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As our community of makers has grown, we’ve noticed that there are trends and similarities that are shared between makers. This week, we’ve decided to celebrate the makers who are inspired by marine life, translating the beauty of the ocean into their work.

We chatted with Ali Elly Design, a visual artist inspired by the sea, and Jocasta Shakespeare, an artist who uses the ancient Japanese tradition of Gyotaku to create pictures of fish on canvas.

Ali Elly Design

Working from her studio on the Northumberland coastline, Ali is an environmental artist whose artworks are inspired by the seas and oceans of our fragile planet. Her work helps highlight the important issues facing vulnerable marine life.

She explores the aesthetics of the underwater world to achieve a modern, clean and uncomplicated style with a strong emphasis on illustration. With a background in textile design, she is always searching for natural patterns, using organic formations and composition to make her designs flow.

This unique style is further enhanced by her obsession with the colour blue. Working to connect art with science she enjoys continually learning about the consequences of unbalance in the oceans. Every design starts an interesting conversation.

Jocasta Shakespeare

Jocasta is fascinated by the mysteries of fish: air-breathing Tarpon, the bio-luminescence of a hunting Marlin (which sends neon blue pulses along the raised dorsal fin) how it feels to release an exhausted Sailfish and to learn about the mysterious “Wild Spawn Dance”.

Perhaps her favourite fish to work with is the Sea Bass – or “Loup de Mer” (Sea Wolves) which intentionally swim against the current. Their bodies become muscled and streamlined as a result. This leads me to metaphorical images of struggle, triumph and loss.

‘Because the fish from the market is so newly killed, she gets a sense of the creature at the moment of its death, fighting for life force. So she captures an impression, which is more than the fish and an image, which has has a deeper meaning.’ (Yorkshire Post)

What inspired you to include a marine theme in your work?

The source of inspiration varies with each maker, here’s what Ali and Jocasta have to say.

Ali Elly Design

All my work is centred around my love of the underwater world. I’m continually inspired by the organic, chaotic patterns that schools of fish make. The scales of a fish. The way seaweed sways in the current. How barnacles arrange themselves on rock faces. The shapes of shells found on the beach. These textures and patterns really are a never-ending supply of artistic inspiration.

Jocasta Shakespeare

I love the ocean and the mysteries of marine life, about which we still know so little. Fish have symbolised peace, truth, healing, metaphysical searching in art and culture throughout the centuries.

Now, as we overfish our seas – even before we know how these creatures communicate, where they go, how they live – I find in them an even greater link to the elemental world and wilder nature outside human understanding.

Fish can be a motif or metaphor for human endurance, struggle, liberation, fear, death and the desire for life. In my art, fish translate for us the world which is just beyond our ability to conceive and yet, one which all living beings are part of. They are mystery and imagination as well as a symbolic life force.

What value do you believe that marine life provides the creative world?

These artists are inspired by the world under the water in their art – and here’s how.

Ali Elly Design

Working to capture just a moment of the aesthetics created by marine life, I hope to enhance our understanding of our fragile planet. 70% of our planet is made up of oceans that affect our ecosystems.

Marine life populations have plummeted by half in the past 40 years. Habitat loss, overfishing, increasing temperatures, pollution, plastic, ghost nets, the list goes on. If we understand this, we can help protect the oceans for future generations. Marine art helps connect people to take action.

Jocasta Shakespeare

Fish provide the creative world with ancient and mythical properties and references, still relevant today.

How do you introduce a sustainable messaging or process in your work?

A large part of their marine-inspired work is the message of sustainability that it shares.

Ali Elly Design

Sustainability and conservation are at the heart of everything I do. I regularly volunteer with three different ocean charities, so I practice what I preach. I organise beach cleans, lobby parliament, and limit my own use of plastics.

I’m vegan. I use compostable and recyclable materials to package my work. I always do my research, using IUCN classification, conservation charity research, and many others, constantly learning about the vulnerabilities of each sea creature I paint. Working to connect art with science in this way, introduces the consequences of overfishing and pollution to new audiences.

Jocasta Shakespeare

Working with the actual bodies of fish, I have developed a traditional Japanese Gyotaku technique into a practice of my own, using gesso and oils. All fish have a personality and desire for life, which is most obvious at the moment of death. I often seek this out in my images of struggle, endurance, joy, dream and mystery.

I work with local fishing communities and organisations, focussing on sustainability and the desperate need to stop overfishing, pollution, intensive farming.  The more we discover about these creatures, the more people will want to help them – and not just treat them as cash or food.

What makes your art unique?

Although both Ali and Jocasta are inspired by marine life, their art is completely unique.

Ali Elly Design

The association to conservation and exploration of marine life theme helps make my work unique. I also have an obsession with the colour blue and all its amazing shades, from the brightest turquoises to the inky deep indigos, I use them in my work more than any other colour.

Jocasta Shakespeare

I have developed a unique technique, which is one that works best for what I am trying to say and do. Nobody else uses this technique.  Most artists use ink and rice paper in a direct printing process.

I use gesso for a first impression, often on location (Colombia, Uruguay, Cuba as well as the UK) then work up the image in the studio using oils, pastels, pigments and glazes.  I am not trying for an illustrative description.  I am looking for images which can carry emotion and expression.

Explore Our Community

Ali Elly and Jocasta Shakespeare are just two of the amazing makers in our community. Browse more of the marine-inspired art that features on our site by multiple makers.

If you’re a maker that is looking to join our community, you can find out more about our joining process here.