I am really thrilled – last weekend I won first prize for one of the prints I entered in the ADEX Ocean Artist of the Year Competition! I entered three original prints as a series, all inspired by the mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus). The prints combined two relief printmaking techniques which I will talk about later. This is the winning print.
I thought I'd tell you a bit about the background to this and the other two prints. As many divers (especially those diving in Asia) know, mandarin fish are quite shy, hard to spot and challenging to photograph. Although they seem to have a fairly wide distribution (Australia, tropical Indo-Pacific up to Japan), they are not the easiest fish to find. Their habitat is generally in shallow water in coral rubble, and they are quite skittish in their movements. I’ve seen them only a handful of times (all in Indonesia) at dusk when they come out to mate. I had always assumed that this is the only time you can really see them. Not so! There is a colony of mandarin fish who inhabit a rubbly slope in Ambon Bay who seem quite happy to hop in and around the rocks grazing, and are fairly willing photographic subjects.
Along with two friends, my husband and I were in Ambon over Christmas last year and visited this particular dive site two or three times. Marcel took many photographs of the mandarin fish and I used these as reference material. Here's one of Marcel's photos. These fish have the most wonderful faces - bulbous eyes which swivel around, and a little pointy mouth they suck food up with. They use their pelvic fins as a sort of balance when they hop around.
I was interested in the idea that for such a seemingly shy creature, they have such flamboyant colours and markings. Their body is predominately orange, with irregular turquoise blue band markings, their face and lower jaw area is yellow/green with blue stripes. (I have since discovered that the vibrant blue in the mandarin fish are caused by very unusual blue pigment-containing cells called cyanophores.) In contrast to the brightly coloured and bold designs on the body of the fish, the pectoral fins are delicate, and slightly transparent blue/green. They are really exquisite, though a little hard to appreciate the beautiful undulating movement with the naked eye.
I found out that their common name was due to the fact that their appearance was somewhat reminiscent of the robes of Imperial Mandarin court officials. I decided to use the robe motif as a ‘canvas’ to display the colours and patterns inherent in different parts of the mandarin fish. (The Mandarin court officials had different robes depending on the occasion and so I named each print after a different robe). I really wanted to incorporate the delicate pectoral fins in some way and in the end decided to emboss a design of the fins into the paper.
I’m also really pleased that my prints will be shown at the National Geographic store (#01-19 VivoCity, Singapore) along with other winning photographs and videos of the ADEX Voice of the Ocean Competition until the end of the month!