Sometimes I work…

Well, I’m back from Costa Rica… too soon!!!  It was an amazing whirlwind of fish shocking, drawing, whitewater rafting, motorcycle riding, ziplining, volcanoes, awesome wildlife… what an inspiring trip.  The bonus is that my boss seems to have developed a fondness for having an illustrator around, and made it quite clear that this was not to be my last involvement with his organization.

So, while I wasn’t running about the country seeing things, I did actually do some drawing.  About 20 of my drawings are still in the preliminary stage (inking things could be dicey because of the humidity there), about 7 are done, and I have about 10 yet to start.  They are for a taxonomic key of Freshwater Fish of the Talamanca Region of Costa Rica (located in the southeast corner of Costa Rica, near the Caribbean Sea).  While I usually have an affinity for color and an aversion to drawing things in b/w, I found that a new set of Rapidograph pens has completely changed my perspective.  What awesome pens! And so many sizes!

Well, here they are, the first of many MANY drawings highlighting different parts of fish (terminal mouth, inferior mouth, opercular spot, broken lateral line… you get the idea).

When I was at work but not drawing, I had the incredible experience of electrofishing with my boss, Bill, and the rest of the ANAI crew.  We would depart ANAI at 6:30 in the morning, pile into the old Toyota pickup (often into the bed of the pickup, on top of stacks of waders and shocking equipment), and drive off to a special sampling site carefully decided upon and scheduled* by Bill.

I was probably the only person in Costa Rica that was thrilled when, about half way through my stay, riding in the back of a pickup truck on main roads was outlawed.  This is because, as the smallest person on the crew, I was recruited to ride on the back of Maribel’s motorcycle to all of our sampling sites.  The helmet was a tad big, so I wore another hat under it, which looked a bit ridiculous.  Much thanks to Maribel, who totted around a lanky gringa with a big head on the back of her motorcycle for three weeks.

But seriously, there is nothing like Costa Rica from a motorcycle.  Maribel could easily dodge the potholes** that reeked havoc on the spines of people riding in the pickup with Bill, making for a wonderfully smooth ride. The fresh air was amazing, and it was never too cold to wear a T-shirt.  I could look all around me (as long as I didn’t move around too much), and felt like I could see everything!  Awesome.

The actual electrofishing is something that really deserves a description.  Bill (or sometimes Matthias) wears a boxy, metal backpack that looks like something out of Ghostbusters.  In one hand, he has a metal ring on the end of a long pole, the anode.  Coming out of his backpack is a metal line, (or, as he calls it, “the rat tail”).  This is the cathode.  With these two devices and a battery in his backpack, he can run an electrical current through the water, sufficient to temporarily stun fish (and noticeably shock you if you accidentally touch the water).  While Bill strategically moves the shocker through the water, 1-4 other people, equipped with hand nets, lunge after fish as they float to the surface, desperate to catch them before they regain their bearings.  It is all very exciting – electricity in the water, clashing of nets and people diving over each other after stunned fish – great fun, as long as your reflexes are good!

After the fish were caught, Bill would pick each fish out of the bucket, determine it’s species, and count it.  By using this data and a good deal of math, he could determine the health of the stream.  With years of this data, he could tell you if the stream was declining or increasing in quality.  For more information, check out ANAI’s website (in my Blogroll).  And give them money… or chest waders in a size 6.  They are a great organization.  (But don’t ever ask what ANAI stands for, unless you have a lot of time to listen 🙂 )

I was always equipped with a little purple fish tank.  When Bill finished counting the fish, he passed me some good specimens of the fish that I needed to draw that day, and I would observe them, sketch them, and take pictures of them from my little tank.  I have come to be acquainted with a good 20 or so species this way.  Bill has unending patience when it comes to introducing people to fish, and thanks to his teachings, I feel as though these fish are all my new friends.

Citharichthys, a flounder.

Microphis, a pipefish.  Not to be mistaken for his cousin Pseudophallus, with a shorter snout.


*And rescheduled a minimum of 47 times, due to rain and high water, during a semi-daily scheduling meeting.

**And Costa Rican potholes can easily swallow a small child.  Oftentimes, it was as if Maribel was driving on the little bridges of remaining road between the holes.  Oh, and in Spanish, potholes are called “wackos”.  Probably not spelled like that, though.

(I just finished reading Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, and now I can’t stop using footnotes).

For more pictures from my trip, see:


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