy and is my life’s mission!
Q6. One of the mediums you use is gouache – Please tell us about the connection for you with this and your underwater art.
I have always been drawn to using water-based paint, my mum is a watercolour artist so I feel very privilege and lucky to have been using watercolour from the very beginning. It is a very hard medium to master and feel so grateful to be able to use this medium so instinctively and intuitively. As I have grown as an artist my love for paint and colour has increased to beyond obsession. I love colour theory and understanding where colour pigments come from. From this love I have over the past few years learnt how to make my own very unique watercolour and gouache paint. As someone who has chromesthesia my relationship with colour is very different to the average human. Colour to me has feelings, sounds, smells and a personality. So the paint I make is highly pigmented and colourful making it almost sing on the paper. I also wanted to make a paint that was completely sustainable, ocean friendly and vegan.
Q7. What’s the most impactful / inspirational thing you’ve seen underwater that led to one of your pieces of art?
My most proud and personal favourite painting of mine is Divine Feminine, which was inspired by my time spent diving in Cocos Island, Costa Rica where I was surrounded by female scalloped hammerheads. This painting is also the first painting in my 200 Sharks project so will also hold a very special place for me in my heart.
‘Manuelita Outside’ is one of the favourite dive sights at Cocos Island and is known for epic shark dives. Here I dived into the murky blue grey water where I hit a rocky volcanic wall covered in sea urchins, algae, barnacles and some hard corals. This dive had a crazy surge, the strongest I had experienced, and the swell pushed you up and down around 3-5 metres. In Cocos Island, you tend to find the wildest conditions bring the most life. At first the visibility was poor but as we slowly drifted around the craggy walls to shelter from the surge, the water started to clear and we settled down. I wedged my fins into some rocks to keep myself stable and the wait for hammerheads began. Scalloped Hammerheads are a very shy species, easily spooked compared to other sharks. If you want them to come close, calm your breathing and don’t make any sudden movements. 5 or so minutes passed and out of the murky cobalt waters the mysterious and elegant hammerheads appeared, swimming in a distinct formation - a scene I had only experienced in documentaries and photos. I hovered speechless, eyes wide open in awe at the magical event happening In front of me, a school of 50 Hammerheads, all covered in mating scars, and all ready for a well deserved clean. Before I could blink, 3 cruised over my head, and suddenly I was surrounded. The contrast between the yellow and red cleaning fish, the silver of the sharks and the blue water behind was beautiful and something only your memory can truly capture.
I have tried to capture the true nature of these majestic creatures in my own diving memories to create the painting ‘Divine Feminine’. I have illustrated a scene of pure magic and female energy, which asks the viewer to imagine being one of the sharks in the Hammerhead orchestra. The sharks swim in an energetic trance as they move through the nutrient rich Pacific Ocean. Cocos Island is one of the few places on earth that you can witness this natural event. I have named this painting ‘Divine Feminine’ to celebrate female sharks in all their size and wonder. They have evolved to be bigger and better than the male sharks. And their ability to school in masse for pleasure and not for safety to me shows an intelligence we have only just begun to explore.
When I am painting my art and look at my past works I dive back into that moment, each piece personally holds a beautiful memory and window for me to relive that dive over and over again.
Q8. Is there a species of shark which is still on your bucket list to see and paint?
I have many on my bucket list (could be here some time… 200 to be exact). But one’s I am keen to see again are the Thresher Shark and Whale Shark. I really want to get back in the water with them but this time with my camera! I have a really big Whale Shark painting idea I really want to manifest into real life. Some sharks I am yet to dive with and are very keen to photograph and paint are the Oceanic whitetip shark, Great White Shark, Mako’s, Basking Sharks, Great Hammerhead, leopard shark, pajama Shark (think they are the cutest sharks!) and that’s just to name a few.
Q9. What’s been your favourite project so far?
My favourite projects so far is my 200 Sharks project and Reef Stories project which I am currently working on. Reef stories is a watercolour painting in partnership with The Ocean Agency and Glowing Gone that has the mission to capture the stories of the reef from life to death and then from restoration to hope. Within the painting I am capturing the individual stories of the residence who call this reef their home. She is a life size coral reef that's just under 2m wide and 1m high. I have hand made all my own paint for this piece that is vibrant in colour in daylight and at night it glows mimicking the bioluminescent found in corals and adding an interactive element to the painting. This painting is currently a work in progress, and I aim to complete this piece by end of 2021.
Q10. What’s coming up next for you? Any future projects already in the pipeline?
Well covid has put a stop to all of my travel plans but I feel like the light at the end of the tunnel is now in sight. I have a few diving trips possibly planned to help spark the next wave of paintings in 2022. A few places that might be on the cards is Azores for my 200 Sharks project (I am also desperate to get back in the water was my shark friends again) and Indonesia at the end of the year where I will be launching something very exciting which I can’t share much on it yet. But till then I have my Reef Stories painting to finish which I am very determined to try get her finished by the end of 2021!
Q11. What are your other interests outside of painting, scuba diving and photography?
Well art, diving and ocean is pretty much my life and most of my hobbies surround these 3 topics. I feel very lucky and privilege to have been able to turn my passion and hobbies into a career. I am a big believer of following your dreams and to not let anyone stop you from making them happen. A quote that is above my desk said ‘shoot for the stars and you might get to the moon’ – I try live every word of this!