Five Years of the #SundayFishSketch

It started with a desire for accountability, consistency, and practice. My busy life of balancing being a graduate student, working part-time in a restaurant, managing regular household chores and errands, and trying to keep up socially with friends and family didn’t leave much time for many extracurricular activities. My name is Rene, and this is the story of the creation of the #SundayFishSketch on Twitter. Continue reading for a synopsis as I celebrate the closing of five years of fish sketches and the growth of an amazing community.

I’ve been interested in art for as long as I can remember. I dabbled in different mediums as a kid (e.g., watercolors, pencil sketching, crayons of course), took art classes in high school, and even one during my freshman year of college. Much of that early passion for creating art fell to the wayside as my day-to-day life continued to fill up with work, education, and friends and family. Before too long, it was a decade later and 2016— I was working on a master’s degree in ichthyology. I had been missing sketching, missing painting, and missing art, but was struggling with setting aside time to practice. While trying to make peace with the possibility that I may not have time do to EVERYTHING, it dawned on me that I would likely be working with fishes the rest of my life, and that maybe I could find a way to combine my two passions. As a scientist, I would need to be able to think creatively, design informational figures to disseminate my research, and illustrate my work succinctly to be able to inform the general public about my research. In my mind, I had just devised my reasons for incorporating the creation of art into my work life. Additionally, I had recently created a twitter account to connect with other ichthyologists and stay up to date on new research. I thought Twitter would be a great opportunity for me to make myself accountable to set aside time to sketch. Because, we all know that if anyone is going to hold you accountable, it will be strangers on the internet…

Not really knowing how Twitter worked, I didn’t understand how hashtags were created. I did not realize that by basically being the first person to tweet a particular hashtag, you have essentially created it. I started to think logistics— Once a week would be a good place to start. But, what day would I be most free? Sunday made sense…. Was there a catchy hashtag I could use that wasn’t already  taken? Thus, #SundayFishSketch was born.

My goal: consistent weekly practice. By declaring to random people on the internet that I would be posting weekly fish sketches, I convinced myself that maybe someone out there would be looking forward to seeing my sketches each week. This helped spur my motivation for keeping up with the practice.

Initially I just picked my own fish to sketch. By roughly ten fish sketches in I was already getting tired of choosing a new fish every week. This morphed into asking people on twitter if there were particular species they would like me to sketch, an idea that ended up with me making some wonderful connections and friends.

Over 40 requested fish sketches later and a year in, the #SundayFishSketch ball had really starting rolling and the community started growing. People began posting their own fish art, tagging the posts and the hashtag. Inviting others to participate. By the second year, it was suggested that I post weekly themes that people could follow if they weren’t sure what to draw. Not yet labeled, thus began the #Fishytheme, where every Friday I post the theme for the Sunday fish drawing.

The simple #SundayFishSketch beginnings forever turned into a wonderful community of scientists and artists alike— sharing their passion and a connection of worlds. Every year on the #SundayFishSketch anniversary I ask people to sketch an Opah, the very first fish I posted. This reoccurring request is an ode to the #SundayFishSketch simple beginnings and is a platform for artists to show previous years’ Opahs compared to this years, showcasing how regular practice is important with a shown/result of improvement.

The continued growth of what is now a community never ceases to amaze me. Due to the continued support of artists, scientists, and art lovers alike, we have created a wonderful environment to showcase our love of art and fish. I asked some of these regular #SundayFishSketch participants what they thought of our community, its growth, and its themes.

I wanted to know, in their eyes, what is the type of community/people they thought participate and are involved on the #SundayFishSketch hashtag?

Katie O’Reilly replied that “The community that’s involved in #SundayFishSketch is a broad group of sketchers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds – everyone from scientists, to artists, to people who are just interested in fish. The community is very welcoming to people of all skill levels, which makes it a little less intimidating for those of us who don’t consider ourselves “artists” to participate!” 

I also asked, in their opinion, what the main benefit was of the #SundayFishSketch hashtag and community to the scientists, artists, and general twitter community?

Sam Jones said “I can say for sure that in my own case, the main benefit to me has been finding great people on Twitter to follow. It really shaped my Twitter feed and has resulted in me spending a lot more time thinking about fish than I would have otherwise.” John Tollefson followed up with “Number one for me personally is that it is a fun and effective way of learning things about fish diversity and morphology that I didn’t know before. I think it is a great example of how a hashtag can be used to bring people together.  I have had scientists comment on how cool it is to see their study species represented, it gives artists a platform to promote their work, and I think it enriches the Twitterverse in general.  This is always apparent when we have one of our crossover themes with a museum, science organization, or another hashtag and we see people commenting things like “you must check out #SundayFishSketch”.”

I was curious whether they thought the #SundayFishSketch community had changed in the last five years (or since you first learned of it)?

Sam continued with “I had to check when my first #SundayFishSketch post was, and it was June 18, 2017. Since that time, I’ve seen a bunch of new folks join in and contribute, and with that came lots of new art styles and backgrounds. The more themes we’ve done, the more interesting they get in order to stay new and exciting, and I love the surprise of it every Friday when the new theme is announced!” Tamara Clark added “I had taken a break from social media and only got back on a year or two ago. It was great to find sundayfishsketch as it helped me get plugged back in.  Over time the audience and participation has grown, not surprisingly! Themes are always creative and its a great inspiration to see what others come up with each week.”

I also wanted to known what their favorite theme had been thus far, and why?

Tamara said “They’re all good! I quite liked “otherworldly” as it was fun to explore such funky species and see what others produced. And I enjoy themes that can be open to interpretation, so you could go in a few different directions. I did a Neptune Grouper for otherworldy, but others took it in a more visually otherworldly direction and it was brilliant to see the range.  It’s alway interesting when prompts are related to places or current events too, like labor day and “busy” fish.” Katie, our intrepid #25DaysofFishmas creator stated “I’m biased, but the #25DaysofFishmas-#SundayFishSketch crossovers are always really fun. Basically, clues are given about a mystery fish species that’s being featured during the annual #25 Days of Fishmas campaign in December, and sketchers have to guess (and draw!) what species they think it is! I am also always blown away when people show their improved art during the annual #SundayFishSketch anniversary theme of drawing an Opah.”

Lastly, were there any themes they would like to see in the future?

Sam: I think it would be fun to do a “sketch a tetrapod” theme, since it’s always a fun reminder that we’re all technically fish from an evolutionary perspective!

Tamara: Fish as artists/creators? 

John: How about a fishy movie poster or album cover theme?

Katie: A fun theme would be “Fish found in your hometown” where sketchers could showcase and teach others about the biodiversity found in their own backyards.

If you haven’t already yet, please consider checking out the #SundayFishSketch onTwitter. This upcoming weekend will be especially wonderful as we will witness the improvement of so many wonderful artists as they showcase older Opah drawings next to their new ones. If you just don’t know where to start regarding sketching fish and drawing, be sure to check out our previous post on how to draw a fish! It’s never too late to start practicing art, and this community is a great way to get involved.

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